NQT Special Edition: How to become an effective form tutor

Written by: Matt Bromley | Published:
Image: iStock

As a new teacher, one of the first additional duties you could take on is that of a form tutor. Matt Bromley offers some guidance and advice

A form tutor is vital to the pastoral care of pupils, and the role is crucial to the efficient running of a school.

A form tutor can be akin to a pupil’s second parent (the first point of contact pupils will turn to for help and advice) and their tutor group’s base-room can feel like a pupil’s second home, a place they sense they belong and are kept safe. So what are the secrets of being a successful form tutor?

It’s the little things in life...

It is often the little things a form tutor does that make the biggest difference to a pupil’s experience of school. A form tutor’s small daily routines can help pupils feel supported and cared for which, in turn, can enable pupils to do their best academically, as well as grow emotionally and socially.

For example, it is likely that every day a form tutor will: take the register (perhaps twice), check uniforms, and give out notices or information to individuals or the whole tutor group.

But, in addition to this, most days a form tutor will also find themselves:

  • Talking to pupils, and listening to their discussions in order to pick up on any current issues.
  • Dealing with various problems, including missing PE kits, late homework, detention disputes, lost locker keys, mobiles or letters from parents, and child protection issues.
  • Keeping an eye out for anyone who seems upset or unusually quiet.
  • Being given letters, notes, forms (even if they are supposed to be given in elsewhere) to distribute or deal with.
  • Lending out equipment such as pens and pencils (and maybe even money).
  • Running, or being involved in, some kind of activity, an assembly, or a tutor programme (such as enrichment, citizenship, PSHE, and so on).

Less often, perhaps weekly, fortnightly or termly, a form tutor might also find themselves:

  • Checking that planners are being used appropriately and fully, and are being signed by parents/carers.
  • Holding a tutor group discussion of some kind.
  • Processing and recording pupils’ merits, awards, detentions, homework, problems, complaints, etc.
  • Meeting to mentor or coach one or several pupils for either academic or pastoral reasons.
  • Dealing with a pupil’s home in some way – by letter, phone call, email, text, via a note in their planner, etc.
  • Taking part in some kind of year/key stage/house event.
  • Discussing one or several of their pupils in depth or writing and answering emails about their pupils’ progress and behaviour.
  • Helping to prepare and give an assembly.
  • Receiving or giving feedback to the pupil council.
  • Doing something for your chosen charity.
  • Teaching or reinforcing study skills, such as how to debate, research, give feedback, work independently, and so on.

First impressions count

As a new teacher in a new school, you will need to establish yourself as a form tutor and the best place to start is by doing your homework.
Before you even meet your new tutor group, for example, you need to read and understand your school’s policies on a range of pastoral matters, such as uniform, chewing gum, coats, entry to and exit from classrooms, and so on. You also need to obtain an accurate and up-to-date list of pupil names for your tutor group from your pastoral head and then research each of them.

Of course, you cannot possibly be expected to read every pupil’s file in detail, but it is worth asking for some pointers on any vulnerable pupils, such as looked-after children, those eligible for free school meals, and those with SEN or disabilities. Your school’s SENCO will probably have sent everyone a list of pupils, and these are likely to contain a brief pen portrait or, at the very least, a few notes.

As well as familiarising yourself with your tutor group, you will need to acquaint yourself with your tutor room.

Try to visit your tutor room before the summer and secure a set of keys. Your base-room might not necessarily be your teaching room, so you will need to find out whose classroom it is and establish a positive working relationship with them and any support staff involved, such as the technician or cleaner, from the beginning. You will want to agree on which noticeboards you can use, for example, and where pupils are allowed to leave their bags, coats and books, as well as how the room should be set out.

At the start of the year (or on a transition day before the summer) when you meet your tutor group for the first time, you will need to establish your personality and authority straight away.

A seating plan can help to show that you are in charge of your room and can also help you learn names more quickly. Seating plans enable you to establish your authority and to get to know pupils, while also encouraging them to work together as a team. A plan can help you to break up any cliques that may seem unhealthy or exclusive.

You should try to avoid talking too much in those early days. Your pupils will be dying to chat too and to get to know their new classmates, so you could put them in pairs to get on with the essentials together and you should try asking rather than telling, when you can.

Humour works well, as do quizzes and games, to help lighten the otherwise boring but vital administrative duties that must be carried out at the start of a new school year. For example, having a couple of year 9 pupils visit each tutor group in appalling uniform and then giving points for each infringement noted, is more fun and memorable than simply talking through the correct uniform list.

  • Matt Bromley is an education journalist and author with more than 18 years’ experience in teaching and leadership.

NQT Special Edition

This article was published as part of SecEd’s NQT Special Edition. The publication offered eight pages of specialist best practice advice for NQTs and trainee teachers across the UK. Supported by the NASUWT the special edition published on June 29, 2017, and the eight pages are available to download as a free pdf from SecEd’s Supplements page: www.sec-ed.co.uk/supplements


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