The underachievement of disadvantaged gifted and talented young people is a major concern. Nik Miller and Alison Rowan explain how the Goal project is helping

NAGTY believes that the at-risk cohort of gifted students, drawn from the lowest social/economic backgrounds and ethnic minorities traditionally under-represented in higher education, would benefit greatly from targeted intervention to support their educational progress.

The Goal programme provides these students with a range of opportunities to increase self-esteem, motivation, self-confidence and a chance to achieve their true academic potential. The key is free access to the wide range of opportunities available through the NAGTY Student Academy including: summer school, outreach events, careers support and online study groups.

The online work is the same as that available to all academy members and is accessed through the NAGTY website. Additional opportunities are available to Goal students throughout their time on the programme, such as online mentoring and short courses that focus on HE skills and student life. NAGTY’s activity reporting system keeps a record of everything Goal students take part in.

The programme works with students over a four-year period and opportunities include specially tailored residential courses where students can experience academic rigour with their ability peers, alongside professional workshops on goal setting and supporting motivation and confidence. Most students enroll in Year 9/10 and remain on the programme until, we hope, they gain entry to HE.

During their four-year engagement with the Goal programme students are offered opportunities to access mentoring (both professional and undergraduate) and online advice and guidance on careers and decision-making at crucial times in their academic careers. There is ongoing work to develop an ambitious scheme with the University of Oxford and the Brightside Trust to provide disadvantaged students with first hand experience of working with leading academics at the Oxford University Medical School with mentoring from high-achieving undergraduates from the university. 

Goal is the first programme to be funded through the Next Generation Venture Fund, which has been set up to promote philanthropic support from organisations, charitable trusts and individuals for gifted students from disadvantaged backgrounds. This valuable support will help deliver exciting work with disadvantaged G&T students. Welcome funding already received includes a four-year pledge from the Goldman Sachs Foundation. This is complemented by a government pledge to match fund up to £1m as part of its commitment to supporting gifted students from socially disadvantaged, ethnic minority and cared for groups as outlined in the white paper. We have also been most grateful for a number of pledges that have been made by parents and carers of NAGTY members to help support the programme.

Launching and developing the programme

Goal was launched in 2006 with an induction day that welcomes students, parents and their teachers onto the programme and makes it clear how students can access the opportunities out there for them. It is a unique opportunity for the Goal community to meet as a whole and to welcome them, and help them to feel comfortable in a university environment..

The Goal programme has enabled these students to access a wide variety of exciting and engaging regional and national opportunities. These opportunities are provided by over 180 different NAGTY partners (including 50 higher education partners) and are delivered by nationally and internationally recognised experts both online and face-to-face.
Additional funding has been secured to ensure that the programme can develop and continue to be ambitious. These funding pledges have meant that the second cohort of Goal students are currently in the process of being registered. This is done in close in consultation with local authorities and it is anticipated that this year the students will be drawn from an additional 15 local authorities spanning all nine government regions.

The students are identified and recruited in liaison with key staff in schools using data associated with students’ home postcodes and ethnicity data. Data on this new cohort will continue to provide the foundation for research on impact measurement and a formative evaluation that will gauge the suitability and efficacy of interventions.
The induction of a new cohort on 20 January 2007 registered 250 students, to join the 200 students in the initial cohort. Whilst we are excited that the programme is expanding successfully, this is being carried out alongside the acknowledgement that there are many, many more students that require this provision than are currently afforded the benefit of it. As the programme continues to expand, we anticipate engaging many more schools/colleges and local authorities.

Part of the ongoing work supported by the programme is establishing areas of disadvantage where identification of G&T membership of NAGTY may be low. Cultivation of members in these areas will be key to ensuring that effective provision is made for the diverse cohort of gifted and talented learners. We are also very excited by the continuing research being carried out (both at NAGTY and beyond) to explore formal ways of identifying academic potential in G&T learners. This key area of ongoing work will benefit the community as a whole and, in particular, those who may face a number of barriers in fulfilling their true academic potential.


