Are you truly providing every opportunity you can to allow your most able students to thrive, while also not disadvantaging others? Michele Paule outlines action you can take to ensure you identify these students and then are able to shape the best provision for them.
There are two overarching concerns to be addressed in developing truly inclusive provision for the gifted and talented (G&T). These are the need to ensure that:
- the more able have access to a suitably challenging curriculum and opportunities to develop their particular talents
- approaches to G&T provision do not disadvantage other students, or exclude those whose talents/abilities may be at a latent or developing stage.
These two areas can seem difficult to reconcile – how do schools begin to plan for the ‘distinct teaching and learning programme’ required by the DfES, at the same time as ensuring equity and access for all who might benefit?
It is not only possible to reconcile these concerns, but central to developing effective provision. It is through developing a culture of high expectation for all that schools create environments in which the able thrive. The old adage ‘a rising tide lifts all the ships’ holds true. These ideals may seem lofty and generalised – but there are practical strategies for helping to achieve them.
These can be defined under four headings:
- curriculum organisation
- teaching and learning
- enrichment opportunities.
In planning under each of these headings, curriculum managers need to keep the identified learning needs of their own pupils in their own schools at the forefront, and to bear in mind that cohorts, talents, and individual pupil needs can vary greatly from year to year, so the need for flexibility is central to inclusion.
Effective identification strategies lie at the heart of inclusive provision, for such strategies bespeak an understanding of the complexity and variety of abilities students might show, an understanding of the barriers to potential revealing itself, and a shared vision of what the school wants to do with and for its most able.
Compared with five years ago, there is a great deal of useful advice on identification strategies – see, for example, the DfES G&T website (www.standards.dfes.gov.uk/gifted andtalented), which gives a grid of the pluses and minuses of a broad range of strategies, or the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) website (available via: www.qca.org.uk), which offers checklists for subject-based identification.
However, recent reports suggest that G&T registers in many schools are not representative of student cohorts – the socio-economically disadvantaged and some cultural groups are not present in the proportions that statistically they should be. Some of this is due to schools’ natural caution – the idea of a G&T register is relatively new, and they are wary of being held accountable for the performance of students whose eventual high attainment is by no means certain. And it is true that articulate, compliant students are easier to spot than the lazy, rebellious, incommunicative or language-disadvantaged.
But the news is not all bad. Schools are increasingly turning to cognitive profiling, not, as in the past, to use combined scores as an aid to setting intake, but as a tool for challenging as well as supporting performance data such as standard assessment tasks (SATs). A more sophisticated use of the data these tests can provide helps schools identify those with a disparity between language and thinking skills – often those who perform less well in subject tests.
This is leading to new ways of thinking about supporting such students, for example through teaching and learning strategies, mentoring and support, ICT opportunities and home-school liaison.
Whatever the tools used, there are two principles curriculum managers should observe:
- use a broad range of tools to compile data about pupils, including measures of potential, such as cognitive ability tests (CATs) or Middle Years Information System (MiDYIS), performance, such as SATs, national curriculum levels, teacher grades, and qualitative sources such as teacher, parental, peer or self-nomination
- regularly analyse and discuss with subject and other leaders the register and methods used to compile it; questions to ask include: Are certain groups under- or over-represented? How can this be addressed? Are pupils being nominated for the register for certain types of behaviours, or as a reward for doing well? How are potential underachievers identified?
Although often giving rise to fears of elitism, the register can promote inclusivity if regarded as a tool rather than an outcome in itself. Managers and teachers need to keep in mind that the process of creating a register can raise expectations of pupils and highlight those in danger of underachievement. It can help keep the needs of the able at the forefront of planning, and provide a useful tracking tool for some individuals/groups.
While it may be useful in helping to identify pupils who might benefit from particular opportunities, schools should be very careful in thinking about using it as a criteria for inclusion/exclusion from an enrichment programme. It is better to think in terms of a case-by-case basis, whether this means inclusion in an accelerated group or the chance to go on a trip. Staff should also be alert to the fact that providing pupils with challenging or enriching opportunities may well reveal abilities perhaps hitherto unsuspected.
