Getting your G&T principles right
A clear vision for G&T work is crucial. When you get it right, it inspires everyone involved to fly and creates a fluid talent pool of staff, students, parents and local organisations. When I became the excellence cluster’s leader for the gifted and talented and creativity strands in January 2005, I was keen to get our team of 23 primary and three secondary coordinators to recognise the huge amount of good practice that already existed within their schools and to develop a shared vision of what our educational futures could look like.

Our participation in the national training programme for G&T coordinators run by Oxford Brookes University soon made us realise that good G&T practice is all about good learning and teaching being provided for every child, in every classroom, every day.

Integral to this are the expectations of everyone involved and flexibility in the approach of adults towards learning – empowering the students to take control and lead their own learning. This enables learning to become limitless, and the unintentional barriers that even excellent practitioners put on the learning of their students, finally disappear.

We are keen to celebrate students who meet a traditional definition of what it means to be gifted and talented, as well as to modernise our understanding of what it means to be gifted and talented. A 21st-century definition extends the curriculum focus to include students with, for example, a strength in one or more aspects of multiple intelligence or a strength in a huge range of generic ‘learning for life’ skills and attitudes, such as teamwork, leadership, self motivation, and innovation.

We understand that G&T provision is not just about a discrete group of students but a strategy for whole-school improvement. Our fundamental belief is that we can all be gifted and talented in some way and that individual potential can be developed by expanding our own expectations as teachers. Our attitudes towards learners and what we value in their achievements have well and truly been challenged.

Setting up a baseline audit right at the start
For the first time in my professional career, I was given a model for what quality in my job role would look like before I got the job! This took the form of a set of National Quality Standards for G&T education.

From the moment I saw the Institutional Quality Standards (IQS), it was clear that they were an excellent tool for self-evaluation of G&T systems and provision at a school level. (I am excited to hear about the prospect of classroom level standards due out soon!) Comprising 14 generic elements with criteria across three levels (entry, developing and exemplary), cross-referenced to both the personalised learning agenda and Ofsted’s self evaluation form and with space for evidence and next steps, the National Standards demonstrate sound, joined-up thinking and provide a ‘one-stop shop’ document, essential for all G&T school and network coordinators.

When we used the IQS for a baseline audit, we kept things simple and used highlighting pens or shading on e-versions:

  • an unshaded criteria meant that work had not yet begun = 0 points
  • yellow for ‘working towards’ a criteria = 0.5 points
  • pink for ‘achieved’ the criteria = 1 point.

As a network coordinator, I collated all the audits from our 26 schools and used a simple point score system to analyse our baseline position.

Our baseline assessment for our G&T work showed that most schools were working towards the entry level of provision, although two schools were working towards the developing level. None of our schools had yet achieved the exemplary level.

We plan to revisit the IQS by Easter each year. However, school staff anticipating a visit from Ofsted have redone their audit at a time of year more suited to their needs. A visual comparison of coloured criteria enables staff to assess their school progress, but point scores can be more readily compared. One school showed a progress of seven points in a year, whilst another school jumped an impressive 19 points.

The IQS are not only useful for auditing provision and tracking progress, they have a third use: the organisation of criteria into different levels enables school staff quickly to set targets for improvements in their provision to inform their G&T school improvement plans.

For the whole of my professional career I have been longing for some joined-up thinking from the DfES and the IQS have achieved this!

Compiling your G&T register
When I asked for a sample layout for a G&T register, I was surprised by the lack of response. This was one wheel we had to reinvent. As a group of 26 school G&T coordinators, we started from scratch, discussing the balance between the key information we would find useful on a register and the need to avoid a paperchase.

School coordinators were encouraged to work with their staff to think outside the curriculum box and to consider alternative student strengths such as generic ‘learning for life’ key skills and attitudes – for example problem solving, decision making and creativity. Whilst all the registers refer to curriculum subject areas, many expanded their definition to include strengths such as imagination, inter/intra personal skills, metacognition, leadership and spatial awareness.

