During the academic year 2004-05, the London Borough of Lambeth developed an imaginative and creative partnership with GIFT to offer enrichment courses for gifted and talented primary and secondary students, held in local museums and galleries. Rosemary Butcher explains

The objective was to offer alternative enrichment courses for gifted and talented students that were not otherwise provided, to be funded by central EiC funds and offered to schools across the LEA.

We decided to focus on years 4, 5 and 6 in primary schools and years 7 and 8 in secondary schools and to offer courses during half term, over the academic year, for each group. We also approached GIFT with the proposal that they develop one-day workshops that were cross-curricular, designed to broaden students’ experience, include hands-on activities and challenge thinking.

It was agreed that courses should be held during half term in order to offer something new and to avoid the inevitable clashes with the school timetable and activities already taking place; this also took away the onus on schools to bring groups of students accompanied by a teacher. It also meant that teachers didn’t have to ‘mark’ the courses as different from, but complementary to, the school experience. It was also decided to hold the courses in neutral venues separate from schools, and as we are fortunate in having a wealth of museums and galleries on our doorstep we decided to make use of these venues.

Working with museums and galleries
Establishing links with various museums and galleries in the locality was one of the most positive aspects of developing the courses. All of the museums and galleries approached were extremely positive, welcoming and keen to work with us. (Where we did not go on to develop a programme with them, it was due to the fact that they were already running courses for schools through their own education department rather than through their lack of interest.)

During the year, courses were hosted for us by: the Horniman Museum, Somerset House, the Florence Nightingale Museum, the Imperial War Museum and the Museum of Garden History – a wide range of very different establishments.

After initial contact was made – in most cases by one of the LEA coordinators – staff from GIFT liaised directly with the museums to develop the courses, making as much use as possible of the collection and facilities that the museums could offer, to develop challenging courses appropriate to the venue.

The actual input of education staff at each venue was variable, with some education staff desiring to be more involved and ‘hands on’ than others. For example, at Somerset House the education officer took the group on an excellent tour of relevant exhibitions, while at other museums the whole course was handed over to GIFT. Only one venue charged us for use (£100), the Florence Nightingale Museum, the least well-off of the museums. The other venues did not charge for use their of facilities, viewing the activities as fitting into their education and outreach remit and a positive way for them to make links with local primary and secondary schools and with young people and their parents/carers.

A further positive aspect of establishing these links with such venues has been the increased opportunities that have subsequently arisen for Lambeth schools. For example, at least one secondary school art department has established good links with Somerset House, involving students from year 7 to year 12 in a range of activities with the education department; furthermore, events have been developed at the Florence Nightingale Museum in partnership with Kings, Guys and St Thomas’ Access to Medicine programme.

Staff from GIFT liaised directly with the museums to develop the courses, making as much use as possible of the collection and facilities that the museums could offer, to develop challenging courses appropriate to the venue

Working with schools The courses were targeted at gifted and talented students in years 4, 5 and 6 in primary schools and years 7 and 8 in secondary schools, with a maximum of 15 per group. Being part of an EiC LEA, most schools had identified their G&T cohorts and established registers.

Information on the courses was passed on to school G&T coordinators, asking them to inform students who they believed would benefit from the courses. Students then completed an application form, allowing for an element of self-selection. Application forms were sent on to the LEA coordinator who confirmed the student’s place on the course and sent further details direct to the student’s home address.

Take-up was slow in the secondary schools in particular, while in the primary schools it was much more positive with some courses over-subscribed. Students came with friends and without, but because of the nature of the small groups and the way the courses were run, those that came alone were soon able to fit in and make new friends.

Because the courses were held during half terms, there was no involvement on the part of schools other than to broker information. Teachers from participating schools were not involved in the activities as the groups of 15 students already had a facilitator, LEA representative and museum officer (in most cases).

Confirmation of attendance came direct to the LEA from parents/carers together with details of emergency contacts, medical conditions, and so on, for each child, and a register was compiled and taken by the LEA coordinator at each session. Each workshop was staffed by the GIFT facilitator and the LEA coordinator, and in some cases the museum education staff. After each half term schools were informed of who had and who had not participated – although it is worth noting that the drop-out was minimal and 90+% usually turned up on the day.