Effective, inclusive provision starts with thinking broadly about the big design. Does it provide opportunities for the gifted and talented to fulfil their potential, their interests and their aspirations? Does it accommodate pupils with specific as well as general abilities and talents? Does it allow for different rates of progress and stages of development?
To be able to answer ‘yes’ to these questions, curriculum managers may need to consider the range of subjects on offer, the exam syllabuses chosen, the flexibility of choice, and the possibility of progressing through the curriculum at different rates.
For example, some students might benefit from the opportunity to compact courses and take exams earlier – some schools are already experimenting with a two-year Key Stage 3 in which able pupils take SATs at the end of Year 8, and with early-entry GCSEs. Some useful illustrative example can be found in Flexibility in the secondary curriculum (QCA, 1999). However, adopting such an approach involves careful consideration of what to do with the gained time; will students simply increase the volume of GCSEs they will take? While this may broaden the curriculum offer for the able, it does not increase the level of challenge.
Accelerated students can begin work towards the next key stage. Although managers need to bear in mind that this can create timetabling difficulties, it can also provide opportunities for more vertical grouping; popular in Australia, this provides opportunities for students to learn with peers in ability rather than age. Such grouping characterises many successful summer school enrichment programmes such as the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY), as well as being more typical of non-academic domains where interest clubs and sports teams are far more broadly grouped than by year of birth.
A further key issue to consider is how students are chosen for such curriculum opportunities. Identification needs to be careful and accurate. For example, if a student is identified as high ability mid-way through the course, it is more difficult to join a compacted programme where much important ground has been covered already; teachers know that for such pupils changing sets can be difficult even in non-tiered entry subjects where all groups cover the curriculum at broadly the same pace. Ensuring the ‘late bloomer’ is both recognised and catered for presents schools with thorny practical issues, and yet this is central to inclusivity – particularly when one considers that disadvantaged students are statistically more likely to realise their talents later, for a whole range of reasons.
While it is true that the national curriculum was devised with notional time allocations for subjects in mind, these are not set in stone. There is potential for flexibility – schools could, for example, build extra opportunities in addition to the normal school day, or offer extra subjects that particularly:
- suit the school (for example, if a specialist school, in the special subject area)
- take advantage of available resources or local expertise
- meet the needs of a cohort
- compact or extend subjects through acceleration, as described above, or enrichment, for example, offering Media Studies GCSE to some students in the time usually allocated to just English Language and Literature.
However, managers should keep in mind that during school inspection they will be required to account for modifications to time allocations, so they and their subject leaders will need to be able to give a clear rationale for adjustments made, including any inclusivity issues that might be raised. For example, one school, in arranging subject choices in such a way as to encourage girls to take up technology subjects, was found on inspection to be limiting those same girls’ opportunities to take PE and drama. Here the issue raised was not only inclusivity in gender opportunities, but equality between gifted (academic) and talented (creative/performance) domains.
In planning curriculum organisation, managers should consult with subject and pastoral leaders about the most appropriate courses in their areas and how well these might meet the needs of those identified as able from year to year.
Management of teaching and learning
While there is not time or space here to delve into the issue of classroom teaching and learning in real depth, there are broad guiding principles and working models that curriculum managers may find it useful to keep in mind when they are considering inclusivity.
In its guidance to Excellence in Cities (EiC) schools, the DfES encourages schools to examine their existing provision, and then:
to undertake a thorough audit of [G&T] pupils’ learning needs, and then to agree individual attainment targets which are challenging enough to stretch them in areas of relative strength and develop areas of relative weakness. (DfES Standards website, ‘Roles and responsibilities of lead and school coordinators’ section, accessible via: www.standards.dfes.gov.uk)
Although undertaking such an audit may seem a daunting task, most schools will find they have a wealth of existing data that can be gleaned. For example, the Key Stage 3 subject audits have a consistent focus on G&T provision; there is test and other performance data existing on students, school reports and target-setting records where schools engage in this. Many departments now keep central files of schemes of work, and Key Stage 3 and performance threshold observations can give information about classroom practices.
In thinking about how needs are being identified and met, managers may find the teacher/subject leader/manager pyramid model in the box on page 6 useful.
