I am in, I feel, a slightly unique position. I was with my first form group, tutor group, whatever you want to call it, for their entire seven years at the school. I started at the school – actually, I started teaching – at the same time as they started Year 7. By the time they had reached Year 11 and a few of them were venturing elsewhere I had seen them almost every morning for five years. There were a few losses along the way, with the already-incredibly-tall-Tom going off to Bristol in Year 8 (and sending us his own personally-designed Christmas cards every year), and a couple of them having to leave for various reasons. Other than that, we had the same group for five years. Moving into the Sixth Form, a few more left to go to another sixth form or to college, and we gained a couple of newbies who found themselves a place in whatever group suited them. I had a wonderful, diverse bunch, and we had such a great time. For around twenty students, we saw each other every single school day for seven years. I think that made a difference to my time at the school and theirs.
I don’t know whether this is controversial or not – there’s so little out there in the blogosphere about form tutor structure – but I think that sticking with a form throughout their time at a school is really important and that if your school doesn’t do it this way, they should be.
For the students, it gives a constant in their busy school lives and someone they know that understands them, that knows their issues and needs, and someone who has shared in their successes and their growth in the school. With a new form tutor each year or two years, or however a school might do it, you need to start afresh each time. Sure, you’ll build rapport. Sure, you’ll gain some understanding about them and develop strength to those relationships. Sure, you’ll care deeply about how they progress and you will fight for them when you need to, and fight with them when you need to. But, all of these are improved if you are with them for longer: you’ll know and understand your students better, and you know they are sticking around so investing your time and energy can seem more worthwhile; they’re not going anywhere at the end of Year 9.
For you, it gives you more opportunities to provide meaningful pastoral care for students in your school. It means you do not have to take on a new group with new issues that you have not been so privy to, and passing on those students you have mentored and cared for to another colleague. This to me seems a wasted opportunity. When that responsibility is taken from you through moving to another form group, or perhaps by Heads of Year having more of a leading role, a little bit of depth to our role as teachers is lost.
Those are my reasons I think it is a good idea, but I can think of some reasons you may not agree. Presumably some think that the role of a teacher should not be detracted from with so much pastoral time: that’s for Heads of Year/House and those on the Senior Leadership Team with pastoral responsibilities. There are many aspects of the tutor role that I am deliberately avoiding specifying here, as I am not trying to get into the individual aspects to the role of a form tutor. All I will say is that whatever role pastoral leaders in the school play, a form tutor should be given meaningful pastoral responsibility. Perhaps some of you will disagree with me on that.
Practically, though, there are a number of considerations to make. Virtually all of these, aside from the final consideration, apply whether you have an all-through tutor system or not.
- What if a form tutor is not interested?
- Solution: As with anyone in your workplace who is uninterested in part of their job role, the School tackles it in an appropriate way
- What if things aren’t going well between the form tutor and the form?
- Solution: This can be tackled similarly to a teacher who is struggling with a teaching group.
- What if the school day is structured to minimise time with form, or minimises the importance of the tutor role?
- Solution: Not so easy. Use the time as well as you can and plan to ensure you use your sessions effectively. If you think the structure is negatively affecting student development, speak to those in charge and push for change
- Going from Year 7 to Year 13 would mean that the form tutor is not a key stage specialist, so would have to learn the ropes of being a Year 7 transition guide, a Year 9 GCSE options guide, a GCSE examination preparation and sixth form application guide, and then a further education guide
- Solution: this isn’t a problem, right? Good Heads of Year/House will lead you through these activities well and as a teacher wanting to continually develop, this should be an exciting challenge to take on
I would be really interested in your thoughts. I wonder how many don’t do all-through? Let me know.