Friday, March 28, 2014

What is it good for? (Edwin Starr) Part 2

This post continues my BIG PICTURE look at the organisational culture within my current school.

Last post I considered 'socialisation' and my pursuit of bananas. Today it's a look at our status quo horizontal situation.

I Googled 'advantages of horizontal tutor groups' and nothing came up in the search. Nothing! Go on - see for yourself!

Instead a few billion entries on the advantages of vertical tutor groups came up!

I tried other variations of 'horizontal' and still nothing.

I'm not as green as I am cabbage looking - I know horizontal forms are popular beasts but clearly the bully boys from the vertical forms have bounced them off to the outer rim.

So I decided to use the interweb's 'disadvantages of vertical groups' search results to see if that made a case for horizontals.

And here they are:

Disadvantages of vertical forms

  1. Reduces opportunities for same-age students to be together.
  2. Older students may not be good role models.
  3. New intake may be intimidated by the presence of older students in their tutor group.
  4. Tutors may need support to manage the breadth of issues within their tutor group.
  5. Communication is more complicated, e.g. having to send out notices to every tutor group in order to reach a single year group.
  6. Tutor group activities must be widely differentiated to enable all members to participate.

Let's go through them:

  1. Reduces blah blah - well yes - that's obvious. Horizontal forms are same-age forms. As I said -  I haven't read any research that says it's inherently good to have that opportunity.
  2. Sure - that could happen - there is good and bad in all of us and in any situation. But so what - horizontal forms have that capacity as well.  
  3. Yes - that could happen. Some schools I worked in chose to use a horizontal format for their new entrant cohort but I've also worked in schools that successfully vertical formed everyone.
  4.  Tutors may need support. Yes, I guess they may but I'd argue they may need that support no matter what the format.
  5.  Communication - yes this is probably better with a horizontal group.
  6.  Activities - yes I can see this too.

So - what is the horizontal system good for? On the whole - not a lot there apart from some bureaucratic advantage.

The organisational culture at my current school is heavily weighted to horizontal year groups. The Deans' structure is a very powerful presence. 

How do I know this? 

Last year's staff photo. 

Most staff photos I've been in have the great and the powerful in the front row. Usually this is the Principal - centre front, flanked by senior leaders, then further out - senior Heads of Departments - the middle managers.

Who sits in the front row in our staff photo? 

Senior managers and the YEAR LEVEL DEANS! That's who.

Changing the organisational culture to vertical forms would affect the Deans' structure. A change to vertical forms would mean a change away from year level Deans  towards...THE HOUSE structure. 

Currently no one knows who leads the House structure - in fact the staff take a back seat to the students in this regard. But why couldn't the House Leaders (staff member and student) share that role?

I'm all for strengthening the House system in terms of giving it a pastoral care role. Would the school be brave enough to tamper with the status quo? Not on current evidence.

That bunch of bananas looks like it's set to outlast me.

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