Tags: G&T Coordinator | G&T policy | G&T provision | Gifted & Talented | SEN – Special Educational Needs | SENCO | SENCOs | Staffing Structures | Teachers’ Pay
Former G&T coordinator Peter Leyland asks what effect the recent white paper might have on the role of the G&T coordinator.
Goodbye to G&T
This year I have been asked to give up my role as G&T coordinator and pass the responsibility to our SENCO. Mine was never a paid role but one I had undertaken voluntarily at the suggestion of the headteacher who knew that I was keen. It was, if you like, a professional bargain: I wrote the policy and led staff in identification and provision of differentiated learning for the more able. In return, I would be able to do my own research, go on courses and write about my experiences for journals such as this one. This I did with some success, acquiring an expertise in the subject that even led me to write a book about it.
TLR and a new role for the SENCO
The arrival of TLR, however, meant that roles and responsibilities needed to change. The SENCO role this year has become a TLR2 and in addition to traditional special needs it must now include all the things I have been doing for the more able pupils at my school since I took on the role in 2000.
This change in the responsibilities of the SENCO has been encouraged by the white paper Higher Standards, Better Schools for All, published in 2005. It says that pupils with special educational needs should include those who are gifted and talented. It recommends tailoring education to address the needs of the more able in the same way as those who are struggling:
‘These children will come from every background – children from disadvantaged backgrounds are just as likely to be gifted and talented as those from the middle class, and may need greater support to fulfil their potential.’
So far so good, but this change could be one of those areas where government policy ignores established school practices with unforeseen consequences. I know of at least one school where the SENCO has been unable to meet the additional demands and has decided that early retirement is a more attractive option. In order that others do not follow suit I can offer some advice to the SENCO who takes on this dual role.
Introduction to SEN
I will begin with a preamble about my own involvement with special needs pupils. As a young teacher in my very first post I was given a number of what were then called ‘remedial classes’ in English. It took me just one meeting with a group of 15-year-olds to realise that no existing syllabus would help me teach them; if I was to succeed, I would have to invent my own. I began by taking the 12 or so pupils out into the town and surrounding fields, carrying with me a tape recorder on which I recorded our conversations about their world and what they enjoyed doing.
Much of the conversation was about their horses for many of the pupils came from diddakoi backgrounds and kept their own animals tied up on verges and in back gardens. I transcribed the tapes and made copies for the pupils to read aloud to each other in the classroom.
This was extraordinarily successful. From being absolute non-readers these pupils now showed avid interest in their own words and became adept at reading their own and each other’s speaking voices from my typed pages. Eventually I decided to take the idea further and began writing playscripts about the lives of two fictional jacks-of-all-trades who lived and worked in the surrounding area.
The idea was a success and they loved reading the stories. There was humour and laughter. One of the boys, Sid, said to me during a lesson apropos of nothing, ‘I wish I could read and write like you Mr Leyland.’ Sid was an expert thief and had recently returned from an approved school.
None of these pupils would ever take CSE English or even, possibly, read a book, but I think they learned from the scripts that their words and their lives could have value. They were certainly from disadvantaged backgrounds and all had the potential to improve their reading and written skills. One or two of them may even have been gifted and talented but the teacher that I then was had neither the experience nor the ability to recognise it.
Coordinating G&T provision
The G&T coordinator has to lead the way in being creative and innovative. He or she needs to be able to spot talent, take risks and work with the pupils. A recent example is from a colleague who was teaching a Year 4 class about light and shadow. It was December and there was not much hope of sunshine but she had noticed that the SATs tests often featured questions involving shadow puppets.
In an inspired moment she decided to use shadow puppets to illustrate the concept of light and shadow with her class. Pupils were divided into groups and encouraged to write scripts. They made card puppets with moveable parts and coloured acetate clothes. Cardboard boxes were collected from a local supermarket and turned into theatres with the aid of sellotape and tracing paper.
This ‘out of the box’ approach proved inspirational. Two able pupils, Jasmine and Cassie, produced their own inventive version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Sally, a traveller’s child, was so enthusiastic that she persuaded the deputy head to let the class perform the shows in assembly.
