The continuing professional development training implications of the gifted and talented (G&T) agenda are highlighted here by Sophie Craven and Brin Best, explaining all that CPD has to offer in the area of G&T
The education of highly able or ‘gifted and talented’ (G&T) children has received much government attention in recent years. Major policy changes and significant financial developments in the area of gifted and talented education, in particular through the introduction of the ‘Young Gifted and Talented’ programme and the creation of the role of leading teacher for G&T, has in turn given renewed impetus to CPD in this area.
This article reviews the main training offerings and gives additional advice on how you can gear your colleagues up for the gifted and talented agenda, which is rapidly becoming a key area of government emphasis.
The key training implications
In the past, schools focusing on the needs of gifted and talented children were sometimes accused of elitism. However, now that the government has redefined G&T as referring to the top 5-10% of the student population in each year group, every teacher clearly works with learners who are deemed gifted or talented at some point. This has widened the relevance of what was sometimes seen as rather specialist training.
Learning to help gifted and talented children achieve their potential is now considered a fundamental part of every teacher’s professional development. It has key links with other aspects of a school’s work, in particular:
As such, any training on G&T can easily be linked with a range of other work taking place in a school. Indeed, some schools make it part of a wider training package which is given a broader, more strategic aim. This enables teachers and teaching assistants to engage with CPD in a way that allows them to better support their most able learners, while being mindful of a spectrum of other abilities and pupil needs.
Training for G&T coordinators and leading teachers
The establishment of G&T coordinators and more, recently leading, teachers for gifted and talented has given the education of more able children a clear strategic focus in schools. As well as being role models for the teaching of able children, such staff are required to oversee the training of colleagues in their schools in this aspect of their work.
It is important that this key person takes it upon themselves to gain the additional skills and knowledge needed for the job. Training and CPD is a vital part of the lead teacher’s or coordinator’s role if he or she is to be truly effective and up-to-speed with the latest developments and thinking on the subject of gifted and talented education.
If the coordinator has a commitment to CPD then this can also be used to encourage other staff to participate in appropriate training in this area. Additionally, a commitment to CPD for coordinators will tend to reflect the commitment of the school’s senior managers to the important agenda of G&T. What is more, training that the coordinator undertakes can be cascaded down to other staff through more informal, in-house CPD for the whole staff; for instance through Inset days.
In autumn 2007 a new training programme was offered to leading teachers for G&T, led by local authorities. Whatever else coordinators choose to undertake in terms of CPD, this centrally provided training is seen by the government as the basic requirement for any G&T leading teacher or coordinator. Any further training in your school should clearly dovetail with this and build upon it in a coherent way.
Training for all staff
The teaching of the most able students is not, of course, the sole responsibility of the G&T coordinator or leading teacher, but the shared responsibility of all staff in the school. This recognition alone will lead to a whole-school approach to provision for the most able that will inevitably involve the provision of support and training for all staff across the school. As a minimum, CPD coordinators should work closely with G&T coordinators or leading teachers to plan at least one Inset session for staff.
Inset can be delivered by the G&T coordinator or leading teacher if he or she is confident enough to do so, or in collaboration with staff from other schools or the local authority. Alternatively, many external providers offer tailor-made Inset packages to meet the needs and requirements of schools.
Ideally, NQTs and newly appointed members of staff should be asked to undertake a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis or a similar training requirements analysis by the CPD coordinator as part of their induction, to determine their particular CPD requirements. This should include, among other things, an analysis of their need for training to enable them to support their most able learners.
Types of training on offer
Broadly speaking, G&T training can be separated into two areas – off-site and school-based training. CPD coordinators should work with other key colleagues in school to decide on a blended approach to CPD that best meets the needs of the school, based on prior experience and expertise of staff.
This usually refers to courses and other training provided by an external organisation in a venue other than the school. It is usually assumed that the people leading such training are experts in their field, hence the costs of off-site training can be quite high per person. There are an increasing number of providers offering CPD opportunities in the area of G&T. Choosing what is most appropriate and for whom within the constraints of school budgets can be a challenging task.
To help you with this task, we have included a summary table of the major courses and programmes that are available. Personal recommendation is often the safest bet when choosing appropriate training providers, so if in doubt contact your local authority or ask to see evaluation feedback of previous courses before booking.
Make sure, too, that you are clear about the aims, objectives and content of the training and the level of prior experience at which it is aimed. If in doubt then discuss your expectations with the CPD provider to ensure you fully understand what you are likely to get out of it. That way you are less likely to feel disappointed and short-changed.
