Gifted and talented provision faces competition from many other areas for a share of personalisation funding. Josephine Smith and Paul Ainsworth share their tips for raising awareness of G&T in your school
The role of G&T coordinator may change hands regularly: it is often added on to another, wider job specification, or it can be act as a springboard to further promotion. Consistency and continuity is sometimes hard to foster and while new, one-off initiatives are valuable and enjoyed by able pupils, it is regular opportunities and effective systems that make a school justifiably proud of its efforts to genuinely stretch, challenge and support the gifted and talented.
The Excellence in Cities initiative was a real driving force in developing G&T and schools had specific funding; some local authorities outside this umbrella also provided ring-fenced G&T cash. With the advent of personalisation funding, the government now expects that G&T should be funded from this pot. The reality in schools is that there are many demands on these monies and it is up to the G&T coordinator to bang the drum for this vital area.
Meanwhile, one of the functions of the new leading teacher for G&T role being inaugurated in the autumn is that of an advocate for G&T learners (www2.teachernet.gov.uk/gat/media/FAQs_leading.doc).
This creates three challenges: to promote the importance of G&T provision to teachers; to identify the G&T activities that are occurring but not recognised as such; and to promote these activities to parents and pupils so they recognise there is already provision in the school.
For some teachers, G&T issues are understandably one of many considerations in their daily planning, along with all the other pressing issues of the moment. How can you, as a sole member of staff, perhaps one not senior enough to directly initiate curriculum change or decide on key financial priorities, ensure that G&T provision stays high on your school’s agenda?
Assemblies are the ideal place for celebrating achievement of all kinds. G&T pupils have their successes celebrated: from a round of applause for the winning sports teams to the pupil who has raised most money in the recent readathon.
Your school will undoubtedly have its own rewards systems and pupils of all ages enjoy going up to the front to collect certificates, shake the headteacher’s hand or collect prizes, whatever they may tell you as they get older about the embarrassment factor. Celebrating G&T pupils’ particular achievements isn’t, of course, about singling the academically able out in front of their less able peers, but because assemblies are often used to celebrate the successes of all pupils, G&T pupils will feel acknowledged and rewarded without feeling unwanted focus is on them.
Pupils are not the only members of the audience. As well as presenting prizes to pupils, you might simply use assemblies to make staff aware of the G&T initiatives you are promoting among pupils. Seeing pupils being successful may prompt further staff participation in events or encourage conversations in corridors and classrooms between staff and pupils. One member of staff at Casterton Community College asked how they might become involved in our G&T mentoring programme after an announcement of sessions was read out for pupils. It works both ways of course: staff only became aware of a brother and sister who were preparing to scoop their next round of trophies at Crufts due to a celebration of their previous success in an assembly.
Why not use your most talented pupils to provide engaging and attention-grabbing assemblies for their peers? During a week in school where we were promoting healthy lifestyles, pupils started the assembly with a polished dance routine. Our talented actors promote ticket sales for the school play each year by appearing in costume in an assembly to perform a scene they have been rehearsing. Pupils standing for the UK Youth Parliament used another assembly for their hustings and, of course, the best use of able pupils is as your own personal ‘plant’ in your assembly that requires ‘spontaneous’ participation! It doesn’t even need to be as strategic as that.
At Belvoir High School able pupil musicians are encouraged out of the music practice rooms towards the end of lunch, to perform as their peers enter assembly, setting a tone of calm and a sense of formal occasion that always prompts a round of applause from other pupils.
In staff meetings
Staff meeting time is often jealously guarded by the SLT due to the consistent demands on this limited resource. Some schools run regular teaching and learning workshops and the G&T coordinator may be able to facilitate the delivery of a short Inset session on G&T issues. Articles in G&T Update are often a good starting point for such sessions. One such workshop enabled us to share the process of G&T identification that led to fruitful staff discussion. In the same 40-minute meeting, departments agreed the revised whole-school G&T policy and added their own department-specific additions.
