Tags: Classroom Teacher | Every Child Matters | G&T Coordinator | G&T provision | Gifted & Talented | Personalised Learning | School Leadership & Management
Provision for G&T pupils has come a long way in the last 10 years – from a negligible presence to a significant aspect in most schools. Yet many teachers, even the most committed, find it hard to evidence concrete outcomes for children resulting from the ‘gifted and talented programme’. This was a key observation from a survey of London LEAs that Mouchel Parkman carried out in autumn 2003. Lead consultant, Ken Bore explains.
What are the quality standards?
Working with a range of partners, the DfES have developed new quality standards that ‘capture effective provision for G&T pupils’. These standards are defined by a series of descriptor targets at three levels: an entry level that all institutions and subject teachers might reasonably achieve; a developing level, highlighting the next stages for development; and an exemplary level encapsulating best practice.
The levels are developed for both whole-school and classroom use.
No one wants measurement to replace enthusiasm, least of all in G&T education, where teachers relish the opportunity to think laterally and try out new ideas. However, the value of G&T programmes cannot be validated solely by assertion. Hard evidence of impact is both important and increasingly inescapable. The enthusiasm that has fuelled and sustained the progress of the past decade now needs to be supplemented by a more rigorous approach to outcomes. It is this ‘outcomes gap’ that the institutional quality standards are intended to fill.
Of course, an outcomes-focused approach can be achieved in various ways, some positive, some negative. There is little support, either within the G&T world or outside it, for slavish submission to data crunching for its own sake. It would be risky, though, to dismiss utterly the significance and value of data as a tool in the service of whole-school improvement. Providing there is a balance of qualitative as well as quantitative data, much important information about pupils’ needs and performance can be obtained. The crucial issue is, ‘who controls the use of the data?’ Is the data being used in a culture of external imposition or self-regulation?
New Relationship with Schools
Encouragingly, central government is moving away from ‘top-down’ inspection towards an emphasis on schools evaluating themselves. This new ethos is enshrined within the New Relationship with Schools (NRWS). Often expressed in shorthand as ‘the single annual conversation’ (although it is unlikely that one discussion will be able to embrace every aspect of school life) NRWS will:
- place responsibility firmly upon schools to audit their own provision, assess their own strengths and weaknesses
- come up with an action plan that meets their pupils’ needs and the school’s priorities for development.
Working to a brief set by the DfES and the National Academy for Gifted & Talented Youth, Mouchel Parkman has been leading a team over the past year to design institutional quality standards for use by all schools and post-16 colleges in England. The standards have been scrutinised by leading experts in G&T education, thoroughly tested by trial schools and are to be rolled out to schools nationally in Autumn 2005. Some local authorities have already adopted them as a lever for improving schools’ practice.
The value of G&T programmes cannot be validated solely by assertion. Hard evidence of impact is both important and increasingly inescapable’
Personalised education model
The institutional quality standards are organised around the five components of personalised education, which is reaffirming and highlighting the needs of the individual child or young person.
Every Child Matters A third government initiative is highly relevant to provision (and therefore self-evaluation) for G&T pupils. Every Child Matters emphasises the needs of the whole child. To meet the institutional quality standards schools need to pay equal attention to both the wellbeing and attainment of their G&T pupils. Teachers of G&T pupils have long emphasised the importance of emotional and social as well as academic goals. The institutional quality standards reinforce this message, stressing the significance of listening to the ‘pupil voice’ and involving parents, carers and the local community.
Schools can deliver the Every Child Matters outcomes to G&T pupils by offering pastoral support, using learning mentors, and providing opportunities for pupils to ‘make a positive contribution’ to the community (both within and outside the school).
How will the institutional quality standards benefit our school?
