One of the ideas I wanted to try out was Vertical Groups across the school. One afternoon a week the school was split into whole school mixed age groups. There were 12 vertical groups, each with about 18 children from every stage across the school. Vertical groups had a Primary 7 Leader and a Primary 6 Co-Leader who often had the responsibility for running the session. Vertical Groups met in the same room and were supported by the same teacher, and in some cases the same pupil support worker, each week. In the weeks before we started I used Critical Skills to train them for their roles. The first thing we did was look at our Values and Vision (we also did this as a staff and with parents and stakeholders) Once we got over the organisational teething problems we found extra benefits from this approach that we had not foreseen.
Parents remarked that older children were talking to the younger children outside school and this was appreciated by the parents. We found that there was a greater tolerance between stages and this impacted on playground behaviour. In the corridors children would pass a teacher and say ‘see you at Verticals Miss’.
Other areas we covered in Vertical Groups were:- Send My Sister to School, Diversity, Community building, Sports Day consultation, Children’s Rights (UNCRC), Bullying, Fairtrade, Safer Internet Day, A Right Blether and Being a good neighbour.
On evaluation at the end of the first year certain issues came to light. Some of the topics covered had proved too hard for the younger children and the planning and preparation for these groups had problems. After discussion with the children (through the Vertical Groups) it was decided that more general topics should be covered. The groups would move round classroom each week and each teacher would take responsibility to plan for that lesson. The Leaders and Co-Leaders had a folder with all the lesson plans so they could become familiar with what was planned. The topics chosen by the children were the Olympics and animals.
The benefits this time were children got to know all the staff and the Leaders and Co-Leaders took on more of a leadership role. Visitors to the school commented on the confidence of Primary 1 children in Vertical Groups voicing their opinions. Primary 6 and Primary 7 children described Vertical Groups as giving them more confidence in leadership, being more tolerant and some said they were surprised that younger children had good ideas. Leaders took pride in ensuring all voices were heard in the groups. The Pupil Council often decided to take issues or ideas to Vertical Groups to gain a larger pupil voice in decisions.
In the third year of Vertical Groups the stated aim was to facilitate skills development, and to provide opportunities for the children to identify, transfer and apply these skills in other areas of life.
Following extensive moderation and assessment it was decided to introduce mixed age mathematics groupings across Primary 5-Primary 7 and when that was put to the children they said well ‘that’s vertical learning’.