Barnard and the philosophy of Vertical Tutoring
Peter Barnard, a former headteacher and champion of Vertical Tutoring, claims that VT ‘stabilises’ schools as places where pupils can learn (Barnard, 2010, p. 22). He believes that the key to this is learning relationships and that 'Reciprocity and attachment underpin and drive many of the pre-conditions of western learning relationships' (Barnard, 2010, p. 21). The concept of reciprocity is highly significant to evolutionary and social psychologists’ theories about prosocial behaviour (see 2.6.1) and refers to the way in which a member of a group helps a fellow member in anticipation of being helped in return (Buss, 2004; Cartwright, 2008; Schroeder et al, 1995). Referring to the work of Pinker (Pinker, 2002), Haidt and Joseph (Haidt and Joseph, 2007) and McRae (McRae, 1996), Barnard says that each child arrives at school already a member of a number of in-groups, for example family and friends, and that these strongly influence the child’s moral mind (Barnard, 2010). The difficulty for schools is that not all of these influences will be positive but ‘the need for group membership…prevents consideration of other valid views’ (Barnard, 2010, p. 26). Barnard claims that VT uses this ‘in-group loyalty gene…to create its own powerfully tutor-based, loyalty groups, involving parents and employing other students as leaders’ (Barnard, 2010, p. 27). This focus on in-group loyalty is reminiscent of Wardle’s explanation of the origins of the house system in public schools (Wardle, 1976) but sees it as something positive rather than negative. Barnard asserts, based presumably on his experience of VT as a ‘headteacher/tutor in two mature vertically tutored schools’ (Barnard, 2010, p. 105) and as a consultant on the introduction of VT at a number of others, that these ‘mixed-age loyalty groups…are high in moral values such as reciprocity, empathy, fairness, support’ (Barnard, 2010, p. 29).

In his advice about maximising VT’s effectiveness Barnard makes several suggestions which resonate with what other writers say about the development of prosocial behaviour and which are relevant to the further study of how activity in VTGs might be conducted to promote prosocial behaviour. Firstly he says that tutor groups should be based on a balance of age, gender and ability, rather than friendship. Secondly, he recommends that tutor time should be about 25 minutes long and not first thing in the morning, after lunch or at the end of the day (he recommends before break). Thirdly, he states that all pupils should receive mentoring training at some point in their school careers (he recommends Year 10) and that some should receive additional training in assisting others with their learning, such as reading schemes. This concurs with what Eisenberg (Eisenberg and Mussen, 1990) says about the value of induction and training in promoting prosocial behaviour by children and adults.

Although what Barnard says suggests that VTGs are intrinsically more prosocial because of the range of leadership and mentoring roles available to pupils and states that horizontal structures create a ‘year-based loyalty system that is too often anti-school and anti-learning’ (Barnard, 2010, p. 28) he does not explicitly say why pupils in year-based tutor groups cannot take on these prosocial roles or much about what these roles (apart from peer-mentoring) consist of. Barnard says that VTGs ‘represent the idea of a village community or extended family’ (Barnard, 2010, p. 29) and that older and younger pupils can be mixed to role model and support learning. Therefore the reader can infer that he believes VT works because of a presumed natural seniority of older pupils, a presumed predisposition of older children to look after younger ones and a presumed natural predisposition of younger ones to look up to older ones as. However, he does not support these presumptions with reference to research evidence and according to Ofsted there are HT schools in challenging circumstances where pupils do take on these roles and behave in a generally prosocial way (Ofsted, 2001). In addition, although he says that ‘the future will be entirely vertical for the ‘star’ school innovators’ (Barnard, 2010, p. 83) he does not explain why the positive effect of one vertical tutorial a day is not undone by the rest of the day spent in year-based classes (not to mention break and lunch).

One point Barnard makes in favour of VT that is hard to argue against from a logical standpoint is that in a VTG, every pupil will have the opportunity to take on a responsible role (Barnard, 2010). Although frustratingly Barnard does not spell it out, there is a simple reason for this. Firstly everyone, except the pupils from the youngest year group, will have educational experiences that the younger ones do not have. Regardless of ability a Year 8 has been through aspects of school life that a Year 7 has not, and the least able Year 11 will still know more about being in the final year of compulsory schooling than the most able Year 10. In an age balanced VTG it is possible that every tutee could be responsible for mentoring a fellow tutee in the year below (and in turn, with the exception of the oldest year, of being mentored by someone in the year above). In addition, because they remain in their tutor groups as they go up through the school, every pupil will go through each stage, so the Year 9 who was helped in choosing their options by a Year 10 in their tutor group will become a Year 10 who helps the next generation of Year 9s. To do this in a school with horizontal tutoring would require pupils to leave their own tutor group to visit their mentor or mentee which, if everyone was doing it in tutor time, would effectively create de facto vertical groups wherever it was taking place. Of course it is possible that same year pupils could mentor each other for different things in which they had strengths and weaknesses, but unless ability is completely fairly distributed across the horizontal tutor group it will be hard to find genuine mentoring roles for everyone. I have known pupils who, because of learning difficulties or below average maturity, would have been very difficult to place in a role where they could genuinely help someone else in their year. Furthermore, is is possible that the role of mentor could be socially problematic for higher ability pupils whose age-peers may resent their help because it implies inferiority. Finding opportunities for everyone to lead in a horizontal tutor group faces similar obstacles. A vertical tutor group in which experience mattered more than ability and there was a broader mix of strengths and weaknesses would surely make giving everyone a role for a significant part of their school career much easier. Barnard also says that older pupils can be ‘co-tutors’ (Barnard, 2010, p. 91), which would definitely not be possible in a horizontal tutor group and I can see how this may well, if done successfully, significantly develop those older pupils’ prosociality (see 2.6.1).

In summary, Barnard’s book is a manifesto for change and a guide to establishing Vertical Tutoring his way, rather than academic research, and to be fair it is not presented as such. The explicit details of how and why pupils can do things in VTGs that stabilise schools and so promote prosociality, which they cannot do in horizontal tutor groups, are left for other researchers to complete and have provided a valuable starting point for my own research.