This takes place on the school site and is led either by a specialist in the field of gifted and talented education or one of your own staff. The most common pattern is for a whole Inset to take place on a staff training day. It is undoubtedly a cheaper option than one-day external courses (typically, a one-off fee is paid for a trainer to work with all staff) but is only going to be effective if the person delivering it is confident and experienced in their subject matter.
If you are planning to organise your own Inset event it is essential that you take the lead in deciding the outcomes you want for your staff, rather than simply expecting an off-the-shelf training day from the provider. Every school’s precise needs are unique, so this needs to be reflected in what you request.
Such training can be a useful starting point for creating a G&T vision and policy for your school, or honing existing ones. It can also be a good way to uncover the views of other staff as well as any preconceptions about G&T and for dealing with any myths and stereotypes that may exist among colleagues. Ideally, one of the key outcomes should also be some clear actions for everyone to take forward, in particular changes to existing practice.
If you are considering leading your own training session for staff it is important first for G&T coordinators or leading teachers to have attended some external training and to have purchased and digested some G&T resources. They will need to be prepared to answer questions and so, for the sake of professional credibility, will need to be clued up on national developments and issues such as terminology, identification and provision (including the new National Quality Standards, which can be accessed at the website given in the ‘Further information’, below).
It is important to remember, however, that CPD coordinators and G&T professionals don’t have to do it all alone. Find out what other local schools are doing and consider pooling resources and expertise. Contact your local authority to see if it can help with your in-house training, either in terms of planning or delivery.
Note that it is important the G&T coordinator or leading teacher, in conjunction with the CPD coordinator, disseminates the information in the table to school staff as part of a whole-school approach to working with the most able. This will allow individuals and departments to decide what training is most appropriate for them.
Decisions on whole-school Inset are best made in conjunction with senior managers, as these must link to priorities in the school improvement plan.
Case study: A whole-school training day
A primary school in Barking organised a whole-school training day for teachers and teaching assistants to address key priority areas for the education of its most able children. An external consultant specialising in G&T education was brought in to lead the day, which included the identification of G&T learners and an extensive session on classroom strategies to inspire the most able.
A significant feature of the day was the collaboration between teachers and teaching assistants to explore new ways of meeting the needs of more able children during lessons. A variety of strategies were planned, including the removal of groups of students for more advanced small group work with a teaching assistant.
Each member of staff left the day with their own tailored action plan for how they could improve their work with more able children.
CPD: what next?
As CPD coordinator it is important to encourage the cascading and dissemination of what has been learned, particularly through external CPD that only one member of staff may have attended. Individual teachers, for instance, should be encouraged to disseminate what they have learned through departmental, subject area or year group meetings to generate a series of action points for moving things forward. Action after training is imperative and in most cases it is the lack of action and the continuation of the status quo that renders the training ineffective, not necessarily the quality of the training itself.
A critical point about training for gifted and talented is that it is an ongoing process. The pace of change within the gifted and talented policy area can be fast and staff should not overestimate what they can achieve from a one-day CPD intervention. They should also be actively encouraged by the school’s CPD coordinator to enact change back in school and where necessary to follow this with additional and ongoing training as appropriate.
Indeed, CPD coordinators should encourage staff who have attended training to meet with them to discuss the outcomes of that training.
There is no doubt that, despite some initial difficulties, the renewed emphasis on the education of gifted and talented children has allowed schools to focus on differentiation in a much more focused way than before.
This has often brought widespread benefits beyond the immediate target group, such as more rigorous approaches to lesson planning and the personalisation of learning. As such, a focus on G&T can be seen as a powerful tool that the CPD coordinator and other senior staff can use to tackle a range of wider school improvement issues.
Sophie Craven is schools and colleges liaison officer at the University of Huddersfield, which involves developing and delivering programmes for G&T learners. She is also involved in writing and delivering courses around the theme of G&T, and is co-author (with Brin Best) of the Gifted & Talented Coordinator’s Handbook.
Brin Best is an education consultant with a special interest in the education of more able children, having been gifted and talented coordinator for a local authority in northern England. He is also an award-winning education author and his website can be visited at www.brinbest.com.
For more information and links to a number of CPD opportunities endorsed by the DCSF, visit the Young Gifted and Talented website at www.ygt.dcsf.gov.uk and click on useful links and professional development.