Gifts and talents were not only identified by school staff. Some schools consulted parents – for example using a questionnaire. School-wide, parents were asked to share positive comments about their child’s interests, hobbies, strengths and passions from home. This greatly added to the body of knowledge that the school staff had about individual children, with the bonus of the children feeling valued and appreciated at school. As a result, new strengths then appeared on the register, such as national baton twirling champion, tae kwon do and motocross. Other schools have conducted G&T student interviews providing a mechanism for them to make contributions to the identification process.

Updated by the end of December each year, our register format grew organically and still varies from school to school, although all contain basic information. In its simplest form the following information is recorded: name, year group, date of birth, area of strength and date put on the register. With increasing confidence, experience and access to school data, coordinators are expanding the information they record to include, for example: quantitative evidence (Foundation Stage Profile scores; SATs/NFER/MidYIS/Yellis standardised scores, qualifications point scores and attitude surveys); qualitative evidence (school staff professional judgement; personal videos and creative ‘One day I will’ time capsules); provision made; targets and comments.

Some schools have opted to compile two registers of G&T students: a ‘DfES’ register for students with clear, unequivocal evidence and ‘shadow’ registers for students for whom school staff feel more evidence collection is required or for a broader interpretation of what it means to be G&T to include a much greater percentage of the school population.

Our next step is for our county data team to make use of our school G&T registers to assist school coordinators to access and use all the evidence that is currently available to better inform them about the progress of individual students.

Planning quality G&T provision
Innovative learning has been a focus of our cluster work for the last five years. In November 2004, we moved into a brand new environmentally sustainable, iconic Classroom of the Future (one of 12 nationally) called the CPR Learning Space. Our team challenge has been to create a futuristic learning environment today, where barriers to learning for everyone are minimised.

Funded by a network of 28 schools, our real strength is derived from our partnership work, where numerous shared experiences enable us to take risks together, which can then be taken back for use in schools, children centres and the wider community.

Brain Wave plc (personalised learning challenge) is an emerging framework that incorporates all our principles and experiences about effective learning into a single, simple planning tool (see box). Brain Wave plc is a simple and transferable challenge framework that encourages adults to work outside of their comfort zone and places students as leaders of themselves, each other and their own learning in a cross-curricular context within which the principles of learning to learn are applied. G&T students thrive with the openness and exploratory elements of this approach, enabling them to start from their own level of prior experience and to develop this to accelerate and broaden their knowledge, skills and attitudes, without being held back by the unintentional limits that are inherent in staff-led approaches.

This framework is supremely flexible and has been applied to fit the planning of hour-long sessions; collapsed timetables for half, whole or multiple days; for single classes, whole year groups or even whole school events that take place annually, several times a year or every day; for children, school staff, governors, parents or the wider community!

Brain Wave plc
The Brain Wave plc framework includes:

  • A scenario or story that provides a reason for doing, and a big picture for, the challenge. It includes an outcome and deadline – the product is left wide open.
  • Roles and responsibilities for all the students and adults (the latter are encouraged to take a ‘hands off’ approach and act as ‘generic unstickers’).
  • Input of content, skills and attitudes using whatever is available. For us, in our Learning Space, this includes plasma screens, shared network files, artefacts, experts live or via video conferencing and a huge selection of physical resources, many of which we get from the local scrap store.
  • Success criteria set up by the students themselves that are self- or peer-assessed at the end of the challenge.
  • Action planning by teams of students to decide who will do what, now and by when.
  • Challenge time, where teams put their action plan into practice, including self-monitoring by the team.
  • A show and tell presentation to an internal or external audience, as appropriate, although we encourage parents to come. Rehearsal time is provided.
  • Feedback sessions using simple thinking tools, such as PMI, and a review by the students of their own success criteria.
  • A whole-group celebration of everyone’s successes. This may include CDs for use in school, newsletters to go home to parents and certificates for students

G&T coordinator networks
We were lucky – our cluster of 26 G&T coordinators had a great foundation for their new roles, as the vast majority were appointed in time to participate in the DfES G&T national training programme together. This had huge advantages in enabling the five-day course to be provided locally and gave all the coordinators plenty of shared task-based time to get to know and trust each other. They became a cohesive and powerful driving force for whole-school improvement in our region.

