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A Pastoral View From My Perspective by Karen Dwyer-Burchill

Head Teacher, Project Lead & Founder of a proposed Free School


Karen Dwyer-Burchill

Karen Dwyer-Burchill Speaks on Pastoral Care


Detentions did not necessarily improve behaviour

Back in the ’90s, I’d come from a country where the teaching profession was held in high regard and, imagine my shock when I realised that I had to ​earn​ pupil respect in order to teach successfully.  This was an unknown entity for me. Pupils were open, vibrant and downright overt if they did or did not respect your judgement, as a young teacher, this was a real challenge for me.  My new school introduced me to the use of detentions and I suddenly found myself delivering detentions with absolute gusto.  I also became painfully aware that the same culprits who chose not to do their homework, or constantly looked for the wrong kind of attention, were not necessarily improving with each detention.


At this very early stage of my career I recognised that I needed to step up from the traditional expectation of being a teacher and that the role was not just about knowledge and training. Children came to school with their own agenda and weren’t just two-dimensional personas with two targets i.e. gain the appropriate levels, gain a career/further education.

accessible education

accessible education

I learnt that I couldn’t teach effectively without effectively managing the dynamic in the classroom and ensuring the well being of my pupils.  A simple greeting was generally an effective start to the lesson but there were many occasions when more intervention was needed, whether it was because of a child’s personal issue or because the classroom management structure wasn’t working effectively.  In the early days, I learnt a lot from the teaching assistants and relied on them in adding a ‘human’ hand.  Keeping the expectation high was an absolute but being able to ‘sweep’ a little Year 7 from under the stairs without making a fuss also became a key skill.  Adapting to a very troubled young person’s outlook, while building knowledge that would hopefully improve their circumstances, put the pastoral role of a teacher into perspective for me.


A pot of enrichment for young people

The school world is such a dynamic environment.  Being a music teacher, has given me privileges, alongside the pastoral aspect of my role.  It has been a pot of enrichment for young people who sought out further enjoyment through band rehearsals, musicals, talent competitions, DJing, overseas trips. It’s a great way to respond to the pastoral needs of the young community without overtly making bold statements to that effect.  In a large school where children could so easily get lost or hide from view, many young people actively seek out various ways in developing their footprint among the community.


Some young people consistently look for negative attention in all manner of ways for a myriad of reasons. That’s when the pastoral system becomes so important in laying out the ground rules for an effective journey through school life.  No system can be effectively monitored and tracked without having a real understanding of the needs of the person being supported.


I have had many roles in the pastoral management of many schools;

Head of Year

Head of House

Head of Key Stage 3

Head of 6th Form

Director of Learning

Head Teacher

Mutual respect KDB

Mutual respect KDB

My Motto Is Simple


I am proud of every step I’ve taken in my professional journey. These roles have been carried out alongside my teaching role and enrichment commitments.  It’s been a real privilege to have worked with so many amazing young people, their families and the wonderful pastoral teams who go beyond expectations in ensuring young people do not revert to self-sabotage when pushed too far. My motto is simple when it comes to pastoral care:


  1. Be true to yourself as a teacher and let pupils know you care about their well being, academic endeavour and their future. Your confidence and sense of purpose will be a healthy model of excellence and endeavour.
  2. Give pupils those memorable moments that, hopefully you’ve had in your own learning journey or you certainly wished you’d had. That goes for lessons and extra-curricular activities. Learning really can be a lot of fun!
  3. Do not accept anything less than the best from young people. Always challenge pupils to do better and that includes their values, their attitude towards each other and the community in general.
  4. Infuse high expectation and defuse potential gaps by making education accessible for everyone. With the right resources, everyone can make progress.
  5. Meet and greet everyone in a manner you’d expect in return – having mutual respect is an absolute expectation.
  6. Finally remember to listen to pupils, they’re very insightful!


Footnote: “​Education should prepare children for adult life, giving them the skills and character traits they need to succeed academically, have a fulfilling career, and make a positive contribution to British society.” DfE 2016




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