It is a teacher’s responsibility to access extension and enrichment opportunities for individual students who might benefit. Ray Speakman explains how one regional partnership is supporting schools who are doing just that

Ask your closest colleague why they are doing what they are doing and chances are they will attribute the shape of their lives to an early encounter that unlocked something – ‘let the genie out of the bottle’ – forever. The encounter may have been with a book or a place, but it was more than likely with a teacher. It would have been the teacher who introduced the book, the place, or the subject, topic, activity, pastime that introduced the ‘other world’, beyond the routine and the everyday.

Provision beyond the school
The National Strategy for Gifted and Talented Education has led to a general acceptance that in meeting the needs of their most able pupils, teachers seek to provide ‘not only from within the school but also from beyond the school’(1). Once seen as the province of the young and enthusiastic coordinator, or perhaps that mythical genie-releasing teacher, importing innovative and engaging activities has moved from the periphery of the curriculum to its very centre, from a desirable addition to an essential component, from lunch time club to lesson time staple. What was once extra is now expected – or as the DCSF would put it, ‘strongly expected’. We have all got the part: Mr, Mrs or Miss Chips – that’s you, that is!  

The language of the G&T agenda is peppered with phrases that bring us back to this core aim – the expectation that teachers will seek and find opportunities for individual abilities to be nurtured and articulated. This is very much, of course, what personalising learning is about: a dialogue with pupils out of which the ‘offer is extended’, ‘extra stretch’ is provided and ‘the bar is raised’. The various sets of quality standards make clear the expectations to resource opportunities for learners:

  • Institutional Quality Standards (IQS) element 4 ‘Enabling curriculum entitlement and choice’,  talks about ‘personalised learning pathways… which maximise individual potential’
  • Classroom Quality Standards (CQS) refer repeatedly to the importance for teachers of  finding resources to meet the needs of learners, not least their most able.
  • Local Authority Quality Standards(LAQS) call for the LA to ensure ‘a range of extending and enriching opportunities’ and an expectation that it will ‘alone, or through a network, provide and/or broker a range of targeted and innovative provision for learners’.

Of course, NAGTY recognised this need and expectation through its website, summer schools, special events and outreach activities. The YGT Learner Academy has picked up the baton and is running with it through the events and short courses being provided by the excellence hubs(2).

Issues for KS2/3
The current issue is, however, the range of provision available across the key stages. The excellence hubs are, perhaps understandably, focusing their energies to provide ‘extra stretch’ at Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5. Key Stage 3, we are led to believe, will come in 2009.

Anyone who has been involved in the Leading Teacher training programme will know that this programme, a pivotal element in the National Strategy, has fanned a need, that was already evident, for a broad range of extra provision right across the system – not least at Key Stage 2 and younger, and also at Key Stage 3. The strategy has shown teachers what they can and ought to aspire to, now they need to know, in practical and concrete ways, how to get there. It is consequently no accident that the LAQS includes that phrase about LAs providing and/or brokering ‘targeted and innovative provision’. YGT has begun feeding the need at KS4 and KS5, but this does not diminish the demand that the Leading Teacher programme has in part created in the other key stages.

Gifted and Talented eXtra
As a result of this, perhaps temporary, gap in provision, the West Midlands Regional Partnership for G&T (WMGT) are working on a series of short courses with the generic title GTX (‘Gifted and Talented eXtra’). Setting out to make a regional contribution to the National Strategy, and to dove-tail with the work of the YGT Learner Academy, GTX will be a catalogue of what WMGT intends to be an expanding collection of innovative and challenging courses aimed, in the first instance, at Key Stage 2 pupils and their teachers, but quickly growing to include KS1 and KS3.

GTX organisers ask schools to work within a small cluster (five or six schools) to receive a course, each sending a teacher and five or six pupils: this facilitates professional development for teachers and new learning for pupils. One school hosts. The courses go to the schools and they have three distinct elements:

1. A pre-course pack designed to help teachers identify those pupils who might make the most of the opportunity. If the course has, for example, a history focus, then the identification processes will be to do with identifying which pupils demonstrate the ‘behaviours of a historian’ or, importantly, those pupils who, given a slightly different setting, might ‘grow’ those behaviours(3). It is worth pointing out here that GTX has an inclusive intention in that it seeks to respond to pupils’ current interests and energies, rather than simply to a fixed G&T cohort in a school. Consequently, when, as WMGT hopes, the school experiences its second and third GTX course, perhaps a different group of children would represent the school, in order that their subject specific needs are met.

