The role of gifted and talented coordinator in English primary schools is complex; it involves the development of the school's G&T policy and the responsibility for managing the school's register of G&T children. Importantly, however, it is a leadership position in which the G&T coordinator plays a central role in developing colleagues' practice (Campbell et al 2004; Clark and Callow 1998).
CPD is arguably the most challenging aspect of the role but it has the greatest potential for a positive impact on children's learning. In this article, I will outline an approach which has proven to be very effective and may provide a way forward for G&T coordinators who wish to develop this aspect of their role.
The ‘teacher-as-asset' model
Professional development for colleagues often follows a ‘teacher-deficit' model (Clark and Callow, 1998), where training is imposed and participating teachers have no influence on the programme. In contrast, the ‘teacher-as-asset' model involves the agreement and involvement of teachers; recognition of current successful practice is used as a starting point for development, and evidence from teachers' class-based research helps to formulate practice. An approach based on this latter model could enable G&T coordinators to develop bespoke professional development programmes that address the needs of children and teachers while being located within current school priorities (see diagram).
A problem-based approach to professional development
In seeking an approach positioned within the ‘teacher-as-asset' model, I have adapted Swann's Problem-based Methodology for the Improvement of Professional Practice (2003) for use with schools. This problem-based approach values a non-authoritarian, creative approach to professional development. It enables each G&T coordinator to formulate a practical problem centred on local needs, and then to work alongside school-based colleagues to trial and evaluate potential solutions.
The approach comprises 11 steps: steps one to eight support the G&T coordinator in establishing a project plan; step nine describes the implementation of chosen actions; and steps 10 and 11 describe the analysis and reporting of the outcomes (see table). Recent projects have involved G&T coordinators from a number of schools in Southampton and Brighton and Hove working through the 11-step problem-based approach. This was facilitated through three workshops and led by myself as project-researcher over a period of six to nine months. This table details how the workshops were structured for each project. Ideally, key colleagues such as the relevant subject leader also attended the workshops; the combined skills, knowledge and understanding of such partnerships proved to be a powerful combination to develop G&T pedagogy and provision within specific subject areas.
The impact of the problem-based approach
This problem-based approach to professional development has enabled teachers to enhance their own knowledge and understanding of G&T pedagogy and provision and develop and embed new practices. G&T coordinators have found this approach to professional development to be highly supportive. They liked a number of features:
- inbuilt organisational structure
- the way the professional development activities in workshop 1 stimulated their thinking
- opportunities for dissemination among the group
- professional collaboration, both within the group and among school-based colleagues
- ongoing opportunities for reflection
- the enhancement of professional knowledge and confidence.
How can schools and networks use the problem-based approach?
As a primary consultant, I have taken the role of project researcher and planned, organised and led this problem-based approach over five projects, working with 20 schools in two local authorities. However, there are a number of ways in which schools might adapt the approach to suit their needs:
Projects might take place in individual schools or across networks of schools. In either case, a project-researcher is needed to organise and lead the workshops and support ongoing professional development. The project-researcher could be a professional from within the school or network of schools. Alternatively, this role may be given to an individual with specific expertise from outside the school or network.
Projects could involve all teachers in a school in a significant, whole-school professional and curricular development, or they could focus on specific professionals or year teams.
Projects could focus on developing an aspect of pedagogy such as the use of challenge to reveal ability, or on enhancing provision within a single subject.
If networks of schools work together using this approach, the project requires an investment of two-and-a-half days for each G&T coordinator over a six- to nine-month period. Additionally, this can be augmented by enabling a key teacher from the same school to work in partnership with the coordinator and also attend the workshops (an investment of an additional two-and-a-half days). Finally, the project researcher will need approximately three days to lead the project. However, schools may want to allocate additional planning time if this professional is a member of staff. Where this role is conducted by an external professional, additional funding may be required.
If individual schools plan to use the approach with the whole staff, the workshops might be organised as part of the school's Inset programme. Overall, in terms of time and monetary resources, this problem-based approach represents ‘value for money' professional development.
This approach to ‘bespoke' professional development has been seen to foster high levels of engagement from teachers, resulting in a deeper and more profound understanding of pedagogy and practice in G&T education.
Alison Barnes is a senior lecturer in primary mathematics education at the University of Brighton