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Insights | Why our house system is essential to pastoral care

18 December 2020

If you want to witness the immediate benefits of Wellington's house system, simply attend one of our regular house competitions, like our recent Senior Sports Days. Our pupils give it their all on the field or stage as their housemates cheer them on. It is the clearest expression of the community spirit we work so hard to foster at Wellington. But the house system serves a deeper purpose with even greater benefits for our pupils. It is integral to how we provide pastoral care at Wellington. By organising our pupils into smaller groups, the house system helps us build several smaller, stronger social and academic networks within the College. As a result, pupils can form closer social bonds so they can look after one another. Meanwhile, our teachers can more readily attend to our pupil's social, emotional and academic needs. With this system, our pupils have two or three clearly defined people — the housemaster and tutors — who are in a position to look after them. We do it this way for several reasons. Firstly, houses are small enough that our housemasters and tutors have the bandwidth to provide the personalised pastoral care that each pupil needs and deserves. In effect, a house functions as a school within the school. If our pupils they feel like they are part of a smaller community and have a clearer sense of whom they can turn to when they encounter challenges, they will be more inclined to seek support when they need it. For this reason, we try to maintain a low house leadership-to-pupil ratio, and as our school grows, we create more houses to accommodate it.

Understanding the whole pupil

The house system also helps us in our mission of educating the whole child. One teacher may have a strong sense of a pupil's performance in relation to the subject that they teach, but that may not give them the whole picture of a pupil's academic performance. This is where the housemaster proves invaluable. The housemaster has a fuller picture of a pupil's performance because it is their responsibility to remain aware of a pupil's performance across all subjects, not just one. So, a while a maths teacher is certainly capable of helping a pupil who is struggling with maths, a housemaster is a better equipped to know if it is an isolated problem, or if it relates to the pupil's performance in other subjects as well. A housemaster can tend to our pupils' wellbeing needs similarly as well.

The value of mentorship 

One thing that makes Wellington's house system especially unique is the level of interaction between pupils of different year groups. It allows our older pupils to do some mentoring, and, quite remarkably, they often do this of their own initiative. Many of our Senior School pupils have been at Wellington since they were 11 years old. They once benefited from the same kind of mentorship when they were younger. Now they are graciously giving back to the Wellington Community in the same way.

Opening new avenues of exploration for our pupils 

But our house system does more than create the conditions in which our pupils can thrive academically and socially. It also helps to give the confidence to expand their horizons, to branch out and take risks. Whether it is a new sport, a musical instrument or another language, we encourage our pupils to explore as many interests as possible. Our house system often serves as a convenient on-ramp to these pursuits. A lot of our house competitions are the first step through the door into participation on sports teams or other arts activities. They provide our pupils with more opportunities to try new things and make those first steps less intimidating.

Looking ahead  

As 2020 comes to an end, I cannot help but reflect on the challenges everybody faced this year. The several months we all spent outside of school earlier this year were a stress test for this community. Not being in school for such a long time was manifestly difficult for all of us. Many pupils were stuck at home. Many had to forego visiting their families back home. Mindful of this, we have made it our mission this year get our community back together and operating at full strength once again. This is why we have hit the ground running this academic year with house activities, such as our recent Sports Days and our performing arts events. We want to create as many opportunities as possible for our pupils to get engaged in life outside of academics and learn out to lead rich and fulfilling lives.