We’re looking at what happens in tutor group time this half-term. There’s a programme for each year group that involves reading, news, equipment, revision and so on, according to age and proximity of examination and we extended the time to make it better last year. I’ve been allocated year 9. Year 9, as I’ve said before, are always a bit odd. They lack the winsome charm of year 7, they’re more sluggish than year 8 but they can’t quite focus on the future in the way that year 10 nearly can and most of year 11 do. Year 9, against all the evidence, believe themselves to be quite the models of maturity.
Tutor groups are eccentric beasts too. They’re like a large family of up to 30 children with only one parent (perhaps a second if other adults hitch their caravans to this particular train). Tutors demonstrate a range of parenting skills in this rather challenging task. I scuttled round all nine groups one week to assess the weather and this is what I found.
Two groups were watching Newsround and there were the makings of intelligent discussion on current affairs. Two groups were reading the year group’s book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. What joy to start the day thus! One group was competing ferociously in an on-line book quiz and couldn’t spare the time to be interrupted by me. One group’s tutor had just returned from a residential trip so the family were going through notices that might have been missed. Another group’s tutor was on jury service so the atmosphere was a bit different. Groups like to see the same community parent’s face every day and don’t really like substitution.
One group was having an equipment inspection. This was being done in total silence and, the merest twitch of the tutor’s eyebrow cause the requisite items to be brandished. ‘Two sharpened pencils? Calculator? Two working pens?’ Tutor was just about satisfied by 99% compliance. The shirker didn’t even convince himself that he’d looked hard enough to find his planner.
Next door, however, there was much in hand. Tutor posed the question ‘Why are we so useless at Sports Day?’ and got many answers including the perfidy of other groups, lack of girls or boys of sufficient prowess in all the events, most of the form being too short, tall or weak or having the wrong kit, inclination or motivation. Dismissing all this as losers’ thinking, Tutor then showed a bit of Coach Carter and set out his plans for world domination. Introducing novelty concepts entirely in line with our Habits ‘We are going to train’ he said ‘We are going to practice’, to a chorus of much groaning.
We assign tutors at the start of year 7 in the hope that most last until year 11. It’s a wonderful thing to be the school parent of a group of growing children, though it doesn’t necessarily feel like that every single morning and afternoon. Children make mistakes, and personalities change through hormones or circumstance, just like at home. Friendships emerge and disband, some thrive and some don’t. Some like the relative informality of form time, some hate it.
We try very hard to make tutor groups balanced but aspects of adolescent character are unpredictable. Sometimes groups become collectively unhappy and hard to manage, so we move people around. Some groups stay the same for five years and their sense of family and nostalgia when they part at the end of year 11 is heartbreaking.
I had a tutor group for years in a different part of the forest in another century. Our tutor room was a demountable classroom (hut, terrapin, call it what you will) on the far periphery of a single story site housing a 10-form-entry 11-16 school. Tutorial lessons for PSE happened on Friday afternoons for year 9s but we had RE together after that. Including afternoon reg, that was two-and-a-half hours together to round off the week. We had our ups and downs, but we knew each other pretty well by the end of the year. I can’t say that I begged the timetabler for a repeat in year 10, but when we all left I was touched by the group memories of long cosy afternoons in a warm room with the rain coming down outside. We planned some cracking events that year for team building and charity: car washing, kayak trips, abseiling. We celebrated birthdays and I visited the reluctant attenders. I saw shocking poverty in some of their homes and learned a lot from all of them.
Schools have different traditions and use different language for the same things. I range through form tutor, registration and tutor group to the bewilderment of children I’m interrogating. Tallisees call the group and the person by the same name: ‘Tutor’. As in, ‘I’m off to tutor to see my tutor’. I like that, the group and the person as one thing with one purpose.
So here’s to the form tutors of the land. May you be a good parent to your many children in your busy rooms. May you build up happy memories. May you know them as they want to be known and smile at them every day, even if they’re useless at the shot putt.