We temporarily abandoned our vertical tutor groups on Wednesday 4th November 2020. The decision to move to horizontal (year group) tutoring was made in the midst of the “bubble” system where close contacts of positive coronavirus cases were sent home for precautionary self-isolation, to minimise the risk of transmission and the disruption caused by close contact self-isolation. At the time, in my letter to families, I said “ We place a great deal of value on our vertical tutoring system, and students will return to vertical tutor groups once the public health situation allows.” We are now well beyond those restrictions and we are looking forward to returning to the vertical tutoring system which is the foundation of our house-based pastoral care system.
Vertical tutoring means that a small number of students from each year group belong to the same tutor group. There are many advantages to this system:
- Tutor to student ratio: vertical tutor groups only have an average of five students from each year group. This means that tutors can spend more time with individuals, offering pastoral support and guidance. It also makes it easier for tutors to monitor academic progress, because when a progress report is published the tutor only has five students to work with, rather than up to thirty students in a year group system.
- Role modelling and student leadership: vertical tutoring breaks down the barriers between year groups, so that students from different year groups can work together. This enables students in the older year groups to act as role models, peer mentors and sources of advice and guidance to younger students. It also means that students in younger year groups can more clearly understand the future of the educational journey, by seeing first hand the decisions, challenges and expectations of students in older years. This can raise aspiration and leads to a “future-focused” approach.
- Dynamic composition: in a vertical system, each tutor group’s Year 11 cohort will move on to their next steps and be replaced in September by a new intake of Year 7 students. This means that the tutor group’s composition is dynamic over the years, ensuring that the groups remain “fresh” and there are always new students to work with.
- Skills and character: working with students from different year groups every day requires our students to develop and practise important skills of teamwork, speaking and listening, problem solving, creativity, and leadership beyond the context of students the same age as them, which they do in five lessons every day. This is an important aspect of challenge which helps students to develop positively.
- Behaviour: research – and our own experience – has shown that properly implemented vertical tutoring systems improve students’ prosocial behaviour across the school. Vertical tutoring can also “depolarise” behaviour, bringing out the best in all students. It reduces the amount of in-year rivalry and “cliques”: students are more likely to be friendly and kind towards each other and make friends with different year students. Older students often behave in a more grown up way as if they naturally feel a duty to model good behaviour.
- Belonging and house identity: the house is the “home” for students at Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, and the vertical tutor group acts as the “family” for students. We expect students from across each house to work together as part of the house team to develop the identity and ethos of the house, in support of the Academy’s aims and values. This is greatly enhanced by vertical tutoring. This will be supported by the formation of House Councils in next year’s student leadership programme, replacing the year group councils which have been in place through the pandemic.
A letter will be coming home shortly providing details of the tutor group change, and students will have assemblies next week explaining how and why we are going back to normal. Then, on the first day back in term 6, we will be back in our vertical tutor groups. There will be an extended tutor time so that the members of the new tutor group can get to know one another, and expectations and approaches can be re-established. In this initial period, groups will be smaller, including students only from Years 7-10, as Year 11 will be on study leave. The groups will be ready to welcome the Year 6 students (who will be joining the tutor group as Year 7s in September) when they arrive for their induction day on 28th June.
Many generations of Churchill students have benefitted from this system over the years, and many other schools – both locally and further afield – have now adopted it. Any change is always accompanied by some uncertainty, and it is natural that students have become comfortable in their year group tutor groups. These were always temporary – although the twists and turns of the pandemic have forced us to hang on to them for longer than we anticipated we would have to! We know from long experience that vertical tutoring works best for getting students to work together positively, and we look forward to getting back to what we know works best for our students to help them make that positive difference to themselves and one another.