Primary strand coordinator for G&T Joy Blaker explains how schools in Rotherham approach the issue of identifying their most able pupils.

Introduction Identification of G&T pupils can never be an end in its own right; it is irrevocably and strategically linked with need and provision, and both can change at every new stage in a child’s life. The label is not chosen to discriminate for or against children, rather to match and facilitate; this is the reason that there can never be hard and fast rules governing the process. In the authority we are developing what we have termed an ‘entitlement programme’ for gifted and talented children which is a programme of centralised activity and support offered to school staff, parents and pupils throughout their school life.

Context Three quarters of the borough of Rotherham is green countryside but many of the areas that were once pit or steel villages still subscribe to the attitudes passed on through the generations that often discourage children from aspiring to greater things. This has led, in some cases, to poor motivation and a lack of enrichment opportunities.

This was one reason why Rotherham attracted excellence in cities money at the phase 1 stage and why it has been involved in the Gifted and Talented initiative from its inception.

First steps The first task was to support the 14 (out of a total of 103) schools that initially received funding to identify 10% of their year 5 and 6 children – at least two thirds of whom were to be gifted within the school context, and up to a third talented. This was a very good place to start and still encourage teachers to concentrate on the 10% figure, although it was quickly realised that, to make the biggest difference, the work needed to be started much earlier than year 5. In the case of truly gifted young children, if they develop problems as a result of their giftedness in, for example, socialisation or the progression of creativity, then their needs have to be addressed as early as possible.

Emphasising the 10% focus enables teachers to concentrate on the needs of those children and to provide a curriculum experience that will generate enthusiasm, engagement and challenge born out of independence and self-appraisal. It also emphasises the need for a supportive classroom/school ethos to make this possible. This will inevitably affect all children and lead to the identification of those who initially were not deemed to have the skills to shine.

This is particularly well demonstrated by the cognitive acceleration materials and Philosophy for Children (P4C) that was introduced into Rotherham primary schools over the past four years. Because the emphasis is upon thinking, speaking and listening and not achievement, teachers are reporting regularly that children who have never had the self-esteem to contribute to lessons previously are demonstrating their ability to reason and think innovatively and are gaining the respect of classmates. This illustrates beautifully the Provision-Identify-Provision model and emphasises the need for enhanced and enriched opportunities to engage the learner, which can often lead to surprising results. Delightfully, these are sometimes the children who are on the SEN register for one reason or another – usually because their literacy skills do not demonstrate their true potential. What a great opportunity to develop the self-esteem of these children by providing a stage upon which they can demonstrate their skills. Caution is exercised about formally identifying very young children for the following reasons. – Children develop at different rates and as a result of various stimuli. If only those who are performing at a high level in the first months of their school life are chosen, there is a danger of sustaining elitist principles and adding credence to the myth that only those who have had an enriched early childhood can attain higher levels in later life; thereby missing out on a wealth of potential to be found within those who have not had the support and variety of experience many others take for granted. – Early identification can create false expectations for the future, especially in the case of those children who have been effectively accelerated by parental instruction.

– There can, unwittingly, be a concentration upon academic achievement to the detriment of socialisation, enrichment and creativity and this does not serve the younger child well in preparation for their future development and emotional wellbeing. (See how Rotherham identifies children for provision,right.)

Joy Blaker is the primary strand coordinator for gifted & talented at Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council

Conclusions The provision concentrates upon encouraging children to develop task commitment, which, as demonstrated by Joseph Renzulli, needs to be present in conjunction with ability and creativity if high ability is to translate into high achievement.

When recruiting for the masterclass programme,(which offers provision from year 3 onwards), we seek to be as flexible as possible. Whilst mentioning the possibility of achieving good level 5s in the KS2 SATs, the emphasis is placed upon the demonstration of creativity in the given subject and provision is made, where necessary, for the services of a learning mentor in order to support the child to develop their potential. The greatest concern is that identification criteria can provide a barrier to children who have potential but, for a number of reasons, do not fulfil this potential. The PIP (Provide-Identify-Provide) and DIP (Define-Identify-Provide) models need to be worked hand in hand in order to produce an inclusive approach.

We do not have all the answers and are constantly on the look out for ways to enhance other procedures and provision, but we feel that by crystallising the aims at each stage, we are beginning to understand how to create an inclusive entitlement programme, whilst at the same time being specific in the identification of gifted and talented children.