From vertical to horizontal tutoring: a contribution
At Nonsuch Secondary School in Northwood, vertical tutoring has always been the norm.
However, the staff have decided to explore a different approach to school improvement. The
suggestion was made that staff should go and visit those schools where horizontal tutoring
was best practice.
This is part of their report:
By moving from a vertical to a horizontal system the number of tutors needed will be
reduced, freeing many staff to do more important things like managing furniture,
resources and staff and other vital administration. All administration will be reduced
and a lot easier to manage.
So there will be different types of staff. Some of us will do all the tutoring while others have
free time to do more important things like administration. We can see it is only fair that better
paid and more important staff are freed up to do their managerial tasks without being tied up
At the same time, we can increase the size of the tutor groups from 20 to 26. Each of the
students will now be from the same year group. This has obvious advantages and
So there will be less tutors but more tutees. This means that at peak times during the year the
tutor will have 27 reports to do at any one time instead of 20 spread over the year. So, instead
of spreading the load over the whole year we can get everything out of the way in one go so
reducing staff stress. And by having more tutees all from the same year we can see this is
much more efficient by saving the time of others. Besides we know the kids like being in large
groups where they can hide away and where no one notices them or talks to them. They need
this. On parent Days, it will be much easier to talk to 27 sets of parents in a single day and
get it all out of the way.
Given the increase in the size of the tutor group we shall need to appoint a head of year
and two deputies to look after all the pastoral matters and all the parental liaison. This
will free the tutor to do registration and other organisational duties like giving out
information on events in the school.
So, we can increase the size of the tutor group, improve administration, protect tutors from
the unnecessary tasks of talking too much to parents and to students and create more free
time for non- tutors and managers. We believe this is a far better career structure for pastoral
people. As tutors we are all protected from having to deal with behavioural issues. Those with
responsibility allowances should do this. Behaviour is bound to improve and older ones won’t
be able to bully little ones or sell them drugs, not that any do!
By separating out into year groups we can create a strong year ethos that will be of great
benefit to the school.
So, we can prevent older students and younger students from mixing and working together
and being a bad influence on each other. That makes sense. In our current system, the
younger ones learn far too much from the older ones in our view. The strong year ethos is of
benefit because it encourages a sense of belonging and control. The problem is that they only
spend 95 per cent of their time in year groups under our current vertical tutoring system. We
need to increase this to a 100%.
It is a big advantage under horizontal tutoring to keep year groups separate to make
communications easier and to enable sports days. That way we know where we are.
Besides, there is no advantage to exposing younger children to the bad habits and
misinformation from older children. Teachers are the role models after all.
Citizenship is something that has to be taught not practised. Older students do not want to
work with younger students and vv. It was always thus. Besides we need to control what
students say at all ages. They are still youngsters.
In the horizontal system we can return to full subject evenings. These will allow parents
to talk to at least six subject teachers for five minutes once every year if they are quick.
This is a very important professional dialogue when much is achieved in sharing
If we believe in parent partnership (which we do) we have to have this dialogue but staff time
is even more important in terms of work life balance. Horizontal means we really get to talk
to parents about students for five minutes each year. It is easy to see a huge advantage of
such a system in reducing exposure of the school to the ramblings of parents. Besides they
already get reports. Once again, a change to a horizontal system neatly gets everything out
the way in one or two evenings. In our vertical system, each tutor deals with four sets of
parents for half-an-hour over an assessment period of two weeks by mutual convenience. This
is often inconvenient and too spread out.
The horizontal system has other advantages. At present we waste too much time talking
to our students about work and targets and life skills. This is hugely stressful on
students and staff and requires considerable thought and preparation. We are paid to
teach not child mind. In the horizontal system we have 100 minutes per week on PSHE
minus 20 for an assembly. This is more than enough to get the register done and notices
This is what we were trained for. This is what tutors do. We want the kids to be relaxed and
not worry about uniform, chewing gum and work. They get enough of that stuff already. They
need to socialise and chill out.
Under our present vertical system, everyone is involved in tutoring including non
teachers. By going horizontal, NTs can be more specialistic. They are not trained or able
to deal with the core business.
Again, you’re right. We waste their time. We are the true professionals. Besides there are too
many H&S and child protection and training issues.
In horizontal schools, they regard it as vital that the sixth form is kept separate from
youngsters apart from student voice and peer counselling. They appreciate that post 16
students want to be in an adult world without responsibility for youngsters. None want
to be teachers, psychologists, doctors, sociologists and stuff like that where they will
meet young people or older people and none want regular tutoring. They don’t need too
This is true. When students go into the 6th form they leave behind the world of children. They
want to be treated as adults. They never engage in activities like letting staff tyres down,
being late for lessons, non-attendance and not having their coursework in on time: they are
true adults and need minimal support. They are independent learners and that is what school
is for. They should not need support and should be treated as such. Besides they might leave
the school and choose to go to other institutions if we keep the vertical system.. Of course it
hasn't happened here but it could. The horizontalists have got it right.
In horizontal systems people can specialise in CPD. There is no point in all staff knowing
about sixth form stuff. It’s too complicated and wont help with teacher careers
This is an important point. All of us are on information overload. Although I have been fully
trained in university applications and so on, this is not stuff I need to know as a teacher.
What we need is staff who specialise in either the lower school or the upper school. There is
no point in confusing the two. If we go for a job, we do not mind having no experience of all
students. If they had experts around them I would not need to be involved and this would save
me time. I think we would know where we are with one age group. Overall, the horizontal
system seems like a lot less work. Let’s go for it!!