LEAD ARTICLE: NAPCE’s Dr Nicole Cara Explores the Role of the Form Tutor in 2023
The role of the Form Tutor: some insights from research on good practice by Dr Nicole Cara
What does a Form Tutor actually do? Do we need them? Why are they important? What does good practice look like?
This article provides a summary of some of the findings of a large-scale research study undertaken to investigate the role of the Form Tutor, Form Time and Tutor Groups by researchers from the Department for Psychology and Human Development at the Institute of Education, University College London.
The study is based on a large sample of over 1,200 Form Tutors, representing 27% of secondary schools in the country, collecting data by a survey and interviews.
What is a Form Tutor?
In the intricate web of the pastoral secondary school education system in the UK, one essential element stands out—the Form Tutor.
A Form Tutor is a member of school staff, typically a teacher, though not always, who occupies a vital role in the academic and personal development of children.
They are the adult who has regular (usually daily) contact with the group of children in their care, commonly known as a ‘Tutor Group’.
A Form Tutor and their Tutor Group usually share Form Time together, though our research found Form Time does not take place in all secondary schools in the country.
Why is a Form Tutor Important?
The Form Tutor is the only person able to have a direct oversight of the children within a secondary school given children have multiple adults teaching them across their day.
The Form Tutor is the main adult a child will build a solid relationship with at secondary school. The Form Tutor-tutee relationship has potential to be a protective factor for children, promoting a sense of school belonging (Allen & Kern, 2017, 2020; Hobfoll, 2011), helping them feel secure and safe.
This in turn has a positive impact young people’s motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000) and as a result, facilitates their academic, social and emotional success (Cook et al., 2005; Heilbronn, 2004).
Therefore, Form Tutors are the cornerstone of pastoral care, being in a position to have a relationship that differs from that of a subject teacher and student.
Furthermore, there is growing evidence to suggest that positive mental health and wellbeing of children and educational attainment are not synergistic goals.
Form Tutors providing pastoral support helps children develop their resilience and emotional wellbeing, which, in turn, has a positive impact on learning and attainment, supporting and motivating children to achieve their full potential.
What Should a Form Tutor Do?
Form Tutors wear multiple hats, undertaking a range of responsibilities to cater to the holistic needs of their tutees.
They act as mentors, advocates, and facilitators, ensuring the overall wellbeing of their Tutor Group.
However, both our review of the existing literature and our study highlighted ambivalent feelings regarding the role of the Form Tutor- what should they do? What is within their role? There was a lack of clarity.
Based on our findings, the authors of the research present the following characterisation of an ‘ideal’ Form Tutor, as encompassing these five key areas that Form Tutors felt were the most important and valued aspects of their role.
This provides a much needed update to the current research in this area, and addresses the lack of clarity round the role.
An ‘ideal’ Form Tutor:
- is relational and supportive. They hold their tutees in an unconditional positive regard, motivating, listening to and containing their tutees.
- advocates for tutees and challenges negative narratives.
- has an oversight of tutees, monitoring pastoral needs and intervenes, where necessary.
- upholds standards (checking equipment and uniform, monitoring behaviour and academic attainment) and intervenes where necessary.
- is a conduit (connector) or ‘first port of call’ between their tutees, their tutees parents/carers and the wider school system.
The description of an ‘ideal’ Form Tutor also allows for the potential of the role to be realised by clarifying and raising expectations of staff in this role and putting the Form Tutor at the heart of children’s relationship with school.
Naturally there will be variation in practice, but this provides a guide to support staff to develop and guide their practice.
How Can You Be a Better Form Tutor?
Being an effective Form Tutor, or leading/managing effective Form Tutors requires commitment, ongoing professional development, and a genuine passion for realising the potential of the role in supporting children.
Here are some tips to enhance your skills as a Form Tutor:
- Build a relationship and trust with your tutees and Tutor Group as a whole.
- Ask them about the weekend, make a note of something happening in their lives and ask about it at a later date.
- Build a positive narrative about being part of your Tutor Group: “In this Tutor Group, we are kind and help each other out”.
- Find (or make!) time for individual conversations with the children, where you can. 30 seconds asking about their best bit of their day goes a long way.
- Say what you mean, and mean what you say. If you say you’ll do something (email about their ID card, get them a new planner etc), then follow it up.
- Listen to them- all people want to feel heard. “xx, I can hear your frustrated. Lets talk about it at the end of Form Time”.
- Champion your children.
- Celebrate their achievements to others. If they do something well/good/positive, tell other adults.
- You are the person that can change a negative narrative to a positive one. A simple ‘”Hi [name], lovely to see you today. Thanks for [having your shirt tucked in, being on time, having your equipment etc]” can repair a tricky last interaction.
- You are the person in school that should hold each child in your Tutor Group in an unconditional positive regard. Don’t judge them, be supportive, be kind and hold in mind that they are teenagers whose brains are still growing and developing, even if they look like adults! Name their positive skills and attributes, even if you think they know them.
- Consistency is key. Have high standards, and help the children meet them.
- Praise, praise, praise! “Well done to xx for coming in and sitting straight down”.
- All humans thrive on certainty, clear boundaries and consistency. Keep helping the children stick to the school rules, but you can do this with compassion and a smile. It’s our job as adults to shape the people they become. If you say silence, insist on it.
- Keep an eye on their behaviour data, where you can. Praise any small but positive changes. Catch any slips towards the negative quickly and have a chat with them.
- Be the first port of call.
- Where you can, build a relationship with the families of your tutees. A positive phone call home takes 90 seconds, but makes a world of difference.
- You are the person that typically conveys school messages and makes children part of school life, beyond their academics/lessons. Read the notices, even if they seem not relevant to everyone. Encourage them to attend clubs.
- Communicate that you are the person that can listen, help them solve problems and support them at school. The best predictor of positive wellbeing is knowing that you can access support, even if you don’t always need it.
In conclusion, the role of a Form Tutor is indispensable in the pastoral secondary school education system in the UK.
By providing pastoral support, and fostering personal development, Form Tutor help shape confident, resilient, and well-rounded individuals.
To be a better Form Tutor, focus on your relationship with the children, championing and advocating for them, be consistent and a first port of call for the children. Children who feel supported and cared for will do well in their education and become resilient adults who achieve their potential.
Dr Nicole Cara, Educational, Child and Adolescent Psychologist and lead researcher. Nicole works as an Educational and Child Psychologist in a Central London Local Authority and teaches in a North London Secondary School.
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Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being. The American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68