How can schools successfully integrate enrichment activities into whole-school provision, thereby maximising their benefits? Bob Cox discusses, with reference to external providers

One of the well-documented limitations of many enrichment activities is the danger of presenting a ‘one-off’ experience divorced from the curriculum and/or delivered out of context. Freeman (1998) points out that enrichment is not a ‘supplementary diet’ but should always be integrated with whole-school provision for the very able, indeed for pupils of all abilities: she also believes that enrichment can lack clear goals if the activity is ‘decontextualised’.

However, many schools look to external providers for new ideas and inspiration and, with careful preparation for the day, involvement of school staff and conscientious follow-up, this type of enrichment activity can work extremely well.

Return to ’66
I have recently worked with several schools, running a project called Return to ’66. On the day, the pupils have to learn about the year 1966 and choose a topic from that year which will suit their interests: music; fashion; sport or current affairs. They make their own decisions about how to contribute to a group and set themselves individual targets. Using the ‘Publisher’ software program, pupils work together to produce news/magazine pages in the style of ’66. Each group has success criteria and must track them through with mini-plenaries throughout the day to discuss progress and decide new goals.

This is very challenging indeed and the need to find the right style combines with presentation skills, ICT and literacy skills, team work and the knowledge of ’66 to make a demanding day. Pupils use annuals and newspapers from 1966, DVDs and, of course, the internet, to delve into the past. They have a lot of fun, are asked to excel, and frequently do. In particular, they are being asked to fulfil one of the higher-order descriptors identified by a NAGTY English Think Tank in 2006:

‘Understanding of intended audiences, authorial purposes and the ways these may affect presentational choices.’

Self-evaluation with NACE
Both the Buckinghamshire schools mentioned here have followed the NACE Challenge Award Framework (and Buckingham Primary has also gained the award). Schools that I have encountered using this self-evaluating framework have a much clearer idea about how to progress with G&T provision, and  it engenders an exciting learning culture of ideas and innovation.

Teacher participation
This type of activity works best when schools provide teachers and learning assistants to work with the external provider, creating a team of people personalising the process as much as possible. Barry Teare has emphasised that ‘The teacher is by far the most important resource for all children, including the more able.’ This has been tangible at most schools I have visited. The pupils will try to impress a visiting teacher, of course, but no one means more than their own!

At Winslow School in Buckinghamshire, the coordinator, Katie Epps, set up the day and got the pupils excited before the activity even started. The context of the workshop was deliberately linked to recent curriculum work. Katie herself was a focal point of the pupils’ learning on the day, intervening at strategic moments to ask questions, suggest new ideas and give encouragement. The layout of the ICT suite was important at Winslow, too. There was plenty of space in the middle of the room and a chance to have team meetings and debate progress. The assessing of pupils’ progress (APP) advocated by the Primary Strategy can only take place properly when the learning environment facilitates the link between ICT use and productive group work.

The questioning process is integral to the whole day. At all the schools I’ve worked with, teachers and learning assistants have joined with me to question, facilitate and encourage. When the pupils have finished drafts, we ask questions such as:

  • Have you considered whether the article is the right length?
  • Have you used a headline or a sub-heading?
  • Do you consider that your page has enough pictures for visual interest/impact?

The aim is to encourage the children to reflect on their choices and get them to make their own changes, rather than explicitly pointing out errors, providing opportunities for the school to move towards ‘exemplary’ on the DCSF Classroom Quality Standards, which emphasise:

‘G&T Learners are involved in planning and allocating their own tasks.’
‘Resources challenge GT Learners to explore new areas, develop new skills and to cross subject boundaries.’

At Buckingham Primary in Bucks, the deputy head, Rosemary Gadd, inspired the pupils throughout the day, and a superb learning assistant was able to provide appropriate support, responding to individuals’ anxieties or learning difficulties. Some pupils found using Publisher quite hard; some needed more reading of resources to come to terms with the stylistic demands; others found team work very demanding. Many excelled from the start but still needed encouragement and prompting.

