In this issue we explore what the DCSF School Census, January 2009 tells us about identification and how pupil characteristics affect the probability of inclusion within the national G&T population

Ability is evenly distributed within the population; achievement is not.

The national programme for gifted and talented education emerged in 1997 as a response to significant evidence that more able pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds were not achieving in the same way as those facing less challenging circumstances.

Twelve years on, significant inequalities remain.

What do we mean by G&T?
All students are potentially gifted and talented. Consequently, all schools and local authorities should seek to secure a fully representative G&T population in terms of gender, ethnicity, FSM eligibility and other factors which might affect inclusion.

So where should a school start? Gifted and talented students are:

‘Children and young people with one or more abilities developed to a level significantly ahead of their year group (or with the potential to develop those abilities).’
DCSF (2008), Identifying Gifted and Talented Learners, p.1,

Schools were originally advised to identify approximately 10% of their population as gifted and talented. Our experience suggests that where schools take such a ‘fixed’ view of G&T they are unlikely to achieve anything like full representation without significant social engineering.

A ‘one-sized’ view of G&T cannot be inclusive of all students. A more inclusive approach is supported by the current view that all institutions are free to determine the size of their gifted and talented populations, but should be able to justify this in terms of improved standards for all learners identified.

Giftedness is commonly defined as expertise in a development stage. Gifted and talented provision should be about potential, not past achievement. As educators we seek to provide children with the means to access and understand their own potential and the freedom to discover and pursue possible futures.

To meet this aspiration a school’s approach has to be flexible and responsive to individual needs. This suggests a G&T strategy encompassing different kinds of opportunities and interventions determined by the needs of learners themselves. In this way the school’s G&T register becomes a live and interactive document actively used to identify and recognise a growing talent pool of students.

Such a school is more likely to see provision as a truer indicator of potential than data in attainment. It is less likely to cast the G&T leader in the role of ‘gatekeeper’ preventing access to opportunities for the wider school community, in favour of a select minority. It is likely to see G&T as a means to promote inclusion as well as to drive high achievement.

What affects the chances that a child will be seen as G&T?
If we take the view that ability is evenly distributed within the population, then we would expect the distribution of G&T learners to reflect this.

When we use the School Census to look at the effects of different characteristics on identification some stark comparisons emerge.

  • FSM. Secondary age students eligible for free schools meals are 50% less likely to be identified as G&T than those who are not. The gap across the 5-19 range amounts to some 56,000 pupils who are effectively missing from registers across the country.
  • SEN. Students who have Statements of SEN are five times less likely to be identified as G&T than those who have no identified need.
  • Mother tongue. Students with English as an additional language (EAL) at secondary are 25% less likely to be identified as G&T.
  • Gender. At primary age boys are slightly more likely to be identified than girls, but this reverses at secondary age to a gap of almost 5%.
  • Ethnicity. In the secondary phase, the proportion of students identified in different ethnic minority groups varies widely when compared to the proportion of White British pupils (incidence) identified as gifted and talented (14.8%). The table below shows the percentage of students identified as gifted and talented in a number of ethnic minority groups.

For example, Pakistani students have an inclusion probability of 8.5%. If these pupils had the same chance of being seen as G&T as those coded as White British this would add another 5,990 pupils to the cohort.

  % incidence ‘Missing’ pupils
Any other white background 12.9 2,100
Gypsy/Roma
Traveller of Irish heritage

3.2
3.3

360
120

AsianOf whom… Pakistani

                Bangladeshi

11.68.5

11.5

8,0305,990

1,270

BlackOf whom… Caribbean

                 African

9.910.6

9.4

6,8301,880

4,270

Minority ethnic pupils 12.4 16,180

Source: DCSF SFR09/2009

If we link ethnicity to other factors such as gender and FSM eligibility, then the probability of inclusion can shrink even more alarmingly. A Black African male, FSM-eligible, who has not been identified as ‘gifted’ by the time he reaches Key Stage 4 has little chance of being newly identified unless there is some form of intervention – either with his teachers, the pupil himself, or preferably both.

Not all groups are under-represented. In the same data set, Chinese pupils have a 23.1% of probability of being identified as G&T. What are the issues in play here? How does this reflect the combination of social and cultural dispositions of this group? Does this reveal bias or subjectivity in the identification process? We would not start from the premise that any of these pupils should not be part of the cohort, so what can be learned from this positive position?

In forthcoming issues of this e-bulletin we will look at some of the positive steps which schools can take to promote inclusion and achievement through gifted and talented strategies.

More information

This e-bulletin issue was first published in December 2009

About the author: Ian Warwick is Senior Director of London Gifted & Talented, a branch of London Challenge. Matt Dickenson is Equalities and Achievement Director with London Gifted & Talented, leading the REAL Project (Realising Equality and Achievement for Learners).