Students need better pastoral care, say private schools

Times Higher Education, 24/03/15, headteachers from some of the UK’s top private schools have called on universities to improve pastoral and academic support for first-year students. HMC Chairman Richard Harman, headmaster of Uppingham School is quoted.

Richard Harman, headmaster of Uppingham School and chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents leading independent schools in the UK, said there is a greater need for “consistent and thought-through transition” from school to university.

“We all know school and college leavers do not magically turn into fully fledged adults the minute they step out of the classroom and into the lecture hall,” he told the HMC’s annual conference at the British Library, in London, on 24 March.

“Leaving school, leaving home and creating a new life at 18 is bound to be a time of acute anxiety,” he added.

Students and school pupils are anxious about “high-stakes exams, unreliable marking, 24/7 pressures of social media, lack of jobs and housing, increased debt and constant upheaval in all levels of their lives”, he said.

Independent schools had already “substantially increased” levels of  pastoral care over the last five years and were working to introduce “further innovation”, which would complement work done at some universities, he said.

However, more needed to be done, he claimed.

“The answer undoubtedly lies in a package of measures to ensure all students are resilient at each stage of their development, take relevant qualifications, have appropriate levels and styles of teaching and assessment and are equipped with the skills as well as knowledge to make them highly employable,” he said.

Sir David Eastwood, vice-chancellor of University of Birmingham, who chairs the Russell Group of universities, said he was “delighted that HMC and colleagues from higher education are addressing the issue of transition from school to universities”.

Sir David said he wanted to ensure there was “partnership working” to support students as they moved from schools to university.

“We all know how important and urgent the issue is, and I hope that this will be the start of regular, formalised contact to improve communication and understanding between both sectors, for the good of students,” he said.

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