Working with students
The impact of the workshops can be measured by the comments made by students and the feedback from teachers and parents, most of which has been overwhelmingly positive. In addition, the numbers signing up for each course increased each half term, from a slow take-up for courses offered in October 2004 (secondary only), to higher numbers in February 2005, to more than capacity in May/June 2005. This is partly due to schools having a better understanding of the courses and getting information to students, as well as to feedback from students who participated.

The fact that some students came back to attend more than one course over different half terms also suggests that we were getting something right.

Comments echoed by many students indicated that they found the courses enjoyable and challenging and the only improvement could have been that they were longer!

  • The young people also liked the way that the courses were ‘not like school’, that independent learning was encouraged and they had time to look around and explore the collections in the museums – in some cases wandering around and looking, or exploring whatever interested them: ‘[I enjoyed] being able to go around the museum with my friends, and actually noticing things around the museum with the help of [the facilitator].’
  • The opportunity to work in a small group and closely with the facilitator was appreciated by students: ‘I enjoyed the way our tutor worked with us. How she valued our opinions and made us understand about peace… The physical way of joining in and how we participated. The respect and kindness shown us.’
  • Students responded positively to the way that the themes the courses engaged in were tackled and the way they were encouraged to think, that their perceptions and assumptions were challenged: ‘It was an eye-opener… a good way to spend your day.’
  • Their comments also show that they gained in understanding of some difficult concepts: ‘[I enjoyed] getting to gain more understanding of peace, and how a human like me taking one step further to peace can make a difference.’
  • ‘[I learned] that peace can be all different things because it is just a concept.’ 
  • In addition, students enjoyed and responded positively to the creative elements included in all the courses: ‘We learned new ways of being imaginative and creative… we could be as creative and imaginative as we wanted.’
  • Generally the way that the courses offered students an opportunity for greater freedom than the school curriculum and constraints of the classroom, as well as the openness of the content engaged students: ‘I would definitely recommend this course to a friend because you can make what you want and there’s no right or wrong answer.’
  • Similarly, the feedback from parents/carers of primary children who attended the half-day sessions during the February half term showed that this course was not only well attended but also useful, parents would recommend it to others and commented that: ‘It makes you think about how much you can help your child.’
  • ‘It provides ideas and stimulates thoughts on how gifted and talented children can be helped to progress.’

Attendance, at the primary courses in particular, was overwhelming during the summer half term and further courses were organised to fulfil this need

Summing up
Reflecting on the progress of the courses over the year, the overall impact has been positive. The number signing up for the courses increased at each half term as courses became established with schools and as positive feedback from those who participated filtered back. Attendance, at the primary courses in particular, was overwhelming during the summer half term and further courses were organised to fulfil this need. Moreover, the number of parents/carers attending the February half-term courses was very positive, indicating a willingness on behalf of parents to participate in such activities.

Having now established the courses in such exciting local venues and developed much of the groundwork required in setting up such a project, we have decided to continue to run similar courses in the coming academic year but to offer them only to primary school children. This is partly as the take-up from the primaries was greater, and partly a way of addressing the imbalance of G&T funding in primary schools.

The cost of each course is around £400-500 for the facilitator, supported by the generosity of the museum venues and the LEA coordinators, whose half terms were fully committed to attendance at each course. There are some organisational issues that we will look to improve in future, in particular getting the dates and courses established well in advance and so getting information into schools as early as possible, and with clear dates established for schools to respond with lists of participating students.

As a final word the response from a primary student says it all: in response to being asked what they would change about the course: ‘Packing up. Because [it] was fun and I wanted to stay longer.’

John Senior is the programme consultant and GIFT creative director Judith Hare is a primary education adviser with responsibility for G&T

Rosemary Butcher is a gifted and talented/ Aimhigher coordinator (secondary), Inclusion and Standards Division, Lambeth LEA