For generations the many and varied strengths of Wychwood have been underpinned by its focus on pastoral care. In a school this size it is genuinely possible to monitor and care for the children in line with the ideals of a mission statement. However, great responsibility has always been placed on pupils for reinforcing this pastoral ethos, through areas of responsibility. Thus pastoral care is at the very core of the girls’ lives, with girls pastorally caring for girls as well as staff committed to their well-being. Education here is approached holistically – in and out of the classroom – and the girls flourish.
The very constitution of Wychwood written all those years ago was designed to secure this co-operation between staff and girls in the building of a communal life and it is very clear that this has been successful. Girls gain experience in the problems of dealing with other people, and share in the government of the community by the exercise of responsibility as they become fitted for it, learning to understand the points of view of others as form reps, house mothers, house sisters, heads of boarding, citizens and councillors or head girls.
Our one-form entry means that contrary to what many imagine, the social skills developed by the girls in a small, inclusive environment are more subtly honed, and in many ways more sophisticated than they might be in a larger environment, where groups can exist independent of the whole. Obviously there are friendship groups here, but at least everyone within a form experiences understanding of all the others, and with that understanding comes value, in turn encouraging support and respect in a very natural way. This helps to develop the self-esteem of pupils across their pre-teen and teenage years, years notoriously difficult to navigate.
The gradations of pastoral care throughout Wychwood are subtle and fluid, relying to an extent on the skills and gifts of particular staff in their various pastoral roles throughout the school (form teacher, progress tutor, housemistress, subject teacher, school counsellor), as well as on the particular preferences of girls. The Senior Pastoral Team was formed in 2007 to build on the already excellent foundations of pastoral care for the girls and to make a more effective and confident use of the skills and gifts that staff can offer. The rationale for the SPT was for intervention that would address and support pastoral problems. In many ways the role of the SPT is to take the overview; to stand objectively apart and ‘scoop up’ girls who might otherwise be overlooked in the shadow of more overt issues. The time afforded to this is again a luxury possible on account of our small size.
So, far from being ‘special’, Wychwood’s pastoral care is natural. Here there is a genuine familial feel that is unique and warm. Vertical and horizontal mixing within school, as well as strong pastoral support from staff and Old Girls through the Wychwood Association means in many ways this pastoral support system never leaves a Wychwood girl, it forms them, and embraces them into a wider family when they finally leave school.
One of our 2006 leavers, Hannah Whitehead, née Lewis, is CEO of Good Deed Dating, an award winning social enterprise, working with charities to coordinate volunteering events for single people in London. On her Linked In profile she states: ‘We spread the love through doing good.’
Once a Wychwood girl, always a Wychwood girl!