Schools must help gifted and talented students develop their leadership skills, as they have a lot to offer the rest of the school, and later society, in terms of active citizenship and entrepreneurial abilities, say Jo Smith and Paul Ainsworth

As a G & T coordinator or leading teacher, how would you describe your leadership style? If you have been part of a program of continuous professional development such as the NCSL ‘Leading from the Middle’ program, you will undoubtedly have been asked to consider your own leadership style and how it affects the contributions of others around you; but have you considered how this learning could benefit the experiences of those able, gifted and talented students you support?

Much work has been done on promoting academic success by  enabling pupils to understand the ways in which they learn; but how about extending their cognitive skills, to enable able students
to develop the higher-order skills of leadership? By doing so you can model and rehearse roles that able students can aspire to in their future careers. Enabling students to become aware of skills they may have as leaders, and signposting ways in which they can explore and develop these skills, will in turn promote active citizenship and entrepreneurial skills and allow able pupils to make a positive contribution to school life.

Leadership styles

There are so many different leadership styles described in the literature that it can be difficult to know where to begin. Probably the most straightforward terms you can introduce to your pupils, to illustrate these different styles, are: authoritative, democratic and laissez-faire.

  • Authoritative leadership can be thought of as being similar to being dictatorial. The leader decides what is going to happen and tells their team. There is little discussion.
  • Democratic leadership is sometimes referred to in management books as ‘collegiate’. In this situation, the leader collects the ideas of the group and acts
  • as a chairperson, while the group votes or decides the correct course of action. An extension to this is the concept of pseudo-collegiality. This is where a leader thinks they are being democratic, but in fact is making the decisions for the group and as a result appears authoritative to the group.
  • Laissez-faire can be thought of as no leadership at all. The leader sits back and lets the group do its own thing. In such circumstances a dominant character tends to fill the leadership void.

Helping gifted and talented students  to identify different leadership styles in others is a good starting point for any work you might do to promote leadership opportunities in school. You could deliver this during an after-school masterclass, as part of PHSE or tutor time (this would work well in vertical tutoring time, for example with able older students leading younger ones) or as part of an enterprise activity. There are plenty of ways to do this: for example, at your school you have teachers and senior managers who model leadership skills all the time, which pupils may analyze and compare.

If this is too close to home and makes for uncomfortable discussion, why not turn to TV examples? An obvious and engaging choice would be an episode of The Apprentice, where teams striving for a place in Sir Alan Sugar’s organization compete against each other to demonstrate their skills as leaders. You can use the program to help your students identify the different leadership styles, and to facilitate fruitful discussion about which styles were demonstrated by whom, and then which were most successful.

Other helpful resources to prompt discussion with your able students about what works can be found on the National College for School Leadership website ( by accessing the Leadership Library. Create a log-on if you don’t already have one and follow the link to the 50-lessons pages; a series of short video clips are available, in which successful leaders from the world of business discuss their leadership styles in an engaging, witty and inspirational way.

The next step is to get students to anticipate their own leadership styles. Ask them to reflect on occasions where they have been asked to organize younger pupils or complete a task that involved them working with a team of people to come up with a solution. They could consider how they have completed a project  working in a group in class or even how they have successfully organized an event (such as the tutor group fundraising task). There are many quizzes on the internet that allow you to identify personal leadership styles; most are specifically aimed at adult employees but search carefully and you might find one worth using with pupils (try A report is provided but simply answering the questions will prompt discussion and comparison and you could easily link the answers to the different leadership styles outlined above.

Leadership task

You might consider setting up a leadership task for your G&T group so they can have the opportunity to practice both being a leader and being led according to different styles. The task could be something quite simple and completed in a lunch hour. An example could be where teams compete to either build a bridge or tower from limited materials to see which can support the greatest weight.

The important element is not the task itself, but giving pupils the opportunity to be a leader. (By selecting a leader from each team, you can prevent the usual dominant characters taking on this role.) Take the leaders to one side, away from the rest of the group, and brief them on the rules of the task. Perhaps try an experiment whereby each leader selects a card at random, which has a leadership style on it. The pupils then have to role-play that leadership style in their group.

In the task plenary, ask the groups if they could identify the leadership style being used and what impact it had on the group. The leaders could also feed back how they felt about performing within different leadership styles, and interesting discussions can develop (particularly over pseudo collegiality, if you include that style within the task).

