Academic research into VT
I have found only two studies by academic researchers into the benefits of VT. Their results are ambiguous and sometimes contradictory, but they nevertheless provide some useful insights.

The first of these was by Tattersfield at a comprehensive school in south west England which used VT at their split site, with Years 7-9 in mixed tutor groups at site 1 and Years 10-13 mixed at site 2, until 1983 when they changed to a horizontal system (Tattersfield, 1987). After 4 years of the horizontal tutor groups, 75 Year 12s and 13s, who had 2-3 years experience of the vertical system in their early years at the school, were surveyed about their preferences.

Overall, the sixth formers showed no clear preference for either VT or HT. In fact relatively few plumped for a 'pure' horizontal (17%) or 'pure' vertical system (24%). The majority (59%) went for one of several hybrids of the two, but again with no clear preference for a particular variation. Opinion was neatly divided on whether they thought VT or HT would have helped them settle in better in Year 7, but whilst 25% thought they would have made more friends in Year 7 if they had been in tutor groups of just Year 7s and 23% thought they would have made fewer, 52% thought it would have made no difference. These opinions contradict the most commonly held view expressed by modern pupils online, who almost all emphasise the making of more friends as VT’s biggest benefit to them.

Considering these sixth formers views about settling in Year 7 it was therefore slightly surprising to read that 64% thought they would have settled into Year 10 better (which is also when they would have moved to the second site) if they had joined a vertical rather than a horizontal group. Whether or not this is due to their perception of a more prosocially inclusive social environment in the old upper school VTGs is impossible to know. For these sixth formers the move to Year 10 took place at or around the same time as the school’s transition to HT, as well as being the start or culmination of their O Level studies. It is possible that the change from horizontal to vertical itself was unsettling, or that the move from one site to another and the stress of exams and coursework affected their mood. The difficulty of separating the causes and effects of different aspects of a complicated experience is one of the issues that makes evaluating the impact of VT so hard and affected both my research aims and methodology (see Chapter 3).

Where there were significant majorities in favour of one opinion were in questions about community cohesion and participation, which are thought by several writers to affect prosocial behaviour (Astin, Sax and Avalos, 1999; Gaertner et al, 1999; Riedel, 2002; Yates and Youniss, 1997). First of all, when asked how well tutor time was used, twice as many (26%) thought it was less well used than thought it was better used (13%), though the majority thought it was the same or did not know (Tattersfield, 1987). The proportions were the same for whether they thought there were more, less or the same opportunities to take responsibility but when asked whether general enthusiasm of the student body for participation in school activities had increased or decreased since the move to HT, 77% said it had decreased (Tattersfield, 1987). This was matched by 77% who said that actual participation had decreased (Tattersfield, 1987). These were the largest majorities for anything in the survey and although only 44% thought communications between students had got worse (with 24% saying they had got better and 30% saying they were the same), I speculate that this 44% might have been the house captains and prefects who were trying to get pupils to participate and who were most sensitive to a decline in the sense of community (Tattersfield, 1987). However there are other possibilities. The first is the inevitable tendency of the older generation to belittle the younger one, especially if it is the older generation which has the responsibility of getting the younger one to turn up to practice. The second is the opposite: perhaps in this case it was the older generation who were losing interest in school activities as a result of growing up. Either way, enthusiasm and participation were elements that warranted particular attention in my research.