I heard this morning that, despite my significant lack of tact and diplomacy, I have been voted in as parent-governor at Milly’s school. The clerk to the governors collared me on the school run and kindly gave me a hefty package “for bedtime reading” which is supposed to tell me all about the role.
I had only been home for about half an hour when an email entitled ‘Policies for agreement’ clunked into my inbox and took up about fifty percent of my memory space. I tried not to be intimidated by its sheer volume. On the contrary, I was impressed that so many members of the school’s staff were involved in updating and reviewing their policies.
I immediately clicked onto the attachment named ‘Gifted and Talented’. I find the concept intriguing, as it is something new since I was teaching and I don’t know exactly what is expected of schools. I have also been wondering for a while whether Milly would fall under its umbrella and, if so, what it would mean for her.
The more of the policy I read, the more I began to panic. In particular at the section which profiled able underachievers. I could tick many of the boxes for Milly. Rather like the student doctor who has read so many textbooks that she believes that she has cancer of the colon when she is simply suffering from the after-effects of ten pints and a rogan josh, I convinced myself that Milly is definitely both gifted and underachieving.
Where I previously would have imagined Milly enjoying extra provision and support to challenge and support her learning, I now understand from the policy that the best I could hope for, would be for her to be put on a list and her progress regularly reviewed. And I am not sure that I would want her on such a list.
I fear that labelling children ‘gifted’ may have a detrimental effect on their progress in school. What if they find it difficult and stressful to live up to the expectations of them? Would that not affect their self-esteem and lead to poor performance and behaviour? Surely it could prove counterproductive. Furthermore, when I was teaching, it was standard practice to review the progress of all pupils and I am sure that this has not changed in the last five years.
It makes me question the value of having such a list – even if it is regularly reviewed and updated. How does this list actually change what is going on in the classroom or on the sports field? I know that a good teacher has high expectations of behaviour and learning for all of the children in their class and will stimulate them with interesting, fun and inspiring lessons. All of the children will thus be enthused with a desire to take risks, to question and to learn.
My conclusion? My daughter is only just five years old. There is no doubt that she is bright and particularly good at maths, even if she has not yet let on to her teacher that she knows her times tables. She is physically capable, but it is unlikely that she will be beating the Russians in world-class gymnastics competitions. She may be extremely self-critical and terrified of making mistakes, but one thing is for sure – she adores school, socialises well and comes home every day having learnt something new. However, like all children, she performs best when the learning is stimulating and exciting, she needs to feel safe in order to take risks, and she requires an enormous amount of encouragement before she can believe in her own abilities.
I wonder if any policy, however beautifully structured, or any list or label will make Milly and her classmates reach their full potential? Surely it is more likely that they will do so because they are receiving quality teaching from dedicated professionals?