Showcasing the work of G&T students can inspire colleagues to develop effective practice as well as providing opportunities for recognising hard work and talent, says Jo Philpott

Since the creation of the Institutional and Classroom Quality Standards, the need to provide for the needs of every gifted and talented pupil in their classrooms is a challenge made explicit for all schools. The recent move towards leading teachers is based on the recognition of this need and taking up post in 2006, I was aware of the need to provide some sort of catalyst for adding impetus to our development of G&T provision.

Primary schools

Although this case study is based in a secondary school, the principles are equally as valid in primary settings. Showcasing the work of children in Year 6 can provide an excellent focal point for the summer term before transition, when there can be a lack of motivation and impetus.
A celebration event provides the opportunity to demonstrate and celebrate children’s achievements, share good practice and inspire younger pupils. Be sure to invite staff from local secondary schools so that they see at first-hand, the gifts and talents of the upcoming Year 7!

Pupil and staff reps
When I first took up the post of gifted and talented coordinator, I used a small group of school-identified G&T pupils as a pupil forum. They enlightened and informed my understanding of what challenged and inspired them in lessons and, combined with further research, this insight led me to invite a teacher from each subject area to become the departmental gifted and talented representative.

To give credibility to this role, I asked subject leaders to invite members of their department to this position, nominating colleagues whom they believed to be:

  • effective classroom practitioners
  • confident enough to champion the cause of the most able
  • keen to experiment with innovative practice.

We ensured that meetings were written into the school calendar as part of directed time, so there was no sense of having to give yet more voluntary time. It was agreed that representatives would be given time to attend meetings and give feedback to their departments the following week; compile subject registers, and encourage use of the Classroom Quality Standards. It was felt that we needed a measurable outcome to work towards as a group, something that could be organised through the school development plan and linked to the school improvement plan. This eventually emerged in the form of a celebration evening, an opportunity to showcase the work in progress and the final outcomes of the most able and talented pupils in all subject areas from across all year groups. An important aim of the project was also to reduce any feelings of elitism and prejudice that might exist in some areas towards gifted and talented education; we sought to achieve this by broadening the gifted and talented register and celebrating the wealth of teaching expertise and pupil proficiency and potential that existed in so many classrooms.

The project
We began planning for the celebration evening in September 2007 with the date fixed and published in the school calendar for 5 February 2008. Participation in the event was not compulsory; it was designed as a motivator, for both staff and students, to develop additional opportunities for gifted and talented work in all subject areas. Not surprisingly, the competitive edge of the teachers ensured that no one was excluded from the event as they all strived not to be outdone. I led half-termly subject representative meetings where we discussed the shape of the evening and different types of contribution, with each department having complete freedom over their levels of participation. Representatives then discussed this with their colleagues.

I hoped for a combination of ongoing work and completed work, because I wanted the processes of creating and planning to be as celebrated as much as the end product itself, thus placing value on how pupils achieve their outcomes. Pupils worked directly with their subject teachers in and out of lessons, and those involved were automatically placed on the departmental G&T register. Parents were informed of their children’s involvement and later invited to the celebration evening itself. At this stage I was guessing at the numbers involved; if the gifted and talented population in a school is 10% we would be looking at just over 120 children.

Tips for successful celebration events

The following factors contributed to the success of the celebration evening and may help readers who wish to hold a similar event.

  • Early date-setting and outline planning means that there is enough time to do things properly.
  • Collaborative planning encourages a sense of ownership by all involved.
  • Identified meetings and published date of event in the school calendar ensures that the event is built into curriculum planning and not regarded as ‘bolted on’.
  • Nominated personnel ensure consistency in planning and effective communication.
  • Regular communication between coordinator and departmental representatives and senior leadership keeps problems to a minimum and relieves any anxiety of those involved.
  • Freedom for departments to choose what and how to celebrate encourages a less mainstream and more creative and diverse approach to showcasing gifted and talented learning.
  • Parental contact and invitation helps with home-school communication and promotes inclusion of all

The final event was a one and a half hour celebration evening involving informal, classroom-based activities followed by formal events in the school sports hall. The work of more than 250 children from all year groups and subject areas was included in the event. On the night, more than 130 children participated and more than 200 parents attended as well as school governors and teachers. Our inclusive approach went far beyond my initial whole-school gifted and talented register and identified children who previously would not have been identified.

We agreed that a two-part evening would suit all departments and agreed to have an informal walkabout for parents and invited guests to see work in action and displays, as well as providing pupils with the chance to demonstrate what they do in their lessons. In a Year 10 English class, pupils discussed poetry while upstairs in maths, Year 9 pupils were able to show guests how they had been making use of Jaguar Motors software in their lessons. Modern languages displayed Year 7 fast-track work, and the art department welcomed all into the foyer with an exhibition of print produced as part of an enrichment day.

The second part of the evening was a showcase by pupils of their achievements to the invited audience. Time travellers astounded everyone with their historical knowledge and Jack demonstrated the application of his AS ICT programming to awestruck spectators. Megan sang a song composed by her friends and PE used dance as their focus for talent.

The less visible benefits to pupils and staff were significant, though more difficult to measure. Departments have begun to apply the Quality Standards into their everyday repertoire of teaching and are beginning to increase their range of strategies for teaching more able pupils. The register has become a working document and the representatives will keep gifted and talented learning on the departmental agenda. The recent pupil gifted and talented forums paint a much more positive picture of the learning experiences they now receive in the classroom. The numbers involved in the event have shown to all the breadth of young talent in our school and demonstrated that pupils enjoy celebrating their gifts and talents.

There was a great deal of positive feedback from parents:

‘It was wonderful to see young, blossoming talent being celebrated.’

‘The enthusiasm of the children was overwhelming.’

‘It was lovely to see so many children involved and opportunities that are available to more able children in a comprehensive environment.’

Our newly appointed headteacher, Peter Devonish, remarked, ‘It really makes your heart sing – such impressive work from pupils.’

Whole-school collaboration
There is a longer path to follow before we can claim to have exemplary standards in all areas of provision for gifted and talented students in our school; we emphasise that all departments have to be involved in getting us there and success will only be achieved through collaboration between teachers, pupils and parents.

Publicise what you do

A celebration of this sort can result in a very newsworthy outcome that can boost the profile of your school if it gets to press. The most effective way of getting into local newspapers is to prepare a news release yourself and send it in to the editorial office (as an attachment to an email) – with a digital photograph if possible. Remember to:

  • keep it short (what, when, where, who, why, how?) – 300 words as a guide
  • include one or two quotes
  • mention any dignitaries attending, or ‘business partners’ involved
  • use a ‘catchy’ title.

Make sure you include contact details and perhaps attach a note to the editor, giving background information; he/she may well decide to feature a follow-up story.

Joanne Philpott is an AST and leading teacher for gifted and talented education at Dereham Neatherd High School in Norfolk. She specialises in history, assessment for learning, TLA and gifted and talented education. Joanne is also regional subject adviser in the East of England for the Historical Association and CfBT for the new secondary curriculum