Team roles

An interesting extension, which could be especially relevant to Key Stage 5 students, is to look at team roles. In graduate employment selection, it is very common to ask candidates to complete psychometric tests that identify the candidate’s most effective team role. This method is also increasingly used in selection procedures for senior and even middle leadership posts in schools, and job applicants in various spheres of work may be asked what they can contribute to a team.

Probably the most widely used team role constructs are those defined by Belbin. There are nine Belbin team role types: plant, resource investigator, coordinator, shaper, monitor evaluator, team worker, implementer, completer/finisher and specialist (these are listed and explained at

You may find that in your school you already have the test proforma from previous interviews, which your students could complete so they can identify which role matches them. Or, via the Belbin website, you can pay for pupils to undergo the testing online. An alternative personality profile which your students could access is the ‘big five’ factors personality model. This is explained at and there is a free test at Most people find these tests fascinating and students are no exception.

There is a serious point to this for G&T students that is similar to learning styles identification. If the student is aware of their strengths, they can build upon them; at the same time, if they are aware of the areas for development a future employer would identify in them, they can spend time in school trying to address these areas. As a G&T coordinator you could support them in this by setting up a range of tasks at which the students try to work in different ways.

Putting it into practice

There may be a lot of good work to develop able students’ skills already going on in school: sometimes all that is needed is simply to signpost these for specific students, or encourage able students to work outside their comfort zone and develop skills they hadn’t considered before. You may not have to set up specific additional tasks yourself. Instead, you may find it is more important to develop the mentoring side of your role.

An example of this was when parents of an able Year 10 boy we worked with had concerns that he wasn’t being sufficiently stretched in class and in consequence his English marks, though good, were not outstanding. Encouraging him to take part in an existing school journalism masterclass enabled him to lead a team of able Year 9 pupils, and to act as sub-editor for a section of a local magazine. Almost immediately, the boy became engaged and refocused, as well as more confident and participatory in class. Leading a group of younger, enthusiastic students gave him a clear and defined leadership role and raised his self-esteem.

An audit of the same school suggested that leadership opportunities existed in a whole range of subjects and some of these are listed in ‘Leadership opportunities in secondary schools’ below.

Leadership opportunities in secondary schools

  • Junior Sports Leader Awards (JSLA)
  • opportunities for GCSE drama students to direct the KS3 Christmas production and play key leadership roles in the stage crew
  • supporting students with weak literacy skills
  • leadership roles on the school council
  • bus and lunchtime prefects
  • lead learners in the classroom
  • demonstrating skills to younger students during enterprise activities
  • mentoring younger disaffected students
  • chairing pupil focus group meetings
  • charity fundraising organizing
  • leading the school prom committee
  • editor of the school magazine.

Leadership opportunities in primary schools

The development of leadership skills can be well under way in the primary years. Girls who are ‘sixers’ in the Brownies, for example, may already exhibit emerging talent in this area and it’s important that these out-of-school accomplishments are acknowledged. Within the primary school environment, opportunities can be created in much the same ways as detailed in the box above.

At Knowle CE Primary School, the ‘Lunch Bunch’ scheme has helped to hone children’s leadership skills. Elected at the end of Year 5 for office in Year 6, play leaders have the responsibility of brainstorming and planning activities that they deliver in the playground at lunchtimes, after demonstrating them in assembly. They also referee and run challenges and other activities on a rota basis in the infant and junior school.


It’s important to see that plenty of leadership opportunities exist; and we must encourage students to benefit from them. An academically able student may develop a whole raft of new skills if she is given the opportunity to consider and develop skills that place responsibility and accountability on her shoulders, rather than being content with expecting her to perform well in class assessments. These opportunities will be most beneficial when students understand and appreciate that there are different ways to lead that are valid in different situations and that, as with any other personal skill, leadership can be learned, experimented with and improved upon.

The benefits of such activities are clear:

  • confidence building
  • the promotion of high aspirations
  • preparation for the world of work
  • the development of responsibility
  • independent and experiential learning
  • developing cognitive skills that complement other work done in school on emotional intelligence.

With so much work being done in school to raise the standard of leadership among school staff, it seems only right that we share this journey with our able, gifted and talented students, who have a lot to offer the rest of the school. As John F. Kennedy said, ‘Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.’

Jo Smith and Paul Ainsworth have both been G&T coordinators and are currently deputy headteachers in Leicestershire secondary schools