Advantages of Vertical Tutoring

The following advantages have all been found in research by myself or other writers, or claimed by students, staff and parents with first hand experience of VT.

  • VT can develop leadership and teamwork. Mixed age groups create many more opportunities for pupils to take positions of responsibility, to lead each other and work as teams. This seems to be because the older students tend to naturally take on this role, and the younger ones tend to naturally look up to them, as they would do in a family.
  • VT can de-polarise behaviour in the tutor group. A large group of students of one age will tend to ‘polarise’ each others’ behaviour. Year 7s behave ‘very Year 7’ and Year 11s behave ‘very Year 11’. But a mixed age group seems to dilute the worst in each age group. In addition, older students often seem to behave in a more grown up way in front of younger students, as if they naturally feel a duty to model good behaviour. Likewise, younger students often don’t want to be seen as silly little kids by older students and act in a less silly way.
  • VT can create a more supportive ‘family atmosphere’. For much of human history, humans have lived in small tribes or clans with a few members of each age group that have to work together and learn from each other’s example. To some extent, Vertical Tutor Groups replicate that. Also the way VT schools are organised into separate ‘houses’ or ‘colleges’ creates a smaller ‘schools within a school’ structure, where everyone knows each other better. Also, because achieving the desirable form sizes of 14-21 can require more school staff, including non-teaching and senior leaders, to become tutors, Vertical Tutoring gives all staff a closer working relationship with each other and with students.
  • VT can reduce the amount of rivalry and cliques. In HTGs girls often divide into cliques and there can be fierce and distracting competition for a place in the in-crowd. In VTGs there is much less rivalry because there are very few children of the same age to be rivals with. Students are more likely to be friendly towards the others of their year because there are only 2-3 of them and differences in ability and maturity become irrelevant.
  • VT can allow for richer and more varied non-academic learning activities. This is because the difference in ages de-polarises behaviour and the older students can help the younger ones.
  • VT can make younger students more focused and aspirational because they see the older students preparing for exams, doing work experience, applying for university and eventually leaving to face the big wide world.
  • VT can make younger students more open-minded, because older students often have a greater ability to empathise with people from different backgrounds.
  • VT can promote prosocial behaviour because the ‘family atmosphere’ tends to make students care about each other and the older students can role model empathy and tolerance.
  • VT allows tutors to give much better, more personalised support to their tutees. This is partly because Vertical Tutor Groups tend to be smaller than horizontal ones but also because only having a few students of each age reduces the tutor’s workload (eg. only 3 references to write for UCAS and only 3 new Year 7s to settle in).

  • VT is good value for money. It is a relatively low cost improvement because it comes from a reorganisation of the human resources schools already have, rather than hiring anyone or building anything new.

VT shows students they can progress. In Horizontal Tutor Groups (HTGs) differences in ability and maturity are seen as permanent personal attributes because everyone has had the same amount of time to develop. Young people judge themselves and each other by these attributes, sometimes very harshly. For example: ‘She’s better at Maths than me because she’s a geek/I’m stupid’. In mixed age groups it is much more obvious that everyone progresses over time. This can raise self-esteem, confidence and aspirations.

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