In the second of our e-bulletins looking at guidance given to SIPs, we consider what questions you should be asking to evaluate your G&T provision prior to the visit from your improvement partner

Questioning your provision
As we reviewed in the last issue of G&T Update, Evaluating gifted and talented education: The school improvement partner’s role in engaging the school pulls together the relevant sections from the School Improvement Partner’s (SIP) brief, the National Quality Standards and the Ofsted framework. It supports SIPs in interpreting ‘what the school writes’ and ‘what the school says’ about gifted and talented. In our last issue we looked at some of the issues the guide raised for lead teachers and other educators. We will now investigate more detailed questions around data and classroom standards.

Data analysis and more questions to ask
Perhaps the most interesting level of analysis addressed in the guidance is where the questions may take you and your school next.

Firstly, who or what is potentially missed by your data? Are there specific groups of pupils not performing to expectation? Are some groups missing entirely or seriously under-represented? Nationally, there are significant disparities with regard to disadvantaged groups, particularly around the free school meal index. Is this reflected in your school? If so, what processes and procedures are in place, or need to be put in place to address this? How can these processes be defended from accusations of social engineering?

Do all colleagues and subjects have an equal chance to influence the register? For example, are colleagues working in areas of English as an Additional Language (EAL) and special educational needs (SEN) asked to contribute? How can you support the evidence they may be able to produce? What are your main priorities with regard to whole-school issues and how can G&T support some of the dialogues the school is having around these priorities?

Schools with pupils who are working above national expectations on entry often find it hard to generate value-added for their G&T pupils. Are the targets you set for your G&T pupils sufficiently challenging? Do your pupils at least match the attainment predicted by Fischer Family Trust (FFT), Middle Years Information System (MidYIS) or YELLIS? Are two levels of progress being made across key stages? This is in line with the DCSF’s targets for PSA 11, which govern the direction of national programmes and policy.

Indeed, given all of the questions above there is convincing evidence that schools should regard gifted and talented programmes as interventions, which have clear outcomes and a time limit. A ‘stable population’ of the more able learners is clearly challenged by this guidance.

The document uses the Institutional Quality Standard in Gifted and Talented Education to provide prompts for discussion of the following questions.

  • What are the key factors for consideration?
  • What are the key priorities and targets for improvement?
  • How will the school achieve them?

This conversation is expected to range across the 14 elements of the IQS as well as considering how the Classroom Quality Standards in Gifted and Talented Education help to shape the direction of those elements which relate to classroom provision (principally elements 2, 3, 5). Given the emphasis on data and the performance of distinct pupil groups this is likely to be standards-driven.

The document is not prescriptive about what effective classroom provision looks like. Some may regard this as a weakness, if what is sought from guidance is a set of ‘you need to…’ statements. What is genuinely unhelpful is that the guide does not ask some of the fundamental questions that may enable a school to demonstrate what is distinctive about classroom learning for gifted and talented learners. The answer is expected to arise from the use of quality standards, which places a heavy reliance on the individuals involved in brokering and supporting the conversation and, as ever, the priority given to G&T within the school.

What are the questions that will clarify the contribution of the school’s G&T strategy for inclusion and achievement? They relate to the core values behind an inclusive G&T strategy in any school, which may look as follows.

  • All learners are entitled to be stretched and challenged – high challenge, low threshold learning (making high challenge accessible not exclusive).
  • The most effective G&T provision is rooted in good teaching and learning within the classroom (not beyond it).
  • Classroom G&T should focus on developing positive learning behaviours (for all learners).
  • G&T is expertise in a development stage – knowledge skills and experience for the future (it is not about past attainment).

As the conversation develops, it is interesting to see where the emphasis emerges. School leaders may focus their writing and conversation on curriculum entitlement and choice to explain and justify the range and extent of provision, but the lead teacher role should be far more geared towards improving the quality of classroom provision. Where does the balance lie in your school?

More information

This e-bulletin issue was first published in December 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).