Students do a variety of things each year, selecting opportunities that they would like to engage in. Goal is not a prescriptive model and, as such, there is no set curriculum. With support from the NAGTY and from staff in schools/colleges, students can identify activities that compliment their own interests and ambitions.

We have found that a large number of students have mapped out clear progression routes, engaging in online opportunities, then local opportunities and then short residential visits. Applications for this year’s summer schools from students who have taken this trajectory are very encouraging. Students have access to all our standard NAGTY activities, plus some extras laid on especially for Goal students; the idea is that with the support of the schools, LAs and their mentors, they are encouraged to target events that interest them. The mentors are volunteer undergraduates and are recruited by interview and their placements are dependent on a CRB check.

At Ali’s school, there is currently no formal mentor set up, although the G&T coordinator meets regularly with all Goal students to spend time looking at the available opportunities and to monitor progress (see the case study, right; the student’s name has been changed). We are currently looking into developing peer mentoring for some students with Goal students in Year 9/10/11 mentored by students in Year 13, with a view to helping them with university applications and higher education opportunities.

Levels of engagement vary, with some students and their parents requiring more support from schools/colleges than others. We acknowledge also that some opportunities will suit some students better and that online activities and one-day events are often acting as stepping stones for students engaging in more ambitious activity such as short residential events and summer school. 

As part of the current model, students have access to student academy events free of charge and also have a travel bursary to contribute to their travel expenses. We have found that the current cohort of Goal students are really excited about this; they are getting involved, enjoying working with and talking to their mentors and really becoming inspired about their academic careers and the possibility of going to university. Being offered free access and help with travel gives them much more access to opportunities around the country and they have the chance to mix with their gifted peers and raise their aspirations, motivation, self-esteem and attainment. 

The Goal programme will continue to be far-sighted and ambitious, but in order to expand it we are, as always, dependent upon philanthropic giving to allow it to reach those gifted and talented students who are in need of targeted intervention to support and nurture their educational progress.

The first seven local authorities

The first cohort of students were inducted across seven local authorities: Leicester, Coventry, Birmingham, Cumbria, Sheffield, Peterborough and the London Borough of Islington. LAs were selected through a variety of means:

  • Initial funders of the programe made some stipulation about target areas and cohorts of students. 
  • Some LAs were selected using emerging data from the LA coordinator survey, which highlighted particular areas of the country where current activity was relatively low and where Goal might work to lever opportunities for students in these areas. 
  • Also, London GT were asked to advise on London Boroughs to approach.

We worked closely with LAs to initially promote the programme and close working with LA staff continues to be an essential part of the programme.

Ali, Year 10: ‘It has opened up loads of opportunities’
I didn’t really know what to expect when I first attended the Goal induction day last January. The flyer about the programme sounded really interesting. My teacher recommended it and I’m really glad, because it has opened up loads of opportunities for me.

I went to the summer school last year and have been a member of NAGTY since Year 8. I’ve also used the online forums lots to talk to people. I went to a Goal residential event in December which was fun. That’s all in the first year.

I went to summer school because I wanted to find out more about university first hand, instead of reading about it. There isn’t really anyone in the family to talk to about what university is really like now and I wanted to find out for myself. I am really interested in maths and wanted the chance to do some more advanced work; this has really helped me with my schoolwork.

The best thing about summer school was meeting so many new people and actually living the experience. It helped me become more independent and see that university is a good option for me. I’m really hoping to go to summer school again next year, but I’d like to go to a different university this time to compare different sorts of places.

In December I went to the Goal residential event – it was good because I had more confidence from the summer school. It was great to explore maths in even more in depth, but we also had workshops about team building and the different skills that we all have.

My mentor is studying economics at a really good university so he gives me first hand advice and answers my questions, like the other day I was talking to him about accommodation and student life. He supports me in my academic studies as well as more general stuff; he’s also good at giving me non-biased advice about careers. We can talk through my schoolwork and he gives me practical advice for my studies.

I reckon that students should just go for it – get involved. I find lots of information in NAGTY’s Aspire magazine and on the internet – although you have to make sure you book early for things. My teacher is really supportive and I can go to him for advice too. There is loads of stuff out there through the programme, so I would say make the most of it.