Kent and Kay’s experience of establishing VT in a school

Kent and Kay, the headteacher and deputy of a school that introduced VT in 2006 wrote an article about their experience which has been published online (Kent and Kay, 2007). They say that they introduced VT because, although they had already ‘created opportunities for younger students to be mentored by older ones’ they wanted these to be ‘experienced on a daily basis’ so that ‘the mentoring becomes much more profound and ultimately becomes embedded within the whole structure of school life’ (Kent and Kay, 2007). After a year a survey of pupils found that very few wanted to return to a horizontal system (even though most had been opposed to its introduction) and a number of prosocial effects were claimed:

1. Pupils had ‘more friends in other year groups’.
2. There was ‘a reduction in bullying’.
3. Behaviour improved and there were fewer exclusions.
4. There were more opportunities ‘for younger students to be helped by older students (for example, when choosing options)’.
5. There was no longer any need for a formally organised peer-mentoring programme because it took place ‘in a much more profound way through the vertical groups’.
(Kent and Kay, 2007)

Although Kent and Kay do not say whether the evidence for these claims came from the pupil survey, their observations, school data or anecdote, they do receive some support from the school’s 2007 Ofsted Inspection:

'the benefits of such an arrangement [VT] are being realised. For example, older students mentor and support younger students very effectively, especially in the setting of personal targets and providing a sympathetic ear when they have any problems, so that all gain a clear sense of being part of a family.'
(Ofsted, 2007, p. 5)

There is then evidence from school leaders who have successfully introduced Vertical Tutoring that it improved elements of prosocial behaviour at their schools. However, as well as the fact that none of these accounts was based on methodologically rigorous academic research there is also the fact that they are just a tiny fraction of the schools that have used VT. What is more, although Rose and Pelleschi and Kent and Kay do describe some of the difficulties they faced, they are still telling their own success stories and perhaps making generalisations about that success based on cherry-picked evidence or general feelings about change. Likewise the official websites of schools that use VT tend to claim the same benefits, and often the information they give is just the original reasons for its adoption rather than comments about its success since (Brentwood County High School, 2011; Denbigh School, 2011; Perryfields High School, 2010; Royds Hall High School, 2011; Sharrnbrook Upper School, 2011; St Thomas Aquinas Catholic School, 2009; Student Leadership Team, 2009). We have no idea what the dissenting voices, few or not, have to say or much detail about problems. It is also fair to assume that any school leader whose introduction of VT was a failure is much less likely to write about it. I therefore looked carefully for dissenting voices and any information about the micro-detail of success and failure.