Second issue exploring how different characteristics such as gender, ethnicity and free school meals eligibility influence the probability of inclusion with G&T students

In the previous issue we introduced some of the key debates around the composition of the national G&T population by pupil characteristics. We contrasted differing perspectives on identification with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ view of G&T to show how different characteristics such as gender, ethnicity and free school meals eligibility influence the probability of inclusion.

Current imperatives
Recently, as one of its three critical judgments on achievement, Ofsted now considers equality and diversity ‘to be essential in assuring the quality of education’. Significant underachievement within any pupil group will therefore limit the grading of any school. In another report on G&T (Gifted and Talented Pupils in Schools, December 2009) Ofsted also highlights that schools will now be expected to:

  • align their policies for gifted and talented pupils more clearly with other developments which focus on matching learning more closely to individual pupils’ needs
  • provide more support for gifted and talented pupils in disadvantaged circumstances
  • narrow the gaps in outcomes between different groups of pupils while increasing the challenge across the curriculum for gifted and talented pupils
  • promote social mobility through entry to a wider range of universities.

Clearly Ofsted are placing an increasing emphasis on the capacity of a school to improve. This creates a powerful imperative for schools to scrutinise their processes and to review the contribution that G&T strategies make to the wider improvement agenda. In this issue we consider some of the tensions in the G&T programme that have helped to create such disparate inclusive pictures across the country.

Identification in the Institutional Quality Standard
Many schools still find themselves stuck in a circular discussion about identification, trying to respond to several different and sometimes conflicting questions at once. Often this reduces itself to a spurious argument about percentages, quotas and well-meaning aspirations and wishy-washy indecision about numbers. Not only does this result in wasted time, but it also has a tendency to absorb all the time and energy which colleagues are willing to devote to G&T.

Element 1 of the Institutional Quality Standard helps us to illustrate the challenge facing a school in developing its identification process.


Entry Developing Exemplary
i

The school/college has learning conditions and systems to identify gifted and talented pupils in all year groups and an agreed definition and shared understanding of the meaning of gifted and talented within its own, local and national contexts

Individual pupils are screened annually against clear criteria at school/college and subject/topic level

Multiple criteria and sources of evidence are used to identify gifts and talents, including through the use of a broad range of quantitative and qualitative data

ii

An accurate record of the identified gifted and talented population is kept and updated

The record is used to identify under-achievement and exceptional achievement (both within and outside the population) and to track/review pupil progress

The record is supported by a comprehensive monitoring, progress planning and reporting system which all staff regularly share and contribute to

iii

The identified gifted and talented population broadly reflects the school/college’s social and economic composition, gender and ethnicity

Identification systems address issues of multiple exceptionality (pupils with specific gifts/talents and special educational needs)

Identification processes are regularly reviewed and refreshed in the light of pupil performance and value-added data. The gifted and talented population is fully representative of the school/college’s population

But, the IQS in itself can be seen to be part of the problem.

At entry level a school needs to have an ‘agreed definition and shared understanding of the meaning of “gifted and talented” within its own local and national contexts’ (1Eni). Most schools also have a record or register which informs the school census return (1Enii). Most schools have a working definition in place, which enables them to meet another entry level condition that ‘the identified gifted and talented population broadly reflects the school/college’s social and economic composition, gender and ethnicity’ (1Eniii).

At exemplary level there is a requirement that ‘the gifted and talented population is fully representative of the school/college’s population’ (1Exiii). A school can judge itself as meeting the requirement for entry level using best fit, as long as its gifted and talented population is ‘broadly’ representative. But the same school cannot achieve exemplary level unless its definition of gifted and talented can be inclusive to all pupil groups.

Our experience is that most, if not all schools need to revisit this entry level definition in order to progress to exemplary level and that in many cases this requires a substantial shift in emphasis for their whole-school G&T strategy.

The working model for the IQS is based on a ‘best fit’ approach, where the school works its way across the standards moving towards exemplary level. We can see that in the case of identification schools are being encouraged to develop complexity for its own sake. To save a lot of time the school should look at what they want as an end result in terms of inclusion and achievement and work backwards from that.

A useful starter question for a school is to consider the cohort of students identified as G&T and to ask what assumptions this appears to reveal about how the school thinks about G&T. Some possible assumptions are reflected in the list below:

  1. we see our G&T population as an elite
  2. we don’t have any really gifted kids
  3. we tend to have differing views of what G&T is for
  4. we find some gifts and talents are easier to measure than others
  5. we think some gifts and talents are more important than others
  6. we value attainment above achievement (progress)
  7. our G&T pupils are general high achievers rather than those who excel in one area
  8. to us gifted is more important than talented
  9. our identification process is a paper exercise
  10. we don’t reward poor behaviour – positive attitude is a precondition for identification
  11. we use enrichment opportunities as a reward for high attainment
  12. we don’t like to use labels.

Which of these come closest towards describing the situation in your own school?

Over future issues we will be looking at what some of these attitudes imply about how your school might see itself in terms of inclusion and what can be done to engage with the debate in your school.

More information

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2010

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).

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