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Ten ways to get the best out of your year group

Many comprehensives base their pastoral activity round the tutor group or the house group. Nobody has found a more efficient way of registering pupils, organising their timetables, taking in their dinner money or answering their questions. So every morning of the school year - and sometimes every afternoon - 3B go to Room L13 for 20 minutes or so with their tutor.

In view of the frequency of tutor periods, potentially much-enhanced by that same tutor teaching the class for part of the week as well, it is surprising that pastoral time has not been better used.

Teachers can learn much from the youth service, and from social work, treating the tutor group first and foremost as a group - subject therefore to all the features, all the pressures, of any group.

Groups are peculiar conglomerations to occupy and to sustain - and to knit together in the first place. The whole of the group is invariably more than the sum of its parts; just as the mood of the group is less predictable, and readable, than the mood of every individual in it.

Each tutor group becomes more exciting, and far more cohesive, the more often it is challenged. Already tutor groups decorate their room or go on litter patrol together. Already many of them raise money for charity, or hold an end of term party. They now need the clearer identity of a group which values and protects itself.

Here are 10 unconventional departures - all of which I have used myself - for the average tutor group: * Four or five members bring cameras in to photograph the group; * Sit in various blindfolded pairings, trying to identify the other person by touch only; * Stand in a large circle of clasped bodies, not letting two members in the middle of that circle escape, however hard they try; * Set up a barter and exchange during morning break; * Practise, then perform, choral speaking; * Ostentatiously celebrate any member's birthday; * As a group, lie down on the tennis court for exercises in imagination; * Arrange a Lego-building contest in threes; * Each person in turn over three or four weeks tell the life story of another person in the group; * One Saturday, all hire a coach and go on a group ramble, with a shared picnic at midday.

These ideas are just illustrations. But already the group is distinct. Already there is evidence of a corporate pride.

The trouble with groupwork techniques in school tutor groups is not that they have been tried and found wanting, but that they have been wanted but not tried.

Godfrey Holmes was a religious studies teacher and lives in Chesterfield, Derbyshire.

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