The coordinator could ask for SLT permission to drop into other meetings and facilitate discussion on a certain element of G&T provision, for example in department meetings. Year team meetings could also be attended and a short presentation given on an issue pertinent to that year group. The difficulty with both of these tactics is the G&T coordinator is likely to be both a member of a department and also a year team.
You could also try ‘piggybacking’ another training issue and giving it a G&T slant. At Belvoir High School one of the major development issues of the academic year is to build a coaching group beginning with peer observation with the aim of facilitating sharing best practice and promoting the highest standards of teaching and learning. In a twilight session, delivered to develop colleagues’ assisted planning skills, we used Bloom’s taxonomy of questioning as a stimulus.
One thing is certain: no G&T coordinator, no matter how effective, can be responsible for the effectiveness of all G&T provision in a school. They can facilitate, lead by example, prompt discussion, establish policy and procedures, but, like any other whole-school initiative, it needs staff and SLT backing to be sustainable. Getting staff talking and planning is halfway there though and that is where staff meetings can be most effective.
It is likely that your school already has a newsletter that it sends out to all parents. It is probably also avidly read by pupils who are keen to see if they make a star appearance, and by staff who read to see how their department, initiative, or trip is represented. Copies are sent to governors and friends of the school, as well as prospective job applicants: a great place to raise the profile of G&T provision.
A typical edition could feature an update on G&T events, masterclasses, trips, workshops as well as celebrating pupil achievements. It could also be used to encourage parent participation, give information about forthcoming events or simply to explain some of the procedures at the school for identifying or monitoring your most able pupils. As well as writing this section as a G&T coordinator, pupils could also contribute reviews of events.
Perhaps you also have a staff newsletter. At Casterton, we publish termly editions of TLC: Teaching and Learning at Casterton as part of CPD. It is one of the ways we share good practice as well as passing on tips and advice to teachers looking for ways to stretch, stimulate and encourage their most able learners.
Past editions of TLC have provided definitions of ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’, made clear identification procedures and suggested ways that lessons can be differentiated for the most able. Staff are always willing to try techniques that other teachers have used successfully and may even begin to contribute their own suggestions once you have taken a lead as G&T coordinator. Articles need not be long or theoretical. On the contrary, quick tips and easy-to-digest suggestions are likely to be more favourably received.
Whatever newsletter strategy you consider, there is still the difficulty of ensuring it is read. Why not circulate the teaching and learning newsletter at a staff meeting and then draw upon the information it contains. You could also include the current G&T register that colleagues then have to refer to in their planning.
As part of the physical school environment
Rightly or wrongly, outsiders, whether they are parents, visiting professionals or members of the public, will make some judgement about the aptitudes of your pupils based on what they see displayed on walls around the school.
Primary schools are excellent at providing colourful, welcoming displays that are regularly updated and full of pupils’ contributions and secondary colleagues are finding increasingly sophisticated ways to celebrate pupils’ talents in eye-catching ways.
Perhaps your school already has a dedicated G&T noticeboard or you might consider adapting your school display policy to encourage departments to have a particular board that is dedicated to displaying the work or achievements of the most able, perhaps a ‘work of the week’ board which one member of staff has responsibility for updating.
One of the most effective celebrations of pupils’ talents we have seen was in the form of metre square canvases featuring close-up photographs of pupils demonstrating musical, dramatic or sporting prowess. The images of happy, smiling, successful pupils certainly created an air of celebration and success around the Nottinghamshire school whose walls they adorned.
On a smaller scale, how about photo galleries of recent drama productions or concerts, sports days or art workshops?
The best displays are ones that attract regular and renewed attention. A good example might be a board that offers job-style ‘vacancies’ for the most able pupils. Adverts could go up for new pupil librarian positions, the school production programme designer, scenery painters, assembly contributors, school play or music auditions. Leadership opportunities could be displayed here and would attract the talented as well as the gifted pupils.
A G&T hall of fame could be created; perhaps you already have a display of local press cuttings featuring pupils past and present celebrating their successes. How about displaying notes of congratulations to successful pupils on monitors in the school foyer, or a place where pupils and visitors frequently pass? If tutors record the successes of members of their tutor groups and pass them to the administration assistant responsible for the monitors, good news will be regularly updated.