The institutional quality standards are a supportive tool to help schools analyse and improve their provision for G&T pupils. There are three levels (entry, developing and exemplary) which together provide a:
- means to raise individual pupil and whole- school/college achievement
- accessible tool for in-depth analysis of need once G&T provision has been identified as a school priority
- snapshot to inform overall self-evaluation within the New Relationship with Schools agenda
- professional agreement on practice which is crucial for development
- route for improving the quality of learning and teaching
- mechanism to drive forward innovative practice
- designated level of performance which is observable through practice
- mechanism for evaluating provision and measuring impact
- means of securing personalised education for gifted and talented pupils
- opportunity to highlight CPD needs and areas of strength
- means of organising and cataloguing all resources and support for G&T provision, including CPD.
To meet the institutional quality standards schools need to pay equal attention to both the wellbeing and attainment of their G&T pupils
The institutional quality standards are designed to be accessible and relevant to all schools and colleges, with varying experience and expertise in G&T education, and in all areas of the country. They are underpinned by the principle that self-evaluation is a cooperative task carried out by key members of staff within a school, including:
- headteachers/principals to ask, ‘Where are we as a school in meeting the needs of our gifted and talented pupils?’
- G&T school/college coordinators to ask and draw together, ‘What are we doing well as a school and what do we need to do to improve our practice?’
- subject/phase/aspect coordinators to ask, ‘What are we doing well in this area/aspect of the school’s work and what do we need to do to improve our practice?’
The quality standards can be used as an audit tool to identify gaps in provision within the evaluation and planning cycle underpinning the New Relationship with Schools and as a mechanism for identifying the professional development needs of teachers. The G&T coordinator can use the quality standards to draw up an action plan for improvement, working with colleagues at every level. The school’s targets for G&T will then be included in the school improvement plan.
A flexible tool
There is no ‘right way’ to use the institutional quality standards, and no set order to using the document. Schools should approach the elements of the quality standards in a way and at the speed that suits its stage and pace of development. For example, a school/college may:
- select a particular element (eg ‘effective provision in the classroom’ or ‘assessment for learning’) as a focus for self-improvement
- combine self-evaluation in two (or more) related areas (eg ‘effective provision’ plus ‘monitoring and evaluation’)
- carry out a broad-brush evaluation of all 14 elements (using the ‘chequerboard approach’, see p5) and then zoom in on elements that reveal themselves as problematic
- perform a detailed analysis of all elements of provision.
Three levels of the quality standards
Level 1: entry Level 1 represents a baseline standard of practice, with scope for continuous improvement. Entry level relates to a ‘satisfactory’ Ofsted rating (although there is no guarantee that a school self-evaluating at a particular quality standards level will automatically be graded at an equivalent level by Ofsted).
For some schools/colleges, achieving the entry level may require a re-think of their practice, challenging some basic assumptions about attitudes to learning and teaching, as well as the ethos of the school. For these schools/colleges there will be ‘pre-entry’ issues to address such as identifying G&T pupils as a school priority, awareness raising for classroom teachers and middle managers, setting up basic identification processes and data systems, and recognising the need for differentiated learning and teaching.
Level 2: developing Level 2 will be achieved by a school that is effective in meeting pupils’ needs and has scope within its practice for reinforcement, development and further improvement. Developing level relates to a ‘good’ Ofsted rating.
For schools/colleges in this category there will be ‘improvement issues’ to be picked up under the ‘next steps’ section of the standards. Evidence of impact on whole school/college practice, participation in the wider inclusion agenda, and addressing the needs of specific groups of gifted and talented pupils (additional educational needs, exceptional achievers, and under-achievers) are significant in this level.
For some schools/colleges, achieving the entry level may require a re-think of their practice, challenging some basic assumptions about attitudes to learning and teaching, as well as the ethos of the school
Level 3: exemplary Level 3 indicates exceptional and sustained practice with the scope for dissemination beyond the school/college and for continuous improvement as best practice evolves nationally. Exemplary level relates to a ‘very good / excellent’ Ofsted rating.
The requirements at this level are designed to inspire schools/colleges to innovate, and to make demands on schools/colleges with extensive experience and expertise. The exemplary level emphasises collaborative working (local, regional, national) with other schools and colleges. It requires evidence that G&T pupils are making a contribution (‘putting something back’) to the wider school/ college and local communities. Schools/colleges at this level should be able to provide evidence that their excellent practice has been sustained over a significant period of time (a minimum of two years is suggested). Schools/colleges should also indicate, within their school improvement plan, how they can ensure sustainability at this level and how they will ensure continuous improvement as national and regional best practice evolves.
