Turn your register around

22nd February 2008 at 00:00
Vertical registration has turned 'dead time' into a positive session for everyone at a Dundee school, writes Raymond Ross

Monday morning, 9 o'clock registration class. Thirty challenging S3 pupils pile in and pile on the decibels. For a teacher, it's "dead time". Registration is simply an admin task. Fifteen minutes later, the pupils spill into their first class, just as hyper, just as excitable.

Wouldn't it be nice if you had a register class of just 20, drawn from S1 to seniors, with whom you had a more personal relationship, all making for a much calmer and more positive start to the day?

This dream is now a reality at Harris Academy in Dundee, where vertical registration is embedded and being used as a basis for extending pupil and peer support.

The immediate advantages, says Jim Thewliss, the headteacher, are a daily opportunity for peer support and buddying; a better social mix, breaking up undesirable year group class dynamics; a more positive - and calmer - start to the day; an opportunity for siblings to mix and an opportunity to enhance and augment the school's support strategy.

This provides staff with a greater insight into supporting pupils and the chance to make a difference.

The disadvantages seem to be mainly logistical andor administrative: you need more register teachers and accommodation for register classes; year group assemblies cannot be held during registration and the distribution of information to year groups is more difficult.

All 58 unpromoted teachers at the academy are register teachers and, so far, some 35 have volunteered to become what the school terms "pupil advisers". They meet with pupils on a one-to-one basis, at critical support stages in the academic year - for example, with S2 pupils in the weeks leading up to their S3 course choice. In the old system, with 30 pupils in the one S2 class, this was impossible.

"In general, the new system provides individual pupils with additional opportunities to meet with a known adult to discuss their progress and their concerns. It means the young person feels valued, and the teacher has a stronger, better relationship with the pupils in their register class and in teaching groups," says Mr Thewliss.

Vertical registration is not an end in itself. "It's about extending our pupil support process," says Denis Speedie, depute head. "We have a committed and successful guidance team. But we also have 1,100 pupils and we came to realise that register teachers were an untapped resource. Now, as pupil advisers, they are supporting the work done by guidance and they can, for example, flag up problems because they are engaged at a pastoral level. That alone helps with early intervention."

The new model is in its fourth year and, by next session, the school hopes all register teachers will become pupil advisers. Ultimately, the aim is for pupil advisers to work with each individual in a trackingtarget process, where every pupil has a personal learning plan to which he or she, the pupil adviser, guidance teacher, class teacher and parents provide input.

Simultaneously, it is hoped to extend the peer support process more formally into the morning registration with S5-6 pupils mentoring younger pupils.

The pupil advisers have come forward voluntarily. None has opted out and many talk about feeling more confident in dealing with pupils on an individual basis (for which they were trained by senior guidance staff). They also say they have a more fruitful relationship with their register pupils.

"It has been a gradual but positive process," says Mr Thewliss. "It's about being better professionals, and openness is the ethos behind it. We develop by consulting with staff, pupils and parents, and we develop at a pace suitable to all."

Or, as Mr Speedie puts it: "The concept originally was revolutionary, but the process is evolutionary."

According to evaluation carried out by guidance staff, pupils and staff (teaching and non-teaching), feedback has been positive. Pupils feel they know their register teachers better and that the teachers care more for them.

"It's another layer of support and I don't know one teacher who wants to revert to the old system," says Pam Merchant, guidance teacher. "I was apprehensive. But we are managing it by involving the pupils and keeping the staff and parents onside. It's good practice in operation, and it's evolving all the time."


Isobel Lindsay, pupil adviser and modern studies teacher

"I've been a pupil adviser for three years and I prefer the smaller register class and the year mix. It has a more relaxed feel.

At first, pupils kept very much to their year groups. They still sit together, but now they interact more. S4 girls tend to take an interest in younger pupils, discussing prelims, for example, with S3s. Similarly, S1s take an interest in my general discussions with S2 over course choice. They can see what's ahead of them.

I know the pupils better and meeting with them twice a year on a one-to-one basis has helped tremendously. It's totally changed my relationship with one or two, with whom I didn't seem to get on.

It's certainly a more enjoyable start to the day, both for them and me. Registration is no longer an admin task. I have a working relationship with the pupils.

They volunteer information they wouldn't have before. That gives you an insight into their lives, which can explain things about them.

Sitting down one-to-one didn't come naturally. I've always been a class teacher, but the continuing professional development from guidance really helped - where to sit, how to put the pupil at ease, how to get them talking, how to show you're really listening and so on.

I find the pupils like telling you things, because they know you. I can also pick up on potential problems and alert guidance.

I had no real relationship with my previous registration class, whereas this makes you build one with your pupils and that's all to the good.

I'd say all the register teachers prefer it this way.

Previously, we did have one or two large and problematic year-group register classes with a fair share of challenging pupils. That could set a bad tone for the day, especially if they were going straight into a subject class together.

Vertical registration has quite simply stopped that happening.

Yes, a calmer start to the day."

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