Review by Stephen Lane

Chaplaincy lead, year 7 pastoral lead and teacher of English, Litchfield Cathedral School

24 Apr 2022, 5:00


A compelling case for the importance of strong pastoral care

Book review: The complete guide to pastoral leadership

By Amy-May Forrester


John Catt Educational




14 Mar 2022

In a field dominated by cognitive science, curriculum planning, classroom pedagogy and bloody dual coding, but woefully lacking substantial work in the area of pastoral leadership, Amy-May Forrester has taken on the challenge of offering the world of education publishing a ‘complete guide’ to this important topic. Inevitably, I’m not sure any book could live up to this grand objective — unless it ran to several volumes — but Forrester has done a damn fine job here.

With chapters covering a wide range of issues, Forrester deftly balances references to research in a variety of fields with practical examples grounded in daily issues faced by pastoral leaders. Each chapter includes case studies that invite the reader to reflect on how they might tackle the issues, along with key tips and specific suggested reading.

Forrester presents a compelling case for the importance of strong pastoral care, describing it as the “beating heart of any school” and stresses the value of a clear sense of vision for pastoral leaders and the need for establishing high expectations. Forrester also gives a sharp outline of the link between pastoral care and behaviour, dipping into some of the key debates, such as sanctions, restorative practice and permanent exclusions. The section on behaviour also includes some useful strategies for how to have difficult conversations with parents that are then explored more fully in a later chapter specifically dedicated to working with families.

Forrester also makes a convincing argument for the link between pastoral care and cognitive science, illustrating how pastoral leaders can make effective use of research findings in this area. There is an important element to this with regard to understanding that as pastoral leaders, we need to have “amassed a whole range of knowledge about learning so that we can best know how to support our young people” while also emphasising how working collaboratively with academic middle leaders can have the “most leverage”.

I was particularly interested in the section on attendance, in which Forrester summarises the research on the negative impacts of attendance rewards which, in some studies, actually had the consequence of reducing subsequent rates of attendance. In the same chapter on attendance, Forrester also outlines some key ideas from nudge theory and points in particular to the work of Durrington Research School, who used positive text messages to encourage attendance.

Forrester’s own anecdote of organising a football match to reverse the trend of low attendance during the last week of half-term is a neat example of how the references to research are followed up by on-the-ground illustrations of practice that exemplify how readers might incorporate strategies into their own settings.

Another strong section of the book is Chapter 7, ‘Pastoral Leadership and Management’. Forrester makes the case that pastoral leaders play the most important role in school, and that without them “nothing else can happen”. She then explores research on models of leadership and considers how this affects approaches to pastoral leadership in schools with some useful ideas for how to work with colleagues.

In a chapter on ‘Surviving and Thriving as a Pastoral Leader’, Forrester highlights the need for pastoral leaders to engage in self-care, noting that we can “become so consumed with helping others that we inevitably feel guilty about helping ourselves”. It may seem trivial, but an important part of this is the way that teachers generally – and pastoral leaders in particular – often sacrifice their own nourishment needs in order to meet what they see as their professional obligations. But eating and drinking properly is crucial and, as Forrester observes, “There’s nothing worse than a hangry pastoral leader.”

Overall, The Complete Guide to Pastoral Leadership is a strong book which will make an invaluable resource for any new or experienced pastoral leader. Forrester presents a wide range of research and balances this with practical steps readers can take. Running throughout is a clear sense of Forrester’s own voice which makes the text engaging and compelling.

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