Tutor group

A tutor group is a term used in schools in the United Kingdom, broadly equivalent to the United States term "homeroom". The term is most frequently used in secondary schools where students may be taught in a number of different groupings throughout the day. Tutor groups are usually the group with which a student is registered at the beginning or end of each school session.

In many schools, a tutor group is assigned a tutor who will remain with that group for several years - possibly throughout their time at that school. Such groupings may also be used for the teaching of some subjects in school, while others will be taught in ability groups, or in smaller mixed sets, for example practical technology subjects. Tutor groups are commonly given names, however the names they are given depend on the specific system chosen by the school.

Vertical tutoring

Many UK secondary schools have created smaller tutor groups populated by pupils of all ages, rather than by groups of the same age. One of the intended consequences is to improve relations between different year groups and reduce bullying. However, the main intentions of schools reported in Barnard's book on Vertical Tutoring, is to improve learning relationships and raise standards. Vertical Tutoring requires a change to house systems as the main organisational culture of the school rather than Year Systems.

Vertical tutoring and school organisation

The traditional way of organising a secondary school in the UK uses a horizontal or Year System. Invariably, a Year 7 student joins a tutor group of about 25-30 fellow students all from the same Year. In the US this is sometimes called a home group and in the UK this system of pastoral organisation is called a tutor group. A form tutor, the person (usually a teacher) assigned to the tutor group, has oversight of tutees' pastoral and academic needs and usually stays with their form group throughout the students' time at the school. Tutor time (the time that the tutor and tutees actually spend together) is usually at the start of the day. Schools see this as a settling in time and an opportunity to get basic school administration done. The tutor task in the UK is to form a learning relationship with each tutee and act as a guide and mentor through the complexities of school life.

Increasingly, UK schools are recognising that the long established Year System can have an adverse effect on the quality of teaching and learning. When the orthodox horizontal system of pastoral care is critically examined in the light of group psychology, systems thinking and customer relations, many false assumptions are revealed about learning relationships and learning disadvantages come to the fore. In particular, the role of the tutor can be too easily compromised by poor learning relationships rather than beneficial and supportive ones. In essence, the Year System tends to undermine the importance of the tutor's role rather than enhance it as intended, and this can have a debilitating and negative knock-on effect on teaching and learning.

Vertical Tutoring changes the way tutor groups are organised by creating smaller groups (usually 20 or under) peopled by students of all ages. Older students are trained to be leaders and mentors of younger students creating positive cross-age relationships and a very different atmosphere in tutor time. Critically, Vertical Tutoring is not a change to the pastoral care system of the school, but a change to the cultural life of the school: everything changes over time (school transformation) . In effect, it ensures that learning operates as a continuous and well-supported improvement process and moves the school from being a back-office bureaucracy to a front office service sector organisation. the critical change is the return of the tutor (the Vertical Tutor) as the key player and support in the life of each tutee.

Over the past 20 years to 2010, there has been an exponential increase in the number of UK secondary schools adopting a culture of Vertical Tutoring and/or considering future implementation. Although many schools continue to use Year Systems as their chosen organisational operation, proponents of VT feel that this long established approach has caused challenges to learning and teaching that are only now being recognised. There is no independently peer reviewed research to support the claims that vertical tutoring reduces bullying and improves school cohesion.


See also Jonathan Haidt's talk on Liberals and group behaviour set against theory of moral psychology at www.Ted.com

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