The use of learning guides was mentioned in Christine Gilbert’s 20/20 Vision report, and there is no doubt that more schools are seeing the benefits of ‘guiding’ the more able towards higher standards. Gifted and talented pupils may well need more opportunities for independent learning but that does not necessarily mean being left alone.

At Buckingham, the pupils also had the advantage of their parents becoming part of the final session as the pages of the magazines came together. Then they had a final chance to improve their work by using the school’s virtual learning environment. By using their own laptops, the pupils and their parents were able to view and appreciate each other’s work, but also to make suggestions for improvement based upon the day’s original success criteria. Rosemary herself added suggestions and the pupils were ready to respond.

With this type of practice, schools are moving a long way away from the external enrichment provider being an isolated individual delivering in charismatic ways but, perhaps, out of context. Assessment for learning (AfL ) strategies have had a strong influence during the ’66 day and the activity has been enhanced by:

  • effective room layout
  • use of ICT to boost learning
  • teachers and learning assistants
  • virtual learning environments
  • parent participation.

Celebrating their achievements
Working with parents can be a complex area, and so is sometimes under-exploited by schools. But what could be more conducive to positive partnerships than inviting parents to arrive at the end of the day to admire and celebrate their children’s achievements? The parents did not expect or get a formal presentation, but were invited to tour round and talk to the children about the day.

Follow-up
But what about the pupils? What happened after the day? What did they think? Evaluations showed that they appreciated a longer period of time to work on something specific. They also enjoyed trying to recapture the ‘feel’ of 1966 and they liked working with different people. Comments included:

‘We got brilliant ideas from each other’ ‘I learned how to use Publisher better’ ‘Most challenging was trying to write about the past as if I were in the past’

‘I enjoyed the whole day so much I don’t know what my favourite bit was.’

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At Buckingham Primary, one pupil brought in a ‘mighty tome’ from her dad – the research had clearly continued at home. At Winslow, a ‘how can you excel?’ sheet was introduced in history, and other work on using success criteria was stimulated. This is very encouraging, as it shows how the theoretical side of an enrichment day can bring new ideas into a school quite naturally as people see the processes at work. This cannot happen unless the provider works with the school to form a team on the day.

This was certainly the case at St Mark’s C of E School in Basingstoke. At an enrichment day there, many similar models of good practice were followed. GT coordinator Pam Miller and literacy coordinator Katie Cunningham also used the opportunity to stand back and reflect upon their pupils’ learning styles and areas for development, as well as the social and emotional aspects of the pupils’ response to a fresh challenge. The latter was especially important because St Mark’s had been determined to add something new to its enrichment policies – namely, the opportunity for their pupils to work with those from another school, Hatch Warren Juniors.

This had not been done before. Both headteachers were very keen for this kind of collaboration – so, here, the enrichment opportunity was even broader, as the Year 6 pupils had to work in groups with pupils they had never met before. The skills of the teachers in preparing for the day and helping with any initial shyness led to a really exciting learning environment where pupils grew in confidence as they worked in fresh ways, with new friends.

The children expressed their own feelings of satisfaction in a very sincere thanks to each other at the end of the day. This is terrific for both school communities in terms of future collaboration and raised interesting points about learning together. As so many of the pupils enjoyed working with different people, maybe enrichment involving pupils from different schools can help learners to leave behind any limitations or routines imposed by their regular learning partners. Certainly, many pupils said that there was more of a chance to excel.

Pam Miller emailed me the following day, with an apt summary: ‘I’ve seen some of the children this morning and they’ve grown an inch.’

Solving things for themselves
‘The children were not constantly given instructions and answers. They had to solve things for themselves and strive to make their own meanings from the information. This enabled them to access higher levels of thinking.’
Katie Epps, coordinator

References

  • Dean, G (2006) National Association for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY) Think Tank and English Working Group
  • Freeman, Prof J, (1998) Educating the Very Able, Current Educational Research, Ofsted
  • Gilbert, C (2007) 20/20 Vision (the Gilbert Review) DCSF
  • NACE – National Association for Able Children in Education: The NACE Challenge Award Framework, 2003 Revised 200
  • Teare, B (1997) Effective Provision for Able and Talented Children, Network Educational Press
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