As nationwide programmes to support G&T provision are on the wane, there is more work to be done at a school level. Here we look at how embedding good practice into classrooms begins with robust analysis of the data

The December Ofsted report entitled Gifted and Talented Pupils in Schools was produced to provide an indication of how ready schools would be to meet the challenge of G&T education with the ‘scaled-back’ capacity of the national programme – seriously reduced capacity within the DCSF and the impending demise of the National Strategies at the end of March 2011.

The big question therefore became ‘What would schools have to do if they were to sustain any of the improvements made?’

This relates to how G&T is seen to be a priority (or not) and additionally the extent to which there is actual scrutiny of the processes and provision within the school and the performance of G&T learners.

The report was based on a quick survey of schools for whom G&T had been identified as an improvement issue. As we indicated in the last issue, schools are now expected to do much more for themselves. The survey provides us with three perspectives – those that are ready, willing and able to do so, those who are partly ready for this change and those from whom significant additional work will be required.

We will focus here on issues relating to those who are ‘ready’ for the coming changes. Closer reading of the report also throws up some interesting issues relating to the Section 5 inspection process and the balance of challenge and support that is provided for the school by Ofsted, local authorities and other agencies.

For those who are doing well, a number of significant capacity issues remain.

Perhaps the most worrying is the continued lack of clarity in the understanding of what G&T should look like at a classroom level, whether this is on a subject- or phase-specific level. This is ascribed to a lack of support from outside the school, where DCSF, local authorities and others should be providing clear practical indications of what excellence looks like in ways which relate to the teachers’ own experience, expertise, interests and context.

In part this smacks of a continued search for the ‘silver bullet’, the perfect checklist or data set for identification, the bells and whistles lesson or the all-singing-all-dancing enrichment. What is required is clarity on what classroom challenge looks like and how it can be tailored to meet the needs of individual pupils without breaking the will of committed colleagues, so that their practice can lead the way for others.

This is not provided by the CQS (Classroom Quality Standards) that, although useful, are too generic to guide us. A 3,000-word attempt to simplify seems to provide its own argument for the popular classroom strategy ‘less is more’.

What is required is time, space and support for a professional dialogue between colleagues with appropriate, often subject-related support. Now that few local authorities maintain the traditional inspectorate model of support and challenge, the School Improvement Partner (SIP) and Ofsted particularly need to provide the latter. But there is a clear need for meaningful support through professional development, resources and approaches which enable teachers to challenge all learners through whole-class teaching.

According to the new framework, those that are ready for the change in policy should focus on tracking and data first and foremost.

Data has always been a big issue. There are significant differences between schools in terms of who manages data and what for, as well as issues around national, regional & local comparisons. There are concerns about how to maintain parity between hard and soft data, about value-added and about how to measure learners’ attitudes and soft skills in a SMART way.

What is clear from the report is that unless G&T makes a demonstrable contribution to the key indicators which are recognised by the Ofsted framework, then its shelf-life will be limited.

It is equally clear that systems for G&T should be built into the school’s existing monitoring and tracking system. As G&T strategy becomes embedded in the school it tends to focus on sub-groups and it increasingly values achievement (progress) over attainment. It also widens its reach to tackle increasingly complex issues such as English as an Additional Language (EAL) or underachievement.

There is also a distinct and system-wide problem in relation to accountability. The national pressure on floor targets has created a hierarchy of objectives in which the achievement of more able pupils is often ironically unimportant. Addressing this pressure cannot just be an annual exercise. It requires the school to engage in a constant drive for rigorous and regular monitoring, where departments, subjects and teachers are tightly held to account for performance, planning lessons and teaching. The report seems to imply that schools where this is in place are few and far between, but it also highlights the importance of consistency. And consistency means our day-to-day practice.

Whether or not Ofsted and SIPs are accurately diagnosing the state of play, the focus on data is clearly stronger. It is clear from the report that performance data is the key driver in a judgement. G&T has traditionally worked at things from the ‘Why don’t you try?’ perspective, with often junior colleagues trying to shape the practice and challenge the perceptions of their elders and betters. We suggest that this question be replaced with ‘What as a school are you trying to achieve?’

G&T strategy becomes a range of interventions aimed at increasing the performance of identified learners, each gradually adding to the capacity of the school to stretch and challenge all learners. Demonstrating the impact of these strategies on the key performance measures within the framework becomes one of the critical tasks within the self-evaluation process. Linking these together to tell a compelling story of improvement changes the role of those who lead G&T in the school and this reshaped narrative becomes ‘This is what we do for our G&T cohort’ and here’s the evidence to prove it.

More information

  • Gifted and Talented Pupils in Schools (ref: 090132)

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2010

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).