As interest in gifted and talented education grows and expertise develops, so does the vocabulary associated with it. This is the first installment of a ‘copy and keep’ glossary for readers to collect over the coming months

Acceleration (or ‘fast tracking’) is a way of speeding up the pace of learning for pupils, providing an ‘express route’ through their education. It can involve:

  • Acceleration of cohorts. For example, pupils may be allowed to take one or more GCSEs early and move on, in advance of their peers, to A-level work and other courses of study, including university modules.
  • Acceleration of individuals. For example, they may be allowed to work with older pupils in some subjects. (The ‘access statement’ in the National Curriculum Orders allows pupils the chance to work in a key stage beyond that expected for their peers.)

Many G&T children and young people develop and learn at a faster rate than their peers and for these, acceleration can provide the stimulus and challenge required to prevent them from becoming bored and disaffected. It is also an approach often appreciated by parents who see the school acknowledging their child’s abilities and taking positive action to meet their learning needs. There are some key issues to consider, however, before implementing acceleration.

Key issues to consider before implementing acceleration

  • Before introducing an acceleration programme, ensure that there is a clear ‘whole-school’ understanding of its targets and goals, and that  a regular cycle of review and evaluation is incorporated.
  • Canvass pupils and parents and take their wishes into account. Some may choose, for legitimate reasons, not to be involved.
  • G&T pupils are a disparate group, and it is unlikely that any one solution, ie acceleration, or a particular system of acceleration, will suit everyone. Consider each learner’s suitability for acceleration, and question whether or not they are actively engaged and motivated in their current settings. If they are, other forms of differentiation, including enrichment and extension activities, may be more appropriate.
  • In some subjects, the development of children’s ability is not totally or even largely linear and other ways of providing challenge may be more appropriate, eg by providing ‘depth’, ‘breadth’, and using additional resources.
  • Most G&T pupils are able in a particular subject,  a small number of subjects, or even in some aspects of one subject: planning and timetabling for models of acceleration which are sufficiently flexible for individuals can therefore be complex.
  • Pupils can be ‘late developers’, their abilities may ‘plateau’, or they may progress at different rates throughout their school lives, so a system of acceleration must be ‘modular’ so that pupils can join or leave the programme as appropriate.
  • It’s important to make sure that pupils involved in acceleration programmes do not miss out on some key concepts, knowledge or skills specified within the National Curriculum. If individuals work with older pupils some of the time they may miss class lessons in other subjects, which will need to be made up elsewhere and may result in  timetabling difficulties.
  • Teacher confidence is an important factor; some, who feel expert in teaching to their usual syllabus may nonetheless feel ill equipped to teach it in a telescoped form, or to teach ‘beyond the syllabus’.

Personal, social and emotional development It is vital to consider the wellbeing of the ‘whole child’ before embarking on a programme of acceleration. Learning needs may be satisfied by moving them to work with older pupils, but their level of maturity also has to be taken into account. They will find themselves in a more challenging social setting, surrounded by pupils who are more physically and emotionally mature and may well need support in dealing with this, particularly when acceleration involves transition from one institution to another. Friendships can suffer. Teachers can help by explaining to both the peer cohort and the older group the reasons for the arrangements and how everyone can support the ‘acceleratee’. A mentor can also provide valuable support.

Testing the water
When considering acceleration, it can be useful to take a real or hypothetical case study and use this as a focus for discussion about possible advantages and disadvantages of acceleration. Consider the circumstances of an individual pupil, real or imagined (let’s call her Kim). Has she got ‘all-round’ ability or ability in a particular area of the curriculum? Follow through the repercussions of involving Kim in acceleration, in terms of the effects on her, on similar individuals for whom one might argue a case, on peers and older cohorts, and on teachers, parents, and the whole school.

You can also undertake a similar exercise with a sample cohort which is able in a subject such as mathematics or languages. Again, follow through all the likely consequences of accelerating such a cohort. These are likely to include the effect on class sizes and composition; the new kinds of planning required for teaching the accelerated cohort; the social and personal effects on the pupils, on their ‘same-age’ peers, and on older cohorts; and the potential long-term effects of early entry for tests and examinations, where relevant. When introducing acceleration, ensure that the exercise is publicised as a pilot, and allow plenty of flexibility. Build in regular opportunities for monitoring and review, and devise clear criteria by which to evaluate the programme’s success.

Read A-Z of G&T education (2): Baccalaureate