2. The course itself will be delivered on one full day of school time.

3. Following the day, there will be a twilight meeting of the staff involved – to evaluate, to look at follow-up materials and to talk about ‘what next?’ Most schools are now part of a notional cluster – some are ‘live’ (through the Leading Teacher programme, or the extended schools agenda, for instance) others might use the GTX experience to galvanise collaborative work.

All GTX courses are built around the following aims:

For pupils:

  • To inspire and challenge in specific areas of interest, and perhaps ignite new passions and create new opportunities for future learning.
  • To deliver ‘extra stretch’: activities, approaches and learning strategies.
  • To offer an opportunity for pupils of similar abilities and enthusiasms to work together across schools and age groups.
  • To develop confidence and raise aspirations.

For teachers:

  • To model strategies and provide materials for meeting the needs of the most able.
  • To explore identification, provision and extension/enrichment in areas of the curriculum where the school/individual teacher may feel the need for extra inspiration, input and support.
  • To build capacity in teachers and give them time to reflect on new approaches to learning with the course leaders, and with colleagues from a small network of schools.
  • To develop confidence and raise expectations.

Costs to schools have been kept as low as possible: after receiving a commissioning fee for creating the course, the providers will charge the cluster of schools for delivery. The commissioning fees come from the West Midlands Partnership, as do the costs for printing the final materials. In the days of NAGTY, outreach courses presented a couple of issues for pupils: costs per head and travel. GTX sets out to address both of these by having the courses take place in a school, with all of the participants coming from neighbouring schools, and by insisting that the providers charge no more than £100 for each school. For this very reasonable cost, the school will receive high-quality CPD alongside an event that meets the needs of its most able students in a particular area of the curriculum. What we hope of course, is that in order to make these courses even more accessible, local authorities will make some funds available to subsidise the cost to schools – especially small schools in rural areas. This will certainly be the case in Warwickshire. The combination of ‘pump-priming’ in order to create the courses, low costs to schools and a small element of LA subsidy should make the courses widely available and, perhaps as important, the whole project sustainable. WMGT also hopes, of course, that printing the course materials will allow other regions to benefit from the work done in the West Midlands.

Quality assurance
Each of the courses will be quality assured by WMGT:

  • The providers are, for the most part, local authority employees – primarily advisers, but also working teachers. We are also talking to some arts organisations and the National Trust.
  • WMGT plays a key role in the preparation of the pre-course materials.
  • Each course goes through a pilot stage, where the materials are scrutinised and delivery formally observed and evaluated.

The deliverers of the course will, after the pilot stage, have delivery rights in the West Midlands region, but WMGT will collate and print the materials used, so that they might be made available, through YGT, to other regions.

Early indications of interest from potential providers and schools are more than encouraging. Despite the obvious issues that LA staff have with capacity, and that schools have with funding, the enthusiasm for the venture is palpable. Short courses in aspects of number, writing, science, history, religion, philosophy, citizenship and critical thinking are in the pipeline. The target is to have 10 in place this autumn (2008) and then just keep multiplying. There is an obvious interest from schools in finding resources to stretch the most able in familiar areas of the curriculum like maths, English and science, but WMGT believes that the less familiar, like philosophy for example, will attract an increasing interest as time goes by.

The National Strategy has shown us that meeting the needs of our most able learners is not simply about increasing the tally of Level 5s or 7s, or for that matter, simply about the distance travelled across a key stage. Mohammed Ali said that when he was preparing his knockout punch he didn’t aim at his opponent’s chin, but at a point some way beyond the chin. For ‘chin’ read SATs results: for ‘knockout education’ read – well, you can complete the metaphor! You could be the metaphor yourself. It will have something to do with maximising potential, releasing energies, creating passions, changing lives – proper learning-lasting impact.

1. Guidance on Preventing Underachievement: A Focus on Exceptionally Able Pupils. DCSF 2008.
2. Excellence hubs: regional consortia made up of HE establishments who contribute to YGT’s catalogue of events for G&T pupils.
3. The PIP model – provide – and as a result identify – then provide some more. An approach used in spotting and nurturing young sportspeople, but applicable elsewhere.

Ray Speakman is G&T strategy coordinator for Warwickshire and the West Midlands Gifted and Talented Partnership