Collaboration is growing in 14-19 G&T education. Sandra Howard and Lis Stock of the Gifted and Talented Education Unit at the DfES look at some recent developments

For some time developing gifted and talented provision in post-16 education, particularly in FE colleges, has seemed, for many, an isolated and embattled experience. Will changes in the 14-19 landscape offer greater opportunities for G&T learners, both those following traditional routes and those such as the talented painter and decorator? We do not attempt in this article to provide an answer, but hope to give an idea of what is currently happening and some ways in which institutions, often working in collaboration with others, are seeking to meet the needs of G&T learners.

14–19 curriculum pathways
The 14-19 Education and Skills white paper (February 2005) recognised the need to offer learners a wider curriculum choice and provide more challenging opportunities. Personalised learning and an entitlement for all are at the centre of proposed changes to the 14-19 curriculum and the development of the specialised diploma (see below). This new qualification will be offered at Levels 1-3, in a move towards parity for academic and vocational routeways, and will provide 14 ‘lines of learning’ by 2013. This means students will have access to 42 different diploma courses. An increase in the degree of stretch and challenge will be offered in all lines through an extended project at all levels and more stretching questions at Level 3.

The specialised diploma Levels 1 and 2 comparable to 4-6 GCSEs

Level 3 comparable to 2-3 GCE A-Levels

Structure for all:

  • Principal learning – 50% in real/realistic context. 
  • Generic learning – developing and applying broad skills. 
  • Additional or specialist learning – in an area of student choice and independent study.

All students will participate in a minimum of 10 days’ work experience.
For some schools and colleges it will be a challenge to deliver the diploma at all three levels.

QCA are currently trialling the extended project for introduction from 2008. The implementation plan sets out the expectation that diplomas will be delivered collaboratively – rather than within any one school or college – in order that the entitlement of every young person to have access to the range of lines of learning is met. (See the box below for details of the way one pathfinder authority is developing collaboration.) Of course, partnership and collaboration works most easily in close geographical regions, where transport and coordination between institutions is relatively quick and accessible.

Personalising learning
For all students this phase of learning is one in which they make crucial choices from what often seems a complex and confusing menu. For some students transferring to a new institution at 16+, the increased autonomy and choice can spark new engagement and motivation. Many students who transfer to a new institution at 16+, however, make misguided course decisions without understanding the possible consequences; others find it hard to cope with new ways of learning; whilst others may miss the support they have had from specific G&T programmes, and often the personal support of a G&T coordinator, within their secondary school.

Many readers will be familiar with the ‘high challenge, high support ‘model of school/college improvement:

  • High support + low challenge = slow, uneven progress and complacency.
  • Low challenge + low support = stagnation and under-performance.
  • Low support + high challenge = conflict and demoralisation.
  • High challenge + high support = Rapid progress and high performance.

This is also a useful touchstone for work in the 14-19 phase with G&T students who need well-informed advice and guidance in negotiating the range of curriculum pathways and different approaches to learning available to them.

Enabling learners to access a way of learning which motivates and engages them as well as building on previous experience and achievement lies, of course, at the heart of personalised learning. Earlier this year Personalising Further Education: Developing a Vision drew on views, ideas and best practice within the FE system to initiate a consultation on developing a vision for personalisation in FE by making the learning journey coherent and sensible from the point of view of each learner.

Beyond boundaries
In many areas of the country very effective links have been developed between the Aimhigher Partnership and G&T programmes, offering particular targeted support for 14-19 students, including those from vulnerable groups and from widening participation backgrounds. At a strategic level Aimhigher partnerships can bring together school, FE and HE partners to identify some of the local issues causing disjunction at transfer point; at a practical level joint working can enable lecturers, teachers, other professionals and students to work together to dispel some of the misconceptions that exist and build experiences for learning across these phases.

Some strategies developed with Aimhigher Partnerships across the country have included: 

  • joint projects between post-16 providers and secondary schools, to provide additional stretch at KS4, and to support transition to Level 3 courses, sometimes through opportunities offered by COVEs (centres of vocational excellence) 
  • collaborative projects involving partners such as HE and employers to provide local progression pathways, such as that leading to the medical professions in Leeds and Leicestershire
    l work with local agencies to address the barriers to progression of identified groups, such as looked after young people.

