The extra provision for gifted and talented students has been criticised by Chris Woodhead. He should look at comprehensives such as Ashby School, where the Da Vinci programme offers a wide variety of opportunities, says G&T coordinator Malcolm Salt

In a newspaper column (Sunday Times 3 December 2006), Chris Woodhead said, ‘The courses run by the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth are the only option available at present for students who find classroom teaching uninspiring.’ This doesn’t account for the extra lessons that so many teachers run at our school for those either interested in extending their abilities, or catching up.

At Ashby School (Years 10 to 13 senior high school), we run a G&T programme called ‘Da Vinci’. This focuses on 250 pupils out of a school population of 1,650. These students are selected by Year 9 SATs scores, and our own grades, which are given every three months (in the form of ‘how you are doing now’, and ‘what you could do in the future’). We put out a Da Vinci newsletter every month (facts and information) but we also provide 14 subject newsletters a week featuring all the main curriculum areas: these are stimulating, factual and exciting and cover all the latest research and information.

There are debates and talks during the year; we operate a Da Vinci noticeboard; we send pupils on courses (for example to Villiers Park), we help them to pay for these courses, we support NAGTY and we run trips to universities – and special trips, for example, to the Ashmolean print room for our artists. There are personal interviews (based on grades) for all those going up or down in the rank orders – plus prizes and certificates and commendation letters home.

Our sixth form centre is also a thriving hub, and the director and tutors provide further layers of help and expertise – plus a large number of other academic activities. The UCAS advice is first rate and tailored to the personal needs of each pupil. Naturally, we both visit Oxford and Cambridge during each academic year and invite their tutors to come to us.

There is a video library covering important topics (such as in medicine and geography): from time to time, extended resource packs are provided in specific areas.

Ashby School is also the home of the Tip Tops: 85 bright primary children from all of our feeder schools who come on a Friday after school to be taught by our own Da Vinci pupils, the G&T coordinator and other teachers.

We write the majority of our own resources and specialise in philosophy, fast maths, literacy and science. This provision extends the Year 5 and 6 pupils to the level of Year 11 in mathematics and provides high-class science and literacy lessons. Our own secondary-age pupils gain social confidence from this teaching and get the chance to enhance their own leadership skills in a very practical way.

We also run recovery programmes for bright primary pupils with literacy problems in early morning slots. There is a modest (and optional) entry fee for the Tip Tops and this helps to fund every aspect of the Da Vinci programme: extras go towards buying subject-based G&T equipment. This is rather an elegant solution. Naturally, we have the services of our superb teachers (especially science and psychology) who teach the Tip Tops for us: we have goodwill, we have the backing of our head, Mrs Keller-Garnett, and the governors, and we have the cooperation of our own G&T pupils.

Our school, like many other comprehensives, offers so much. As a matter of fact, our SEN provision is just as good. Ironically, I believe that Mr Woodhead once taught here.

Gaurav Srivastava, Year 11: ‘We feel we can achieve our dreams and our potential’With so many activities and opportunities available, the question was where to begin? As I want to study law at the University of Oxford, I started by taking part in a videoed practice interview. We discussed a wide variety of topics with a special focus on corporate law. The questions were extensive and searching.

My first interview was a mild disaster: I studied further and took advice before I tried a second one. During my third, I could see my progress clearly: more philosophical reasoning, and a much clearer and precise approach to my answers. It is a relief to make mistakes now, so that at the real interview I can avoid them. As a direct result of these interviews, I was introduced to De Montfort Mooting Law Club and I go there regularly with my friends.

Da Vinci students are encouraged to read weekly newsletters covering many different subjects: my favourite is Law Door but we can also cover subjects as diverse as literature, medical science and philosophy.

Trips are made to universities (Oxford, Cambridge and Durham) and my friends and I really enjoy these. We have been visited by professors from certain universities to talk to us about topics such as entry procedures.

One of the most enjoyable Da Vinci activities is teaching the Tip Tops – gifted primary school pupils from the Ashby area. We cover what I would call a borderless curriculum: everything from higher maths to literacy and philosophy. As a result of this teaching, I have gained in self-confidence.

My school even buys crucial textbooks for us: I’ve recently had one on contract law. Our headteacher, Mrs Keller-Garnett, provides us all with great support, enthusiasm and leadership and we have special lunches with her at least once a year. In this organisation, Mr Salt is always encouraging us to do our very best. We feel that we can achieve our dreams and our potential.

Malcolm Salt is the G&T coordinator at Ashby School, Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire (www.ashbyschool.org.uk).

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