On the school website
School websites are becoming an increasingly important tool in the personalisation of the curriculum and in delivering the extended services provision in addition to being the traditional marketing tool and as information provider for virtual visitors to the school. As a result, schools are committing greater resources to developing their websites and are encouraging pupils, parents and carers to seek information from this medium.
You could raise the G&T profile by ensuring there are specific pages on the site devoted to G&T issues. Links to activity sites could stretch G&T pupils. For secondary pupils this could include links to the puzzle pages in the quality newspapers for crosswords and sudokos. There could be regular challenges or competitions for pupils to enter via email. Reading lists for more able readers, what’s on listings and museum exhibition details – it’s simple to create links.
In school, able pupils could be encouraged to add their contributions to the school website in the form of reviews or by posting tips for younger pupils as part of an after-school club. At Casterton the pupil magazine is shortly due to be posted online as well as being sold in hard copy and G&T pupils who are aspiring journalists, photographers, sports commentators and reviewers have found interest in their talents from other pupils have increased; somehow it is cooler to write for cyberspace than commit the same words to paper!
The G&T pages could also provide generic study support information. This could include study tips and also information for parents, providing practical support they can give to their children. Sites such as www.nagcbritain.org.uk are useful to signpost, and parents are grateful for being pointed in the right direction.
Many schools have links on their sites to department or subject area information. Within pages for curriculum areas there could be specific advice for pupils and parents on how to achieve KS2 Level 5, KS3 Level 7 or grade A/A* at GCSE. This then offers an opportunity for increasing the G&T profile among teachers. By developing specific curriculum advice for pupils and parents, middle leaders will have to consider the needs of these pupils and how their achievement can be increased further.
This year’s April edition of G&T Update included an article suggesting how to organise a governors’ training session, including reasons why this is valuable to a G&T coordinator. Governors have considerable sway over a headteacher and SLT, so promoting the G&T provision to governors can be an effective way of moving it up the agenda.
There are a number of other avenues that could also be explored.
The headteacher has to write an annual report to governors – this is usually in the winter term. A G&T report could include an analysis of attainment by children on the register, a list of G&T activities in school, notable achievements of G&T pupils outside the classroom and/or school, and provide suggestions for future developments, with resource implications. This report has the twin benefit of promoting your work to governors and to your headteacher at the same time.
Governors are often eager for opportunities to visit school; the challenge for the SLT is finding a variety of experiences. As G&T coordinator, you could offer to host such a visit. A school tour could be held highlighting G&T pupils in the classroom; hold a discussion session with G&T children having the additional benefit of being a speaking and listening masterclass: then you could have your own discussion with the governor where you could diplomatically highlight the barriers you have discovered to making progress. The governor usually has to provide a report of the visit for the governing body – this could support and promote G&T. In the long term you could even suggest the governor becomes a G&T link governor, who would then regularly speak up for G&T provision, ensuring its profile remains high.
Perhaps a governor could run a masterclass. If you have a governor who is a member of the armed forces, they can often provide leadership training, for example; why not take advantage of the broad range of skills that other governors possess?
One more thought: we recently listened to a presentation by a sixth form pupil from Beauchamp College in Leicestershire who had been a student governor. This was a role we had not previously heard of but many of the senior leaders there were greatly impressed by the idea.
There are many other ways to raise awareness of G&T and the good work you are doing. This article concentrates on those practical steps you can take to cultivate a climate in your school that keeps G&T provision as a topic for regular consideration by the whole staff.
Josephine Smith is a G&T coordinator and member of the extended senior team at Casterton Business and Enterprise College, an 800-pupil 11-16 comprehensive school in Rutland.
The school newsletter can be found online at www.cbec.rutland.sch.uk
Paul Ainsworth is deputy head at Belvoir High School in Leicestershire, a nine to 14 school.
This article first appeared in Gifted & Talented Update – May 2007