Ideally, school heads should be on a first-name basis with students, in order to better understand and meet their needs (School heads should get to know their students, Jan 6).
However, schools today can be quite large, and their heads face many demands on their time.
As a result, individual pastoral care tends to be delegated to teachers.
This has the unfortunate effect of distancing those who make school policies from the students impacted by them. In an effort to bridge this gap, some Singapore schools have adopted the "House System" of many British independent schools, where students are allocated to "houses", and each house is typically a mini-school with its own head.
The house head works closely with the school principal but has considerable independence in running the house, to better meet the needs of individual students.
The House System has been adopted locally by, for example, Greenridge Secondary, Hua Yi Secondary and NUS High School. The implementation of the system both here and overseas may be worth studying to see if it can bridge the pastoral gap between school heads and students.
To that end, the following questions arise. How is the effectiveness of the House System to be measured?
What are the minimal requirements for an effective House System. For example, should students take classes with only their house members?
Should teachers also be allocated to houses?
Should each house have a brick-and-mortar presence, even if it's just a "house room"?
The answers to these questions would aid in drawing up guidelines for implementing the system in more schools, if it proves effective.