Improving your gifted and talented provision depends on being able to pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in your current approach. The Institutional Quality Standards (IQS) is a self-evaluation tool for doing just that, and supports the introduction of personalised education across the whole school, writes Deborah Eyre

Provision for gifted and talented pupils is a major part of personalising learning. National Strategies (Training materials for Leading teachers for gifted and talented education, DfES, 2007) One of the most important things for a school to remember is that gifted and talented provision is not something separate, it is part of the school being a good school. Deborah Eyre (Training materials for Leading teachers for gifted and talented education, DfES, 2007) Gifted and talented (G&T) pupils exist in all schools in England, and schools are required to provide for their specific needs as follows:

  • G&T students must be recognised as a designated group within the school
  • Schools are required to specify the range of their provision for G&T
  • Schools are required to track and monitor the effectiveness of their provision to ensure individuals make the most of their abilities (impact)
  • Provision must include access to appropriate opportunities, both in school and beyond it

During the past two years, the DfES (now DCSF) has been working with the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY) to increase levels of support for G&T young people. This has involved a variety of strands, including increasing the volume and range of out-of-hours learning opportunities, creating a framework of support at regional, local and school-based level and a series of guidance and support materials for schools. The guidance aims to help schools secure effective G&T provision. Providing challenge for these pupils is part of personalising education to better meet the needs of individuals. G&T students are individuals with one or more abilities developed to a level significantly ahead of their year group (or with the potential to develop these abilities). Provision needs to be flexible, rather than prescriptive and will vary from school to school. In England, the DfES has defined the term ‘gifted’ as referring to those pupils who are capable of excelling in academic subjects, such as English or history. ‘Talented’ refers to those pupils who may excel in areas requiring visiospatial skills or practical abilities, such as in PE, drama or art. Pupils may be gifted and/or talented in more than one area, and some may be underachieving.

Guidance: key messages

Guidance and training materials are now available to help secure effective practice in schools. These currently comprise:

  • Institutional Quality Standards
  • primary and secondary guidance handbooks
  • training for leading teachers and school improvement partners
  • ‘nutshells’ – a suite of 30 free, introductory, online, interactive training modules covering key themes.

All the guidance materials aim to help schools understand a series of key messages that provide the basis of effective G&T education as set out below.

Effective gifted and talented provision: key messages

Every child matters

  • All learners have an entitlement to have their needs met. This includes gifted and talented learners.
  • This agenda is important, not only for the pupil, but also for the school. Work on school improvement shows that a focus on gifted and talented pupils helps to raise overall standards.
  • These are an important group of pupils, as today’s identified gifted and talented learners may be tomorrow’s social, intellectual, economic and cultural leaders.
  • Failure to address their needs may lead to underachievement and inequity.

Every school has gifted and talented learners

  • The top 5% of the country’s pupils aged 11–18 years are eligible for entry to NAGTY and should be submitted using the NAGTY admissions criteria.
  • The school’s own, relative, cohort should comprise the school’s top 10% (approximately) but schools decide in light of their own circumstances.
  • Identification should be an ongoing process, making use of quantitative evidence (such as SATs, CATs, teacher assessment) and qualitative (criteria-based teacher, parent or peer nomination).
  • Identification through provision —  through outstanding performance on challenging activities that are part of  the general classroom offer — is an essential feature within the identification process.

Opportunities matter

  • High achievement can only be reached via access to appropriately challenging opportunities and support: potential + opportunities and support + motivation = high achievement.

Gifted and talented pupils come from all socioeconomic and ethnic groups

  • A national register of gifted and talented pupils was introduced in 2007.
  • Schools should have their own gifted and talented register (see: Identifying gifted and talented pupils — getting started, DfES 2006).
  • The identified cohort should reflect the whole-school population in terms of ethnicity and socioeconomic background. If not, underachievement could be an issue for some.
  • Some gifted and talented pupils may have other significant learning needs (dual or multiple exceptionality).

Provision should be holistic

  • The majority of provision should be offered in the normal classroom as part of differentiated teaching and learning.
  • The school should offer a creative and flexible curriculum with personalised pathways to meet individual needs.
  • Good partnership with parents is particularly important, as gifted and talented pupils may need an individualised approach in some areas of their learning.
  • Effective provision for the gifted and talented is not constrained by the availability of opportunities within the core curriculum. Pupils should have access to opportunities, both during and beyond the school day, so enrichment opportunities are an essential part of the overall package.
  • Not all enrichment opportunities will be offered within or by the school. Gifted and talented pupils will also have access to additional out-of-school opportunities, offered through collaboration and partnership with other providers.

