This excellent introduction to an often-overlooked aspect of education unfortunately overlooks some important contributions to the field, writes Daniel Whittall

Our capacity for learning is fundamentally shaped both by our everyday lived experiences and by our preconceptions about the world around us. Learning, then, is about more than mere cognitive functioning, and taking the implications of this realisation seriously requires that educators attend to the pastoral curriculum as much as to what is traditionally understood as the academic curriculum.

Yet it is a plain fact that in many schools the pastoral is not considered to be an area of education that can be thought of in terms of curriculum. Indeed, for many teachers the pastoral is an afterthought, appearing as a burden to be carried and a distraction from the more important educational task of teaching our subjects to the best of our abilities.

Stephen Lane’s important book Beyond Wiping Noses intends to challenge this understanding, and to make the case for the need to unhide the pastoral curriculum. By pastoral curriculum Lane means a planned and systematic approach to all aspects of the pastoral, from assemblies, head-of-year interactions and form time, to behaviour systems and lessons on citizenship, relationships, mental health, bullying and the like. His ambition is for schools to adopt ‘an approach to the pastoral that gives serious consideration to theory and its practical application in our daily practice’. Lane uses the term ‘pragmatic pastoral praxis’ as shorthand for this approach. He also argues against utilitarian understandings of the pastoral that frame its importance in terms of improving academic results or readying students for the workplace.

The book ends up neglecting some important areas of pastoral research

Lane offers helpful overviews of several areas of research that will be of use to educators. The chapter on bullying discusses the potential importance of the distinction between ‘conflict’ and bullying, and how conflict-informed approaches can provide a comprehensive and supportive approach to protecting students and resolving confrontations. The excellent chapter on mental health and wellbeing calls for all schools to have a designated senior lead for mental health, and his weighing of research on different approaches to behaviour management is judicious and broadly balanced.

Much of Lane’s own praxis rests on a useful reading of the work of Gert Biesta, who has outlined three core functions of education: qualification, socialisation and subjectification. The pastoral bears most directly on socialisation, or the role of schools in supporting the integration of students into a wider community, and subjectification, or the role of schools in helping students to understand themselves as active agents in the world.

Beyond Biesta, Lane urges educators to embrace a ‘post-critical pedagogy’ which promotes ‘a love for the world’. The argument for a post-critical pedagogy rests on a rejection of critical-theoretical approaches to education. Lane makes clear that he is ‘sceptical of the pervasive critique of neoliberalism’, though ironically this assertion is buttressed with references to Twitter rather than to actual research on neoliberalism and education. One consequence of this is that Lane neglects the potentially important implications of work by critics of neoliberalism such as William Davies on happiness and Oli Mould on creativity that might have added to his pragmatic pastoral praxis.

The dismissal of critical pedagogy, defined as research that takes a critical stance towards existing institutions, means the book ends up neglecting other important areas of pastoral research. There is nothing of note, for example, on the Prevent Duty. Meanwhile, the chapter on character education neglects the important body of work by Ben Kisby and Lee Jerome, especially their recent book The rise of character education in Britain, which offers a comprehensive critical evaluation of the character education project.

Nevertheless, Beyond Wiping Noses is an important and well-written contribution. The book will introduce educators to excellent sources for research on the pastoral, including the journal Pastoral Care in Education and organisations such as the National Association for Pastoral Care in Education and the Association for Citizenship Teaching. Lane’s argument for the need to codify a planned and explicit pastoral curriculum is convincing, and it is to be hoped that more schools will be inspired by this book to draw up their own research-informed approaches to the pastoral aspect of education.