An educational ‘road system’ for individual gifted and talented children is needed, says Deborah Eyre, so that they can construct their own unique learning journeys

One might argue that if education is personalised to meet the needs of individuals, then gifted and talented education is redundant: but, on the other hand, personalisation might prove the perfect mechanism for embedding gifted education within overall provision. This can only work, however, if we truly understand the concept of personalisation and how best to exploit it. Personalisation is an ambitious and contested agenda, both here and abroad, gaining ground not only in education, but also in the delivery of public services such as health, policing and social services. As far as education is concerned however, the concept has proved difficult to explain and some confusion and frustration has arisen. 

A more flexible approach
Ischinger (2006) describes personalisation as springing from:

…the awareness that the one-size-fits-all approaches to school knowledge and organisation are ill-adapted both to individuals’ needs and to the knowledge society at large. Hence a more flexible approach is needed. The issues that need to be addressed go beyond school reform, as the personalisation agenda is also about promoting lifelong learning. The reference to ‘learning’ is important because the agendas reach out well beyond the institutional confines of the places called ‘schools’.

So personalisation applies to schools but also to other contexts in which students can or could learn. Hence we see an increased emphasis on out-of-hours activity and e-learning.

The personalisation approach is a sharp move away from the traditional view of education systems which Ruano-Borbalan (2006) describes as being characterised by the four ‘ones’: ‘one teacher, one class, one lesson and one subject’. In this new world the learners and their needs dictate and shape the system rather than individuals following a single pathway within a tightly constrained structure. I recently pointed out that personalisation is not merely a question of schools doing what they do now but a little better, or of creating systematic incentives for them to behave slightly differently; it requires change – cultural, structural and motivational – in what the system does, how it does it, where it does it and why it does it. So the challenge for education services is in how to move from the present system to a personalised one.

Leadbeater (2004) has probably produced the best short summary on personalisation, identifying three aspects:

  • Bespoke services, tailored to the needs of individual clients.
  • Mass customisation, allowing learners choice in how to mix and blend standardised components to create a learning programme suited to their needs.
  • Mass personalisation, encouraging participants to co-create the product.

In this model the voice of the learner becomes of real significance; their aspirations and ambitions driving the way that services are organised.

The new gifted education 

It seems to me that gifted education within personalisation is about focusing on what the system needs to provide in order to enable exceptional levels of performance in specific subjects or domains. Each of the Leadbeater elements can be specifically designed to enable and encourage the highest levels of performance. This is the new gifted education.

Bespoke services are all about meeting individual needs. They might include mentoring, or specific support for students with dual-exceptionality; enabling a learner to take an online course in a specific area, or experience a work placement. But, most crucially it is also about ensuring that teachers are equipped to tailor their classroom provision to meet the needs of individuals who show outstanding promise.

Mass customisation is beginning to occur significantly in 14-19, and also, to a lesser extent, lower down the school system. This element is about creating choice within a complex set of services or put another way, ‘selecting from the menu’. Some of the services on the menu can be designed specifically for the G&T pupils. These might include access to subjects deemed particularly suitable for the most able, eg critical thinking, enrichment sessions or access to out-of-school activities, such as those offered through YG&T. In this section, it is important to remember that the personalisation agenda does not just refer to schools; G&T pupils are some of those most likely to need access to specialist activities. What gifted education needs to do here is to concentrate on making challenging opportunities widely available (in school and beyond it) and matching them to the needs of individuals.

Mass personalisation is about participation, with learners being what Leadbeater (2004) calls ‘co-producers of the learning script’. In this last element, the most able cognitively should also be the most capable of exploiting this possibility, but they need help to develop those skills. This means they will need information, advice and guidance (IAG). IAG has never been particularly good for G&T: it will need greater emphasis if pupils are to become empowered and informed consumers of education.

In summary, personalisation means the system being designed to actively anticipate the needs of those learners capable of the highest levels of performance. The job for schools and teachers is to make their offer as comprehensive as possible and, at the same time, sign-post individuals towards other learning contexts. We have to provide the ‘road system’ and encourage individuals to construct their own unique learning journey.


References

  • Ischinger, A (2006) ‘Foreword’ in Personalising Education: Schooling for Tomorrow. Paris: OECD Publishing.
  • Leadbeater, C (2004) Learning about Personalisation: How Can the Learner Be at the Heart of the Education System? London: DEMOS.
  • Ruano-Borbalan, JC (2006) ‘Policy-making to Promote Personalised Learning in Schooling for Tomorrow’ in Personalising Education: Schooling for Tomorrow, Paris: OECD.