The aim of G&T provision

  • High performance on educational assessments.
  • Intellectual confidence — the development of domain-specific behaviours and expertise — thinking and behaving like a mathematician.
  • Development of social and emotional characteristics, including persistence, confidence and collaboration. 

Self-evaluation tool

The Institutional Quality Standards (IQS) is a self-evaluation tool that supports the analysis of school provision and helps schools to identify steps for improvement. It is intended to be used with DCSF guidance and training on G&T provision. Developed in 2006 by the DfES and NAGTY, as part of the new relationship with schools, the IQS aligns with the new Ofsted self-evaluation forms (SEFs). IQS enables a school to complete its SEF and evaluate its provision for G&T pupils against a set of  national criteria and so improve. The key messages (under ‘Guidance: key messages’) underpin the IQS and are exemplified in its various requirements. The IQS may be used as an assessment tool as part of the creation and maintenance of the school’s SEF. One advantage here is that the IQS provides the whole school with a language to describe provision. By using the IQS, the school can increase its understanding of G&T practice and so identify areas for improvement. Some improvements are likely to be  a part of overall school improvement. IQS can be used to target a specific key stage but is applicable to the whole school and can be used with other self-evaluation tools. In the school’s SEF, G&T provision should be evident in a variety of sections, since the school should be demonstrating it ensures effective provision for all learners, including those with particular needs. The IQS may help the school to articulate this more coherently in respect of its G&T cohort. The IQS comprises five sections, which make up the key components of personalised learning. In total, the IQS covers the 14 key elements for effective learning for G&T. Each section has three levels:

  • ‘entry’ – ‘satisfactory’ Ofsted rating
  • ‘developing’ – ‘good’ Ofsted rating
  • ‘exemplary’ – ‘very good’ Ofsted rating.

The 14 key elements for effective learning covered by the IQS: A: Effective T&L strategies     1: Identification 2: Effective provision in the classroom 3: Standards B: Enabling curriculum entitlement and choice 4: Enabling curriculum entitlement and choice C: Assessment for learning 5:  Assessment for learning 6: Transfer and transition D: School organisation 7: Leadership 8: Policy 9: School ethos and pastoral care 10: Staff development 11: Resources 12: Monitoring and evaluation E: Strong partnership beyond the school 13: Engaging with the community, families and beyond 14: Learning beyond the classroom This allows a school to judge where it might rank in each section. The example below relates to the identification section of effective teaching and learning (T&L) strategies. This baseline can be used to set an agenda for improvement.

Standard requirements for A: Effective teaching and learning strategies are:

Generic elements Entry Developing Exemplary
Identification The school has learning conditions and systems to identify gifted and talented pupils in all year groups and an

agreed definition and shared understanding of the meaning of ‘gifted and talented’ within its own, local and national contexts

Individual pupils are screened annually against clear criteria at school and subject level    Multiple criteria and sources of evidence are used to identify gifts and talents, including thorough use of a broad range of quantitative and qualitative data

Where schools are most effective, a working group, drawn from across the school, will make an initial assessment of either all practice or certain elements, and then create a development plan and timeframe for improvements. This is likely to be an ongoing endeavour, so it is important for the school to have realistic priorities and timeframes. Some basic areas may need immediate attention, while others can be tackled as a part of wider considerations. The most difficult area for improvement is in relation to classroom teaching and learning – yet this is by far the most important area for any school and should really be among the initial priorities. An improvement plan may be a specific plan for G&T provision or, more likely, an integrated aspect of the school’s overall improvement plan. Either way, it will provide a map for the leadership team and the leading teacher for G&T to follow to improve provision. Examples of requirements for a standard from each of the other four sections are given in the table below.

Examples of standards requirements
B: Enabling curriculum entitlement and choice 4: Enabling curriculum entitlement and choice

Entry level: The curriculum offers opportunities and guidance to pupils, which enable them to work beyond their age and/or phase, and across subjects or topics, according to their aptitudes and interests.

C: Assessment for learning 6: Transfer and transition

Developing level: Transfer information concerning gifted and talented pupils, including parental input, informs targets for pupils to ensure progress in learning. Particular attention is given to including new admissions.

D: School organisation 7: Leadership

Developing level: Responsibility for gifted and talented provision is distributed, and evaluation of its impact shared, at all levels, in the school/college. Staff subscribe to policy at all levels. Governors play a significant supportive and evaluative role.

E: Strong partnership beyond the school 14: Learning beyond the classroom

Exemplary level: Innovative models of learning beyond the classroom are developed in collaboration with local and national schools/colleges to further enhance teaching and learning.

