They  have special needs too


It’s not fashionable to talk about spending more resources and time  on our extremely gifted students. There has always been resistance, in some schools at least,  to even identifying gifted and talented pupils, as this is perceived as smacking of elitism and as in some way undermining the  ‘comprehensive’ ideal . For now, education reformers want to close the achievement gap to ensure that the most disadvantaged pupils  are given improved access to good schools and universities  and that their  educational  outcomes improve, laudable aims of course. But a plausible argument can be put that our most gifted children have special needs as well, and some doubt that leaving it up to schools alone  will  enable them to get the support they deserve.

The Young Gifted and Talented programme (YG&T) was set up in 2007 to provide support and opportunities for gifted and talented children aged 4 to 19, including those who were members of the former National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY).

The YG&T Learner Academy gave  them the opportunity to participate in activities designed to stretch and challenge them through a range of online and face-to-face events. It also created  opportunities for gifted and talented students to meet and socialise with other young people with similar interests and outlooks.

The YG&T website also   provided information and links to other sources of support for parents, governors and those who work with gifted and talented children and young people.

In England  the  network of external out of school support is going or has already gone .   The   academy has been scrapped and the £20m funding targeted elsewhere.

Separate cash for out-of-school master classes, workshops and summer schools  has also been be withdrawn and a national register of bright children is being abolished.

The last government said the money earmarked for gifted children  would instead be mainstreamed, in other words  go directly to schools, giving individual head teachers more power to promote the needs of gifted pupils.  Although Schools were told to prioritise bright children from the poorest backgrounds, this has been largely left up to heads. But many experts believe that without central government  pressure ,and some ring fenced funding,   the gifted and talented will lose out. This is yet another manifestation  of  the opposing struggle  among reformers between giving schools real  new autonomy and central prescription, with school autonomy winning out. It was the last Labour Government that decided to devolve responsibility for direct support back to schools.  However, without supplementary  out of school, specialist, external support afforded to  our most gifted pupils ,we are in danger of not developing our best talent in state schools.

Denise Yates, chief executive of the National Association for Gifted Children, told the  previous DCSF select committee in hearings last year  that provision was already patchy in schools.

“On the one hand, there are excellent schools with excellent leadership and excellent programmes for gifted and talented, but parents are extremely worried that the other end is not catered for,” she said. “There are a lot of schools that don’t understand what gifted and talented means, who aren’t prepared to put programmes in place that cater for gifted and talented children and parents are extremely concerned.” She suggested some schools were concerned about promoting the needs of gifted children because it was seen as “elitist”. “I think the sooner that gifted and talented stops being seen as an elitist issue and the sooner it starts being seen as an equal opportunities issue the better,” she said. “If you pick somebody by definition you are always going to not pick somebody [else] and I think that’s an issue that has got to be considered within society as a whole.”

In a curious way the Gifted and Talented  issue mirrors what is now  happening over sport  in schools. A centrally driven scheme, fomenting local partnerships, will soon be abolished and schools will in future, exercising their autonomy,  take full responsibility for competitive sport  , but sportsman are up in arms over the changes. Partly because the  partnerships were unfairly criticised in their view by the Government. And partly because they have not much confidence that cash strapped Heads will afford any priority to school sports, whatever Ministers might say. Experts on Gifted and talented pupils feel largely sidelined too and have little confidence in schools willingness to identify  and support gifted pupils.

The previous support regime was certainly not perfect. There were some teething problems, it was relatively slow in getting started  and there was at times a clear lack of coherent leadership, picked out by expert witnesses at the Select Committee hearings last year  but there were innovative schemes introduced which also won admiration too. In the last couple of years there were signs of real progress.   But you will find few who support the current regime as being adequate, using any benchmark and  too many schools have outdated attitudes, refusing still  to identify gifted pupils just as some schools eschew competitive sports.

Ofsted’s Annual Report 2009-2010, published on 23 November 2010, highlights that schools are not challenging gifted and talented pupils and not meeting their needs, even in schools that are doing well in other areas. This lack of challenge impacts negatively on motivation and children’s achievement levels.

Paragraph 75 of the report states:

“For more academically able pupils, inspection evidence shows that teaching and learning can be insufficiently challenging and poorly matched to their needs. This is a weakness even in some schools otherwise judged to be good. Where this is the case opportunities for independent learning can be too limited, teaching is too directive, and additional tasks for higher-attaining pupils often simply require pupils to complete more of the same work rather than introduce new challenge. As a result more able pupils can lose enthusiasm and fail to make the progress of which they are capable.”

Parents have an important role in support of their own gifted children, of course. “Parental engagement in education is twice as predictive of  a pupil’s academic success as where a family lives, their colour or race, income levels or whether they are working

class, middle class or upper class. Where this engagement is intensive it can be ten times more predictive”  (Henderson & Berla, A New Generation of Evidence, 1996) and “Parents have the greatest influence on the  achievement of young people through supporting their learning in the home environment” (Engaging parents in  raising achievement; do parents know they matter? By Prof Alma Harris and Dr Janet Goodall, University of  Warwick, 2007). But  parents  need help too  from the school system to ensure that their child reaches its potential.

‘Ofsted’s verdict would seem to suggest that in too many cases this is not happening. Time for a re-think?



  1. Unfortunately for us all, gifted education seems to end up on the chopping block rather quickly, perhaps because it caters to students who can ‘do just fine on their own’. They don’t bring school test scores down, so why should anyone worry about them, right?

    It’s too bad that one of the country’s most valuable resources is wasted at a time when it is so desperately needed…

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