This is the first issue of Optimus Education’s new fortnightly e-bulletin, Gifted and Talented Update, which will focus on the ways that whole-school issues affect provision for more able and very able learners

Welcome to your new e-bulletin from Optimus Education, Gifted and Talented Update. Each fortnight we will bring ideas, news and information direct to your inbox. With leading teachers getting to grips with the role, and every teacher aiming to provide personalised learning for every child, there should be something of interest for everyone!

Gifted and Talented Update e-bulletin is written by Ian Warwick and Matt Dickenson from London Gifted and Talented who have extensive experience of teaching, research, policy development and schools consultancy throughout England and beyond.

Over the coming months, this e-bulletin will focus on the ways that whole-school issues affect provision for more able and very able learners; including urban education, disadvantaged and underachieving learners, black and minority ethnic (BME) and English as an additional language (EAL) learners, professional development and the issues surrounding online education. We intend to investigate what we as G&T educators really mean by issues such as inclusion, differentiation, critical thinking, independent learning, assessment for learning (AFL) and Assessing Pupil Progress (APP). We will also offer critical commentaries on the new Ofsted framework, lesson observation and the parent/pupil guarantee in the white paper: Your child, your schools, our future: Building a 21st century schools system. We intend to support you in finding your way around selected National Strategies e-resources where interesting content may be found or buried. We will also offer a G&T slant on core skills, writing, reading, speaking and listening. Finally, we will look at new materials and initiatives, beginning in our first issue with the recently published National Strategies’ handbook for school improvement partners (SIPs) on evaluating G&T education.

National Strategies’ Handbook for SIPs
The contents of this handbook suggest that gifted and talented programmes should be seen as interventions with clear outcomes and a time limit – challenging the established view of a stable population of the more able learners. This is consistent with the current guidance on identification of G&T learners, which indicates that the school is free to determine the size of its identified G&T population, provided that it can demonstrate the impact of provision for these learners on their achievement. Questions and ideas raised in this issue will be further explored in the coming weeks.

Despite its clunky title, Evaluating gifted and talented education: The school improvement partner’s role in engaging the school is actually a useful guide to what needs to be produced by schools to evaluate the impact of their approach to G&T education, in terms of pupil progress and standards.

The guide valiantly attempts to pull together the relevant sections from the SIP brief, the National Quality Standards (Institutional Quality Standards and Classroom Quality Standards) and the Ofsted framework. It supports SIPs in interpreting ‘what the school writes’ and ‘what the school says’ about G&T.

For the leading teacher this presents an opportunity to raise the profile of gifted and talented provision within the school’s self-evaluation cycle and to influence what the school believes about itself. The tone is very supportive of a professional dialogue and asking better questions, rather than producing a portfolio of evidence. Leading teachers are, after all, designated as change managers rather than the in-house document bank.

For teachers the first and most interesting section, ‘Engaging the School’, focuses on evidence provided by the school (documents) and the questions (conversations) through which the SIP gathers the necessary evidence to focus the school through its self evaluation form (SEF) and development plan. The remaining sections outline the National Programme for Gifted and Talented Education, giving the SIP contextual information and guidance. It might be handy to know some of this, but it won’t influence much and could prove to be a distraction.

A critical issue for schools is to understand what the conversations are likely to be, and what evidence will be requested. Perhaps even more important is how schools can pre-empt the agenda and steer the conversations in the right direction.

The effectiveness of the school’s G&T strategy are headlined in relation to:

  • attainment at each key stage (Level 3+, Level 5+, Level 7+, GCSE A/A*)
  • achievement – learner progression using conversion data
  • progression pathways, particularly to HEIs.

Put plainly, if the school cannot provide evidence of the impact of its G&T strategy against these measures, it is placed in the much more difficult position of having to defend its strategy, rather than having the chance to promote what G&T is doing on a wider level. This is consistent with the current guidance on identification of G&T learners, which indicates that the school is free to determine the size of its identified G&T population provided that it can demonstrate the impact of provision on these learners’ achievement.

This data should of course raise interesting questions. What general progress is actually being made by your G&T pupils? How, and more critically why, might this differ across subject areas and key stages? What does this look like when compared with your school’s statistical neighbours? These are some of the questions which will be investigated in more detail in the next edition.

More information

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2009

About the author: Ian Warwick is Senior Director of London Gifted & Talented, a branch of London Challenge. Matt Dickenson is Equalities and Achievement Director with London Gifted & Talented, leading the REAL Project (Realising Equality and Achievement for Learners).