What’s long, strong and surprisingly popular? The answer, you may be surprised to hear, is a vertical tutor group. Tutor groups are equally comprised of students drawn from all year groups within the school, thus creating a ‘family’ of older and younger students which further strengthens the sense of community within each House.
Vertical tutoring was first introduced to Lawrence Sheriff by the school’s previous headmaster, Dr Peter Kent, in 2005. Having previously thought of ourselves as strong advocates of the horizontal, year based pastoral system that still prevails in most schools in this country, we look back on our move to a vertical system, as one of the strongest school improvement measures that we have introduced to the school, despite the fact when it was first introduced it was viewed with scepticism by staff and students.
Why set out on this process of turning upside down the conventional pastoral structure in schools? The answer initially was about personalisation of the curriculum and enabling students to become more open to new ways of studying through experiencing them on a daily basis through their tutor groups. Whilst personalisation was the ‘carrot’ that drew us into vertical tutoring, we soon found that it was not the only benefit. Schools that operated the system pointed out that it provided an opportunity to replicate within school the principle of the extended family. Whilst changing social structures meant that many students were unable to experience this outside school, within school they would be able to experience the benefits of older students being supported by younger students. Many of us have created opportunities for younger students to be mentored by older ones. However, when this contact is experienced on a daily basis, the mentoring becomes much more profound and ultimately becomes embedded within the whole structure of school life.
How does vertical tutoring help support students and prepare them for life outside of school? After nearly 20 years of vertical tutoring at Lawrence Sheriff we can confidently endorse all of its many benefits. Vertical tutoring has helped to foster an environment where students can build deeper relationships with their peers and tutors. It encourages open communication, providing opportunities for students to share concerns, and address any issues they may be facing. The presence of older students as mentors, provide a positive influence and emotional guidance. Through interactions with students from different age groups, students further develop their personal and social skills and learn to develop a broader perspective on the world. Furthermore, the vertical tutoring system has helped students with the transition from year group to year group helping to develop a true sense of an extended family, promoting a sense of belonging and inclusivity within the school community. As we continue to witness the positive outcomes of vertical tutoring, its effectiveness appears to be even more relevant in preparing students for the challenges of tomorrow.