Through their portrayal in literature and cinema, public schools have gained a reputation for being traditional, but their approach to pastoral care is firmly in the digital age.
The impact of being away from home to those new to boarding school at 13 years old is not to be underestimated.
Oundle School has a full range of pastoral care and this year we added digital monitoring to the range of tools we use to identify and support pupils. My school is not alone in doing this - the use of digital technology to address pupil wellbeing and mental health is becoming common across leading UK public boarding schools.
Using digital pastoral care in schools
At Oundle, pupils complete online cognitive bias screening tools at regular intervals during the year. The results are combined with wellbeing analytics by Steer, providing the school with information that allows staff to intervene at an early stage if it looks like an individual pupil may have an issue.
By creating targeted individual action plans to support identified pupils within the course of ordinary school activities, those at risk can be effectively supported. This use of wellbeing analytics technology, coupled with early intervention, can really make a difference to individuals trying to settle into the boarding school experience and throughout their school career.
Supporting university students
The Department for Education has recently launched a review of the transition between school and university to ensure that students receive adequate support in their first year when they are particularly vulnerable.
I read with interest Professor Martin Hall’s thought-provoking report and associated blog regarding the use of learning analytics and how it may be used to positively impact wellbeing and mental health of students at university.
As a parent with a child at university, it appears to me that what is happening at universities - with some exceptions - is some way behind the approach schools are taking to digital pastoral care.
For university students adapting to their first experience of living away from home, the sudden removal of the emotional support network that friends and parents provide can have devastating effects, which can result in serious mental health problem and lead to tragic consequences that make news headlines.
While visiting various university open days as prospective consumers, the question of how students were pastorally supported was addressed at each and every open day we attended. However, the methodology of how this would be done was extremely diverse, with little commonality, other than a general absence of data and analytics in the approach.
As our children make the challenging transition from pupils at school to being students away from home at university, we should expect their pastoral support to be sustained. I believe the new digital approaches to wellbeing being pioneered by the UK’s public boarding schools, suitably adapted, would work well in our universities.