‘Best fit’ and chequerboard approach
To achieve a particular level a school will not need to tick every statement.
Using a ‘best fit’ approach, a school will come to a conclusion about which series of statements best reflects its current practice. For example, a school may not be able to fulfil every requirement under ‘assessment for learning, developing level’ but the evidence may suggest that most of the schools’ practice meets this level. Similarly a school may discover that its practice is not uniform across all elements (eg ‘developing’ under ‘identification’, but ‘entry’ under ‘effective classroom provision’). The school may in fact have a variety of practice at different levels, forming a chequerboard pattern.
To give a simplified example:
This school’s self-evaluation statement within the ‘single conversation’ would therefore read:
‘Our practice in identification is good (developing) and we make effective provision in the classroom for our academically gifted pupils, but we do not do so well for our talented pupils (entry). We offer considerable challenge to pupils within a well-differentiated curriculum, although our range of curriculum approaches could be more extensive (developing). Leadership is effective, with a well defined vision for promoting gifted provision though this needs to be developed further in respect of provision for talented pupils (developing). We use our resources creatively to generate innovative practice (exemplary). Our monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are a genuine strength, with views of both pupils and parents listened to and acted upon (exemplary).
‘Whilst we do have some ‘exemplary’ practice we believe that the areas where improvement needs to take place (especially provision for talented pupils) are sufficiently significant for us to place our school within the ‘developing’ rather than ‘exemplary’ level. We still have some way to go!’
Linkage with Ofsted SEF
The institutional quality standards have been designed to link closely with other self-evaluation models including the NACE Challenge Award and the new Ofsted framework. A school or college using the quality standards will be able to apply the evidence gathered directly to the new Ofsted SEF.
Comparing practice using the institutional quality standards
The quality standards will enable schools to set up evaluation dialogues, either in pairs or larger groups of schools. A school at exemplary level for assessment for learning could for example be paired with a school at developing level. Three or four schools can get together (either face-to-face or virtually) to compare their practice and how they are carrying out their self-evaluation, and to offer each other advice about ways to improve. Comparing different schools’ practice helps overcome the risk of subjectivity in the self-evaluation process (underselling versus over-optimism). The gifted and talented regional networks and local authority coordinators will be able to provide support in this process, eg by acting as facilitators or moderators.
Comparing practice can take place within a school as well as between schools. The quality standards should be seen not only as a self-evaluation tool, but as a professional development experience. Moderation of judgements, through consideration of evidence, can be facilitated through small action groups within schools and networks between schools.
Schools, local authorities and EiC partnerships are already using the institutional quality standards to:
- identify where practice worth sharing exists
- prioritise where additional support is needed
- inform overall planning through understanding of the ‘big picture’
- build a secure evidence base for the Ofsted SEF.
The institutional quality standards can help build a more dynamic action-group approach to influencing learning and teaching in gifted and talented provision. One successful method is to recruit an interested and committed cadre of teaching and non-teaching staff (preferably sponsored by a member of the senior leadership team) to focus as a study group on gifted and talented provision school-wide. This can help gifted and talented and curriculum coordinators secure a greater strategic influence within the school. The institutional quality standards emphasise and facilitate a whole-school approach to gifted and talented provision.
Support for the institutional quality standards
The institutional quality standards will be officially launched at a DfES national conference on 31 October/1 November. The term ‘institutional’ is designed to distinguish these quality standards from the classroom standards that will follow. The institutional standards will apply to all schools and post-16 colleges within England.
A comprehensive user guide will be available along with the standards. An on-line version is planned and a classroom standard will follow in autumn 2006.
The new regional networks will also provide support.
Ken Bore is the lead consultant for Mouchel Parkman and the former director of the National Association for Gifted Children.
This article first appeared in Gifted & Talented Update - Sep 2005
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