Gifted education has many unfortunate associations for colleagues in terms of elitism, giving more to those that already have, the concept of chosen ones and the lack of focus on commitment. It also hasn’t appeared to address itself to the big “so what” and “why bother” questions. How do we frame G&T and how do we as G&T educators address these big questions. How does G&T education justify its own existence? How do we persuade our colleagues that it matters? How do we demonstrate that it has something to offer?
Schools have found the following suggestions to be a useful starting point.
1. Get overt Senior Leadership Team support for an ‘access to high challenge’ agenda
This is not rocket science, but without clear support you are in danger of being irrelevant to what is actually happening in your school. If you are seen to be simply the “gatekeeper of the G&T register” then your influence will be pretty minimal. With clear support you are far more likely to have impact, meet the governors and to be called in to management meetings to add your voice to the key dialogues. Access to high challenge for all students is a pretty good rallying call across most schools.
2. Get authentic student and parent voice to support you
This may well start off quite small scale. A chance to talk to small groups of students about what they enjoy, which lessons stretch and challenge them, where they see their aspirations taking them. Ideally get to speak to their parents too, so that you have a pretty clear idea what their concerns might be. It helps to defend your strategies, and it serves as an alternative voice to some of Ofsted’s observations and enquiries. A useful balancing voice can be generating by interviewing interested colleagues about how they are raising expectations and achievement.
3. Keep your policy simple and sustainable
To start with, write down a couple of key ‘manifesto’ beliefs. This will include your definition of what ‘most able’ means in the context of your school and each department. What can you put your heart into, and which ideas are you also fairly sure will go down well in your school? At LGT we start from the following ones. All students are entitled to be stretched and challenged. The most effective G&T provision improves good teaching and learning within the classroom. By planning for the most able and differentiating down overall standards are raised. The key elements of your policy should then drop out of these types of statements quite easily. This is your schools vision for what it wants to achieve working with your most able students.
4. Focus on legacy provision not Identification
Too many battles are won or lost at the very start of the G&T programme, with schools often wasting valuable time arguing about who should or should not be on the register. Start with a clear focus on equal opportunities and meeting the needs of ALL students. If you have a flexible and inclusive ‘talent pool’ or ‘revolving door’ approach to identification, then many colleagues concerns are immediately side stepped and your focus can be more quickly moved on to provision, which is far safer territory in most schools, and far more satisfying for you.
5. Start from what your school needs, how it sees itself and ally G&T to that
It is far simpler to look at the stated key objectives of your school, and effectively write G&T into these. It might be choosing to become a ‘Thinking School’, developing assessment for learning or trying to create more independent learners. Your job then becomes ‘how can what I do with G&T help the school to achieve these objectives’. This normally has a quite profound double impact. It embeds G&T at the heart of what your school is actually doing, and it means that many activities that happen outside of your immediate influence become part of your impact.
6. Get teachers observing each other trying out G&T strategies
If you have introduced some key strategies around for example, intellectual curiosity, high challenge, critical and creative thinking, interdependent skills, independent learning, effective questioning or higher order thinking get a few ‘early adopting’ colleagues to watch each other for just 15 minutes or so and feed back. This can then become a forum for what works well across the school. Film more confident colleagues for a lesson and then edit down to a 5 minute sequence that demonstrates the key elements of the strategy working in your school, with your students.
7. Celebrate what is already happening
A simple audit of current practice and provision will give you a flying start and will remind colleagues what talent is already in the school and how they are already helping and supporting its development. This can be both inside the school (preferably) but also beyond school and supported by external agencies. It reminds colleagues why they became teachers and it reinforces their perception of learner talents (often easily forgotten). It also helps to take them away from the C/D ‘dead zone’ that no one went into teaching to focus on!