Standards in practice

A school may choose to start by taking an overview of all elements of the standards or take one aspect at a time. Some elements of the standards relate to data, some to structures and some to professional practice. One way forward is for the coordinator or leading teacher to undertake an audit of provision to provide the starting point. This is likely to highlight major gaps and areas of strength in provision. Another approach is for a working group of staff to focus on one element, for example, effective teaching and learning, and to gather evidence of current practices within the school. This can, again, provide an agenda for improvement in consistency and quality. The stepping-stone approach used by the standards helps curriculum managers to focus on development by articulating the next steps. For example, for element 8: ‘Policy’, if a school already has its G&T policy recorded in a policy document, then it will meet the ‘entry-level’ requirement. To move to the ‘developing’ level, the policy would need to be a live one, with a regular schedule for updating and review, and would need to be overtly linked to other school policies. The G&T policy is then merely one way in which the school’s wider vision is demonstrated, rather than sitting in isolation. The best policy is owned and acted on by the whole school workforce.  This would constitute ‘exemplary’ provision.  In reviewing the policy section, the coordinator, leadership team or working group need to reach a view on where they now stand and on when/how to move to the next level of provision. Progression need not be linear. When you are considering, for example, curriculum entitlement and choice, you could encourage adoption of elements that would position G&T provision as exemplary.

Advice and exemplification on using the IQS can be found on the DCSF website, through the National Strategies and through Young Gifted and Talented at CfBT. Training and support may well be offered in your region through its gifted and talented regional partnership. London schools have access to training and support through London Gifted and Talented and its online support can also be accessed by those outside of London.


Advantages of IQS

The IQS can help you to gain greater institutional clarity regarding the elements of effective G&T provision. Achieving this is an ongoing endeavour, rather than a one-off issue to be tackled and then put aside. The personalisation agenda is about ensuring that every pupil is able to fulfil their educational potential. Not all gifted and talented pupils require the same provision, but flexibility is key to personalisation and the IQS can help to provide the background structure that will enable a school to meet the needs of those who are able to go further or faster than the majority. In judging the effectiveness of its provision, the school will make use of the sections on assessment for learning and monitoring and evaluation. Here the IQS helps by focusing on a personalised approach and the needs of individuals.

Effective school for G&T

IQS can help schools to see how G&T provision can fit into a wider agenda. Gifted and talented provision only really works where the entire school is aiming for excellence. In this climate, demanding learning opportunities are offered widely and pupils are invited to strive to conquer them. The basic curriculum must be specifically designed to anticipate excellence if the needs of the G&T are to be properly catered for. This model requires the school/teacher to design in expectation that some pupils will achieve the more demanding requirements without knowing precisely who will achieve them. Pupils should begin to identify themselves as G&T through their response to the high-challenge curriculum. This is a natural development of self-identity, with individual pupils becoming aware of their areas of strength and weakness, and their preferred styles of learning, as well as their overall ability. This approach to identification is similar to the way we assess sporting prowess or musical ability and is a crucial part of the identification process.

Core challenges

The main challenge in implementing these standards is in their comprehensive nature. They present a target to aim for, not a quick fix. It is not realistic for a school to set aside a limited period of time to focus on IQS with a view to reaching ‘exemplary’ or even ‘developing’ in all areas. Rather, the IQS provides an ongoing agenda for development. For this reason, they may seem daunting. Effective schools will decide how they plan to use the IQS, before introducing it more widely. The initial audit work may be  undertaken and then presented to a wider group or a segment for initial focus may be  chosen, rather than considering all elements at once. The initial audit may show that the school already has significant provision, which is motivating. However, schools have found the IQS to be ambitious, so few have yet found themselves able to demonstrate a strong profile against the standards. In deciding ‘where we are now’ and ‘where we want to be at’, it is not necessary to reach ‘exemplary’ standards at once. If  you move from ‘entry’ to ‘developing’ or even to the ‘entry’ level, it is an improvement that can be built on. There is still a minority that holds the view that the G&T agenda is not a priority. There is now ample evidence to suggest that where schools do not systematically address this agenda, underachievement may occur and this affects pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular. If the UK education system is to become more equitable, ensuring that those from all backgrounds who are capable of achieving highly are given the support to do so is a priority. The IQS can help the school to steer itself towards more comprehensive and equitable provision.

Deborah Eyre, Professor of Education, University of Warwick

Deborah Eyre is a former Director of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth. Having held positions in schools, local authorities and higher education, she is now an adviser to the DCSF, the House of Commons Education Select Committee and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority