Deborah Eyre suggests how we can prepare G&T children for the many new career and employment options in today’s society

We are all aware that the pace of change in society generally is accelerating and the future will be very different from the present. The catalysts for change are many, but include: continuing technological change; the impact of globalisation; changes to ways of working; the impact of demographic trends; changing lifestyles; and economic prosperity.

It’s very difficult (some might say impossible) to predict the future, but by examining ways in which change is happening now, it is possible for pundits to make some forecasts. Generally, it is agreed that in order to function well, people will need to acquire new knowledge and skills and also to embrace different attitudes and ways of working so that they can adapt to change.

Since one of the functions of education is to help to prepare children and young people for working life, education must also change in its expectations and its methodologies. England is not unique in needing to consider the alignment between its education system and 21st-century skills needs: this is a requirement for all countries.

‘To create a talent pool of more, better-qualified employees, governments will need to make policy decisions to invest in education and vocational and technical training. This will need to be done in the context of bringing educational curriculums and training and development programs more closely in line with the country’s economic requirements.’ Manpower Inc (2007)

In this country, Leitch (2006) encapsulates our response to this agenda thus:

‘In the 21st century, our natural resource is our people – and their potential is both untapped and vast. Skills will unlock that potential. The prize for our country will be enormous – higher productivity, the creation of wealth and social justice.’ (p1)

Skills agenda

So the objective of the ‘skills’ agenda in schools and colleges, is to increase the number of those attaining world-class levels of skill and, at the same time, to expand the range of skills that are both developed and valued; this in turn, leading to increases in economic prosperity. In the pursuit of a better overall skill level is the expectation that literacy and numeracy standards will improve and that no child shall fail to perform at an adequate level – a raising of minimum thresholds of achievement. However, this is only first base on the skills agenda.

Significantly for gifted education, this agenda also includes a focus on the volume of those achieving higher levels of attainment – world-class levels of skill – as the overall skill level of the population is seen as determining gross domestic product (GDP).

In 2003 the DfES reported that: ‘Research shows that 80 per cent of the 1.7 million new jobs which are expected to be created by the end of the decade will be in occupations which normally recruit those with higher education qualifications.’

This is a startling statistic. It implies that every school will have significant numbers of students going forward to higher education and that those students will study both traditional and non-traditional HE courses. It also implies that non-university vocational training will be pitched at a high level. So, at the very least, in the current ‘register-based’ G&T approach, we might expect that every student on the register should go on to study for a degree (or undertake a specialist training programme which is degree equivalent). Anything less is failure.

More generally, how do schools and colleges secure this uplift in world-class skills? It is not just a case of expanding the curriculum offer to encompass vocational diplomas, although they have an important place in widening the domains in which students can excel. It also means helping more children and young people to reach the standards that were previously seen as the territory of the few (those recognised as gifted and talented), and helping them to achieve this ‘exceptional performance’ across the full range of qualifications. Just as good diet, strong training regimes and sports psychology has helped many athletes to smash Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile record, so with a good educational diet, effective work-habits and self-belief, many more students will be able to achieve world-class skill levels in both academic and vocational areas.

Of course the question is how, in practice, to achieve this outcome and without doubt personalisation is the key. Last month I wrote about providing the ‘G&T road system’ so that individuals can construct their own unique learning journey. A further challenge is to extend that road system beyond traditional territory and out to new domains.

For those of you who are shaping policy in gifted and talented education in your school I ask the following questions:

  • Does your G&T policy ensure that the ‘G&T road system’ exists in all subjects including vocational ones?
  • How do you monitor whether increasing numbers of students are achieving the top levels in all areas?
  • Is your current G&T register fit for purpose?

I began by suggesting that change is occurring rapidly and threatening to take education by surprise: as G&T coordinator, you need to stay ahead of the game!


  • DfES (2003) The Future of Higher Education. London: The Stationary Office
  • Leitch (2006) Leitch Review of Skills: Prosperity for All in the Global Economy – World Class Skills, London: The Stationary Office
  • Manpower Inc (2007) Confronting the Talent Crunch, Milwaukee: USA