Another skill that the G&T coordinator requires is the ability to encourage an open-ended approach to learning. An example of this is when Year 6 classes were asked to produce an information leaflet on the relationship between animals and plants in a local environment. The classes had visited both pond dipping and woodland sites so the task had a clear link to their experience. The resource packs they used contained books, posters, leaflets and information from the internet. Pupils were also encouraged to find information themselves through observation and discussion.
The lessons were as much about the process of learning as the product and although some excellent booklets were produced, it was in the classroom activity where real creative engagement with the task by the more able pupils was to be found. One unexpected result was that a number of underachieving boys maintained a high level of interest in the subject.
Two other important skills for the G&T coordinator are the flexibility of approach to learning and the ability to spot talent in pupils who may not necessarily be on the G&T register.
An example of this occurred while I was watching a school performance of The Dracula Rock Show. The confident acting of Louis from Year 7 in the role of Jagged Mick brought the play to life. As a result, I got him a place at the Children’s University summer school to study drama and music theatre.
I recently received a report of his progress. Effort, attitude, ideas and imagination were all excellent as were his mastery of skills and techniques and his ability to work with others. ‘Really fun to teach, happy and popular,’ the tutor wrote.
Flexibility of approach should also be encouraged. In the summer term a Year 5 teacher was using group work in a lesson about school dinners: ‘Should a fast food option be available in school?’ This was a hot topic because of the influence of Jamie Oliver. Each group had to look at the nutritional value and value for money and present their findings to the rest of the class.
The teacher had planned the groups carefully, mixing boys and girls, and also keeping those of similar ability together. Although this method had been successful in the past, it was clear to the teacher that it wasn’t working with this class. She decided to allow pupils to choose their own groups.
This had a much better result and the lessons were successful enough to be observed by an LEA adviser for English who was able to see how pupils of varying abilities could work together successfully in a mixed ability classroom. All produced good presentations and were able to respond to questions from the teacher on the issues raised.
As with so many such lessons it raised the question of who was really an able pupil in this class and didn’t they all have a special talent whether for leading, planning, researching or speaking? Isn’t it often down to particular styles of teaching as to whether certain pupils will reveal shine?
In taking on the additional role the SENCO should be aware of these strategies as well as taking over the nuts and bolts of the job, such as producing a G&T register, training staff in recognising and monitoring high ability, and liaising with parents and carers to inform them of strategies being used to develop this ability.
I recently met with the colleague who is taking over the SENCO role at my school this year. It was agreed that this colleague would look after the production of the G&T register by talking to those with subject responsibility. We also agreed that provision for able pupils needed to be grasped by the whole school, that all teachers and learning support assistants need to know which pupils were considered to be more able. We discussed the importance of teachers identifying underachievers; those who had potential but who were not currently fulfilling this. We looked at the need to review the policy written in 2002 and to provide staff training in the generating of resources for G&T pupils.
It was agreed that I would continue the selection of pupils to attend out-of-hours activities run by the LA such as the Children’s University and the Frontiers Club for Years 7 and 8 (which holds evening and weekend sessions and is very popular).
Finally we talked about the passage in the white paper that says, ‘Despite the progress we have made, we know that some schools and some staff still do not give the needs of these [G&T] learners sufficient priority. Even where this is a priority schools and teachers can struggle to tailor teaching and learning.’
Will the expansion of the SENCO role help to solve this problem or will it simply be another addition to an already complex and demanding set of responsibilities? Will the person in the post be able to champion these pupils in the staffroom, in the classroom, in assemblies, amongst their peers? Will he or she help them realise that it’s OK to be clever?
I hope that the advice offered will help those colleagues in their new posts to redefine SEN in order to include the more able.
Peter Leyland is also a G&T consultant, writer and workshop leader.
- Higher Standards, Better Schools for All: HM Government, October 2005
- Leyland, P. (2006) Be a Better Gifted and Talented Coordinator, Teach Books
First published in Primary G&T Update, December 2006
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