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vertical tutoring

noun [uncountable] BRITISH

a method of organizing secondary schools in which class groups are made up of students of different ages ranging from 11 to 18

'In a vertical tutoring structure the system is organised so that houses are more important and the tutor groups will have students of all ages, year seven through to Year 13.'

Wetherby Today 24th July 2012

The new school year begins in September in England and Wales, and for many secondary school children, my own sons included, the faces that they encountered when they first entered their form room were not the familiar ones they said cheerio to the previous July. In a new approach to school organization known as vertical tutoring, lanky 18 year olds on the cusp of adulthood start their day alongside nervous new-starters seven years their junior.

in vertical tutoring, instead of children of the same age and school year forming a tutor group, three or four students from each year group are assigned to every form

Vertical tutoring, also sometimes abbreviated to VT, is a new approach to the organization of class groups which is being introduced into some British secondary schools. Students spend the bulk of their day being taught with fellow pupils in the same age group, usually filtered into class groups which relate to academic ability. However they are also divided into form or tutor groups of all abilities, who meet for a brief period of time at the beginning of each morning and afternoon session. The purpose of these tutor groups is to register attendance, give out information and to generally support the well-being of students, academic or otherwise. In vertical tutoring, instead of children of the same age and school year forming a tutor group, three or four students from each year group are assigned to every form, so that each one comprises a heterogeneous group of ages ranging from 11 to 18. Use of vertical tutoring consequently has a knock-on effect for the wider organization of the school, which instead of being based on year (i.e. age) groups is centred around a Harry-Potter-esque 'house' system (i.e. the students as a whole are divided into about 4 or 5 large groups, referred to as houses), something which has conventionally been associated with private schools or the traditional approaches of bygone eras.

So, what's the point of vertical tutoring? Why is such a significant change to the organization of a school, often meeting opposition from both students and parents alike, considered to be such a good idea?

Advocates of the approach would argue that use of vertical tutoring is a positive step in catering for the social and emotional needs of students, an area often described as their pastoral education. Tutor groups are usually smaller (often 20 or less) giving the tutor more time to focus on each individual, especially at significant points in their school career, since tutors will only have a handful of students at each specific stage. The cross-section of ages attempts to emulate a miniature, self-supporting society, in which older students have special responsibility for mentoring and guiding their younger classmates. As they care for their younger counterparts, older students gain a stronger sense of worth and social responsibility, and younger children in turn feel more secure. The idea is to foster positive cross-age relationships and alleviate the problem of bullying. The related house system incorporates a competitive angle intended to raise motivation and achievement.

Background – vertical tutoring

The concept of vertical tutoring has been around for about 20 years or so, though it's only in the last five to ten years that there's been a notable increase in the number of British secondary schools adopting it or considering doing so in the future. Vertical tutoring has recently become a bit of a buzzword in educational circles, and as the number of schools adopting the approach grows, so does wider recognition of the term beyond educational theorists. Use of the expression has also established horizontal tutoring as a contrastive term, referring to conventional organization based on age and year groups.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 1st October 2012.

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