A family-style pastoral care method has been adopted by schools worldwide in an effort to alleviate issues such as bullying and youth suicide.

Vertical tutoring consists of students being assigned into small tutor groups across year levels that meet regularly to ensure a greater connection to each other and the school.

Education mentor and vertical tutoring expert Robin Cox. Photo/Supplied

Education mentor Robin Cox said vertical tutoring is not a new system but the model developed by Peter Barnard in the United Kingdom is a revolutionary way of supporting students.

The correct implementation of Barnard’s vertical tutoring in New Zealand schools would see a drop in the youth suicide rate, better school attendance, less bullying and improved academic results, Cox said.

“Vertical tutoring has been around for decades but most schools operate it on the old factory model.”

Cox has spent the last six years researching and working on vertical tutoring.

When he arrived back in New Zealand last year, after working at an Australian school which implemented Barnard’s vertical tutoring model, he decided to share his experience and research in his paper The 21st Century Education Revolution – an Education for Life.

“My aim is to raise awareness of a VT system that can go a long way to solving so many of the education challenges facing New Zealand and other countries.

“Importantly, its adoption should help lessen the risk of youth suicide and high levels of anxiety, by ensuring that every child is known and supported as they progress through school.

“In effect, vertical tutoring redefines what it is to care.”

Vertical tutoring is a holistic system involving students, parents and the school in educating and supporting young people.

“While there are many reasons for young people choosing to end their lives, as well as for the increasing and alarming levels of anxiety amongst teenagers, I have no doubt that, when VT is implemented correctly, these statistics will decline, because every student will feel cared for, supported, listened to and will find meaning and purpose in their lives being respected as unique individuals.”

Auckland’s St Cuthbert’s College implemented a vertical tutoring system in 2013 and there has already been many positive results.

St Cuthbert’s College principal Justine Mahon. Photo/Supplied

Principal Justine Mahon said their system is based off Barnard’s model has been customised to suit the school’s needs.

Students at the all girls college are placed into a tutor group of no more than 18 students of varying year levels when they arrive in Year 9 and stay with the same tutor until they leave.

“We find that what this does is give the girls a sense of belonging to a family. We want to create those very strong bonds of family. It’s very positive.”

Having a small tutor group like this gives students the support they need but also enables opportunities for leadership among the older pupils, she said.

“Leadership brings out the best in people.”

Traditionally students mostly associate with peers their own age and that can cause issues when they are all going through similar things at the same time such as their first exams.

With vertical tutoring younger students are able to get advice from older students and hear their experiences including successes and failures which enables them to feel better about facing challenges, Mahon said.

“It puts things into perspective. What it does is reduce that intensity of being in your peer group.

“There’s so much opportunity for students to feel better about themselves as they talk to older students who have been through something similar.

“When they are more secure and happier they can learn.”

Vertical tutoring has been shown to improve the mental health of students at St Cuthbert’s and has helped students on their way to becoming “stable, happy adults”.

“If people feel more deeply connected to their school of learning then they feel more secure, it impacts their mental health.

“We’re continually surprised and delighted at the gains.”

In 2016 the Education Review Office (ERO) produced a report Wellbeing for Success: Effective Practice following an evaluation in 2014 into schools’ promotion and response to student wellbeing.

This report is one of ERO’s contributions to the government’s Youth Mental Health Project launched in 2012.

The report looks into effective methods of ensuring students’ wellbeing in schools to equip others with better ways of responding to challenges and promoting positive mental health.

“How children and young people feel at school has a major impact on how confident they are and how well they learn,” the report states.

Vertical tutoring was used in some schools where ERO found good wellbeing practices including one school where the “vertical organisation of students encouraged friendships across ages and built bonds between the students and the form teacher”.

Another school showed that “learning and wellbeing were seen as going hand-in-hand”.

According to Cox’s paper The 21st Century Education Revolution – an Education for Life some examples of Barnard’s system include a daily 20 minute tutor group time before morning tea, a maximum of 20 students in a group, having a lead and co-tutor and an annual 30-40 minute academic tutorial held each year between a tutor, student and parents.


Banner: St Cuthbert’s College students in their vertical tutor groups at their Senior School Athletics Carnival. Photo/Supplied


  1. Please remember that it is not just the students who need mental health support at times.
    Teachers also need that support.
    Teachers who struggle through mental health problems themselves often make great mentors in the long run due to being able to share that experience and having successfully come out the other side.
    Please don’t make this into just a student problem. MENTAL ILLNESS AFFECTS EVERYONE.

    • You are totally correct, Kary. Barnard’s VT model, if implemented correctly, will see the mental health of teachers being catered for as well.

  2. I hope many more schools will reconsider their management and organisations now that the same-age assumption is revealed as the cause of so many concerns.
    If there are schools interested in VT as a values driven way of running a safer learning environment, I would be delighted to brief them.


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