Reviewing and planning provision
The National Quality Standards have been developed as a tool to support self-review and planning in all phases, with post-16 institutions contributing to their initial development and early trials. A focused post-16 pilot of the use of the Institutional QS in a range of school and college settings is currently being undertaken by the G&T Eastern Regional Partnership. The project is led by Villiers Park Educational Trust and the final outcomes and exemplar materials will be available in 2008.

We are always interested to hear of the projects and programmes that are being developed and implemented in the 14-19 phase to support G&T learners, either within individual institutions or through local collaboration. We would be delighted to receive other brief descriptions that we can share. Please leave a comment below.

Discussion points for FE/post-16 colleges

  • Do you know which students were identified as G&T pre-16? What opportunities and support have they already experienced? How can you build on this? 
  • Do you know which students are NAGTY members? Are you familiar with the NAGTY membership criteria and how to recommend students for membership? 
  • How can staff develop the skills required to stretch learners? How do you share expertise within the college, and access that beyond it? 
  • How can you use the QS to inform your self-assessment and review processes, and to set priorities for the development of gifted and talented provision? 
  • How can you provide targeted enrichment and extension activities both within and beyond the college?  
  • How are G&T learners – on all learning pathways – championed?
  • How are developments led and resourced?

Case study: Developing a collaborative 14–19 curriculum offer in Wolverhampton

Gifted and talented education post-16 is embedded in Wolverhampton’s 14–19 strategy to transform attainment, inclusion, participation and skills. ‘The Learning Partnership’ was formed as a natural extension to our tradition of partnership in the city; membership comprises headteachers, the local authority, LSC, Connexions, FE college, Aimhigher, HE and training providers, who share the objective of generating a fully inclusive ‘area-wide curriculum offer’.

Collaboration is facilitated by the citywide infrastructure of seven strands: 

Schools, institutions and organisations use to communicate their offer to the city-wide curriculum. Minority subjects such as politics, critical thinking, statistics, further maths and dance are now viable and cost effective. Thus individual potential can be maximised and personalised learning pathways established leading to diversity and choice for G&T students.

On Wednesday afternoons, all learners post-16 have the opportunity to pursue their interest through the enrichment programme. In September 2006 it offered 273 different opportunities, many of which provided both stretch and challenge for the G&T. The citywide infrastructure enables pupils to participate in programmes that are available beyond their immediate environment and experience the unique opportunities that our diverse city can offer. This enables G&T learners to access extended projects, HE modules, a choice of subjects, real enrichment, advice and guidance and support through e-learning.

Consequently, our G&T learners make meaningful choices which have a significant impact on their life chances: ‘It gave me an insight into university science; it wasn’t a career I had considered, I don’t think I fancy being a vet but it opened my eyes to other possibilities. It was useful having the students from the Royal Veterinary College there to answer my questions about going to university.’

Rosemary Barnfield, G&T coordinator, Wolverhampton

Case study: a holistic approach to 16-19 learning

The Advanced Graduate Programme (AGP) was introduced at Christ the King Sixth Form College in 2004 and the first cohort of 50 students completed their studies in August 2006. The programme was designed to provide a holistic approach for 16-19 G&T learning. It has proved to be very successful and the college now has over 120 Year 12 and 13 students following the course.

The AGP is designed to provide stretch, challenge and support for able students with higher than average GCSE point scores, to ensure they achieve their full potential. The programme aims to develop confident learners, who are equipped with the advanced level skills needed for highly selective university courses. In addition to their AS/A2 programme, students are brought together for a core programme comprising of AS/A2 critical thinking, tutorial, RE and targeted enrichment activities. The core programme aims to foster a culture of critical enquiry, helping students develop and apply the academic skills necessary to access higher grades and to acquire the wider skills that will enable them to perform well at interview.

In order to maximise opportunities to further target support, the core groups are organised around students’ curriculum subjects and their likely progression plans. For example, one core group has a science/maths/ technical focus and contains students with medicine/medicine related progression plans.

The introduction of the AGP has had a positive impact on overall student performance, with students in the first cohort performing well above national averages: their A-level pass rate was 100%, with an A/B pass rate of 79% and the average QCA point score per student was 928.5.

Shireen Razey, associate principal, Christ the King Sixth Form College

Further information  Factsheet on the specialised diploma

This article first appeared in Gifted & Talented Update – April 2007