Another aspect of inclusion is ensuring access to appropriate learning opportunities across the curriculum. You will need to find ways to ensure the development and sharing of good practice, as well as its monitoring and evaluation – see the box on page 5 for ideas.
Enrichment is a broad term – it can be used to describe extra curricular activities, or learning beyond the prescribed material in class. It can also describe a broader approach to developing students’ experience, aspirations and breadth of cultural awareness, and certainly does not exist purely for the G&T.
When planning for inclusivity in enrichment opportunities, curriculum managers will need to consider:
- the particular needs of their cohorts – does the cost of some activities exclude any students?
- whether not participating would disadvantage some students, for example in coursework preparation
- whether the range of activities on offer reflects student needs and interests.
Joyce Van Tassell-Baska, an expert in the G&T field in America, identifies four key goals for enrichment – see the box below left. It is interesting to note that she includes the emotional or affective. Enrichment in English schools has traditionally tended to fall under A or D, and yet underconfident students might benefit greatly from B and C – for example, if the perceived social barriers to university were discouraging them from applying, rather than their exam grades. University visits and summer schools, and participation in local higher education (HE) access programmes might be an appropriate way of providing for such needs. On the other hand, if there are some highly able mathematicians in the school’s cohort, the inclusivity issue is one of appropriate challenge – here the enrichment can help overcome this, through for example participation in national maths challenges or summer schools such as NAGTY.
The cost implications of offering such enrichment activities needs to be considered against the question of whether a pupil has needs that it is reasonable that the school should meet – for example, appropriate level of challenge, or opportunity to work with peers.
In studies of enrichment programmes, a general conclusion appears to be that students taking part show increased creativity and a more constructive attitude to school. An unlooked for but marked effect has been a greater understanding and participation on the part of staff.
Michele Paule, Senior Lecturer, Gifted Education and Media, Westminster Institute of Education, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford
For a wealth of useful material on the Oxford Brookes G&T website, including advice on identification, curriculum organisation and management, as well as exemplar materials from EiC schools and ‘launchpads’ that outline key areas for those getting started.
Clark and Callow (1998) suggest a model of curricular writing groups for developing provision within secondary schools, with a clear brief for evaluation, revision and dissemination built into the guidelines.
The model recommended by the DfES is one in which a network of nominated teachers meet regularly to discuss provision and development, and disseminate information and models of good practice to their subject or year teams.
The Key Stage 3 national strategy may help facilitate change in schools where provision is in the early stages. Managers could ask subject leaders to identify strategy objectives that may be most appropriate for groups and individuals in the gifted and talented cohort. These can then be incorporated into teaching plans, and used for individual target setting. The national strategy will also enable schools to track students’ progress through Key Stage 2–3 transition, through the progression of objectives from the primary to the secondary phase.
Some schools are using individual education plans (IEPs) such as are used by special educational needs (SEN) departments. As well as providing for individual needs, IEPs can enable subject leaders and managers to:
- track the progress of individual students
- set whole-school targets for the cohort
- perceive and respond to patterns of underachievement or other individual needs
- ensure that all those with responsibility have access to data
- identify areas where provision is not meeting needs.
Key areas for G&T enrichment
- To develop high-level proficiency in the agreed area of learning
- To become an independent investigator
- To appreciate the world of ideas
- To enhance higher-level thinking skills
- To encourage a spirit of inquiry
- To increase self-understanding
- To explore aspects of/develop ways of coping with being gifted/talented
- To develop social skills
- To enhance understanding of relationships
- To develop expression and an appreciation of the arts
- To enable creative thinking
Source: Van Tassell-Baska, J. (1992) Planning effective curriculum for gifted learners, Love Publishing
- Clark, C. and Callow, R. (1998) Educating able children – resource issues and processes for teachers, Fulton
- Ofsted (2001) Providing for gifted and talented pupils: an evaluation of Excellence in Cities and other grant funded programmes, Ofsted
- QCA (1999) Flexibility in the secondary curriculum (QCA/99/477), QCA
- Van Tassell-Baska, J. (1992) Planning effective curriculum for gifted learners, Love Publishing