Here we provide some guidance on the framing of the letter to parents, the kinds of information that should be included and thoughts on how communication with parents can be framed to avoid potential pitfalls

In the two previous issues of this bulletin we outlined the proposed Pupil and Parent Guarantees and their implications for schools. In the meantime, the guarantees have been dropped from the Children, Schools and Families Bill that was passing through parliament in the ‘wash-up’ before the general election. However, we hope that this advice will be of value to you even in the absence of the guarantees, as it is good practice to communicate with parents and work together for the benefit of pupils

The guarantees refer explicitly to written confirmation of the extra challenge and support a child will receive as a result of being identified. Framing the guarantee positively is therefore about balance. As we mentioned in previous issues, making it clear that the entitlement builds on the school’s existing home-school agreement will help to avoid any misunderstandings that may arise from the letter. This is of particular importance for schools that have not to date written to parents/carers about G&T, but all schools will need to think carefully about how this notification fits within what the school already does. The guarantees required an annual notification, and although this is no longer a requirement, an annual update to parents would represent good practice.

Start with provision. Our experience and that of many schools who have developed positive parental involvement shows us that an introduction to G&T should start with what G&T means in the wider context of learning. A letter which starts with ‘Your child has been identified as G&T in maths and ICT’ will naturally narrow the perception of any reader, even those who read your fine words about the purpose of G&T in the school with an open mind. Once again, the key question is what are you trying to achieve with G&T in the school, from the perspectives of both the school and the individual child? Identification will then be seen to be contributing to this bigger picture, rather than driving something separate.

What is the role of G&T in the school?
Provide a clear indication of how G&T fits within the ethos and practice of the school. Use inclusive language to avoid the expectations that accompany any kind of ‘elite’ programme. This will sit better with parents and carers of children who are not identified, but more importantly helps G&T to make sense as part of normal practice. G&T is not a special programme, but a means to ensuring that all identified learners receive the support and challenge in their learning that they need. We advise that the school should stress:

a. awareness of the needs of all learners
b. that G&T is not about labelling but enabling
c. the importance of G&T learners within talent pool of the school
d. the high profile for achievements of all different kinds
e. that G&T is classroom focused and aims to develop positive behaviours for learning like thinking, questioning, confidence and independence
f. that identification demonstrates the schools recognition of the potential of the individual for success.

Why has the child been identified?
Identification has to have a point. DCSF guidance states that the school is free to determine the size and composition of its identified gifted and talented population, but should be able to justify this in terms of achievement. However, from the perspective of the letter the context should relate to potential.

a. Provide a general explanation of how identification works in the school. Keep this simple, but bear in mind that the guidance advises that the school should ensure that the identification process is seen to be working within the scope of Element 1 of the Institutional Quality Standards (IQS).
b. Why has the child been identified and in what areas? What specific information has led to the identification in terms of data, subject-specific criteria, soft skills (eg leadership)? We see G&T as being about expertise in a development stage. How does identification show this potential?

What are the implications for teaching and learning?
The guarantees specify that the school should make reference to several elements of the IQS in outlining what the extra challenge and support will entail. The prompts below may help you to decide on the scope of the text:

There is little point in writing to parents about all of the above and presenting it as an entitlement. Individual schools will have to take a view on what specific detail they choose to give, but it makes a lot of sense to be explicit that good teaching and learning for G&T learners is good for all learners. Build on what you already do well as a school and don’t make claims that can’t be understood or backed up by evidence. The letter should also detail specific provision made for the individual learner although this need not be in the form of an IEP.

Personalising the guarantees is about the relationship between the school, the pupil and their parent(s)/carers – an active, involving and evolving dialogue. On a strategic level the guarantees are intended to ensure that there is a minimum entitlement in place for all learners. The vast majority of parents won’t look at it in this way at all. They will want and need to be able to work with the school to challenge and support the child, to understand, extend and help them to enjoy their learning. When we write to parents about G&T, this is what we are trying to achieve.

Further information

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