It was essential to ensure that the invaluable resource of a motivated network of people continued to thrive and develop. Part way through the national training programme, local G&T coordinator meetings were set up. It became immediately apparent that this provided a unique forum for us to develop our own local interpretation of the national G&T landscape and to capitalise upon and share the enormous amount of expertise that existed within the network.

The half-termly meetings took place after school and one of the first outcomes and positive benefits was the translation of the training programme, transferring its application to cluster and individual school level. The coordinators’ first request was for them to hear from an existing school practitioner about what good G&T practice looked like at a school level; the local G&T advanced skills teacher was invited to share her experience. This boosted the confidence of the group, as they realised that effective G&T provision was not rocket science, just an integration of what effective learning and teaching is, backed up by a clear, simple rationale and infrastructure with a support and provision network, preferably for all students, but if not for all, then for G&T students.

As school-based G&T issues arose, coordinators were able to share them and get the benefit of everyone’s thoughts to find a collective solution. As a group, we were able to devise and agree a shared strategic vision and action plan for the short, medium and long term. Short, but effective G&T Inset sessions were collaboratively planned to be delivered at staff meetings in individual schools. Coordinators took on a key liaison role for all the cluster initiatives and were given advanced notice of all upcoming opportunities. More recently, the bulk of meetings have been given over to school coordinators sharing their particular interest or strength in their G&T role. For example, coordinators have delivered presentations on challenge clubs; the challenge curriculum; the use of data to support identification of G&T students; e-learning logs as a tool for G&T students to record their achievement; and G&T student interviews.

A real bonus impact of this network has been that many of the G&T initiatives developed have been implemented not just for G&T students but for all students, bringing about the whole-school improvement desired by the DfES.

Developing shared targets, monitoring and evidence collecting
The secret to evidence collection is to start early and work backwards!

It is essential to provide accurate baselines against which monitoring and progress can be evaluated. This is where the IQS were so useful to us for our original audit tool and for our indicator of annual progress.

Very early on, time was spent transferring all the criteria from the IQS into possible sources of evidence and then collating these into a single coordinator checklist. This has now been done centrally by the DfES and is available to download in the user guide.

A rule of thumb for G&T coordinators is to remember that is it not their responsibility to deliver provision and collect all the evidence for G&T in their school – that is the responsibility of every class teacher, in every lesson, every day. The G&T coordinator’s responsibility is:

  • to lead school staff
  • to set up an infrastructure to inform
  • to support G&T provision by class teachers, backing it up with guidance, training and advice.

The coordination role is one of sharing, collation and monitoring, with a responsibility to report on progress to the headteacher and the cluster strand leader.

Responsibility for evidence collection about individual student achievement has been given to the students themselves in the form of e-learning logs that hyperlink to the school G&T register. Each G&T student is given the opportunity and time to create an ongoing PowerPoint about themselves that includes their written words, spoken recorded reflections and annotated photographs of work of which they are particularly proud. These can be showcased for all sorts of purposes, not least at parents’ evenings and open days.

Monitoring of G&T provision by the coordinator has been discussed and a model for implementation will draw upon three sources of evidence:

  • conversations with class teachers
  • conversations with G&T students
  • classroom observation.

During the time spent with class teachers, coordinators are able to cascade information (particularly about data), targets and celebrate successes. Preparation advice is also available for G&T coordinators and class teachers to get them ready for monitoring sessions.

Targets are in place at three levels: individually in each school’s school improvement plan; network-wide targets for individual schools; and collectively as a network, with responsibility for evaluation of these being shared by the school and cluster coordinators. Innovation targets have been set for schools to trial on behalf of the whole cluster.

Our G&T journey is well under way. Whilst numerous milestones have already been passed, many more exciting viewpoints remain ahead for us to collectively discover and explore.