Don’t let the Impact of Your Pastoral Care Stop at your Leavers’ Ball


Recently, we have met with the Directors of Wellbeing at several Russell Group universities. What is slightly shocking, if we are honest, is that the pastoral support provided for their students is almost negligible.

Two of the universities told us the ratio of residential tutors to students is 1:400. Yes, you read that correctly. Imagine a boarding school run like that? It’s certainly one way to cut costs….

But, before we condemn universities out of hand for pastoral neglect, we must recognise there are some very difficult circumstances they have to overcome. Firstly, unlike schools, students are legal adults; consent is required for any programme of care and many students who need such care most simply do not give consent. Second, 20 year olds often have misplaced confidence in their capacity to manage independent life. They neither recognise, nor seek the help they need. Thirdly, adolescence is becoming, in the terms of psychologists, extended. Those in their mid-twenties are now regarded to be still ‘adolescent’ reflecting a shift away from a clear, transition to independence, responsibility and financial stability which life beyond university used to be able to guarantee.

Young adults these days are fragile, financially vulnerable, emotionally uncertain, without roots and more loosely networked than attached to a secure community. These are some of the factors which are causing post-school mental health problems to sky rocket.

The recent government Green Paper has recognised this. Head’s Together, the charity founded by Harry, William and Kate is targeting support toward this young adult group.

Travelling round schools, we sometimes hear school Heads and DHs who are surprisingly blasé about these problems. It’s almost a ‘not on our patch’ attitude; it’s someone else’s problem.

I can understand this sentiment- it’s the flip side of being proud of the pastoral care you HAVE provided during their school years.

But is it right? Is it enough, these days, to simply cast these young people to the wind given that a gale is blowing an increasing number into the ditches of university drop-out, emotional dysregulation, and in some cases, tragic personal choices?

I think that parents are increasingly anxious and fraught about this. They want help in how to support and scaffold their young charges into the adult world.

I certainly hope that universities will be reaching out to schools more and more for guidance, drawing on the pastoral expertise that teachers have and which, in honesty, many universities lack. I also hope that appropriate pastoral data that can be passed on to universities; but this involves overcoming some genuine data and legal challenges. GDPR, consent, privacy etc all make joining up pastoral care much harder.

Our evaluation after some considerable research at STEER, is that the solution must lie in the hands of the young people themselves. We need to equip THEM to steer the road of adulthood, beyond school, into independent learning and the work place.


USTEER has been designed to meet the needs of a generation who must learn to steer their own journey. It unites the technology they are familiar with (mobile apps) with the psychological data that we know will help them (their AS Tracking journey). USTEER turns AS Tracking from a programme used by teachers to signpost pupils, into a technology students use to signpost themselves.

We are excited about USTEER because our research has shown that when you empower university students with the data about how they are steering, they are quite capable of making better choices as a result.

We can support our leavers better than we currently are. It is a difficult road on which they have to steer. Let’s make sure we give them the right equipment when they leave our protected school lanes and join the daunting motorways of the real world.