Although, in the end, the seeds of excellence must lie in individuals themselves, we
cannot afford to be complacent. Society has a vital duty to provide the framework, the teaching and support, and even the incentive, to enable people to develop themselves and their abilities to their fullest possible potential. It is a criterion by which I would judge any government or political system.’
What works elsewhere in the world?
Comparing the effectiveness of provision within a world-wide context is challenging, because it can only be seen in terms of the effects of local conceptions of giftedness on the purpose, identification, types of provision and outcomes of this provision. Direct comparison between the achievements of learners who have attended a particular gifted scheme and those who have not, does not tell us it provided the best possible method for enhancing gifts and talents. Frankly it is not surprising that carefully selected, bright, keen children will learn more and do better from special provision.
Recently I have written a book with Martin Stephen on the issue of what works well and why worldwide. I was also engaged to help devise and write up an international survey that was piloted, revised and circulated to over 850 international professional contacts from national to local levels. The survey received around 900 visits, yielding over 250 valid responses. Perhaps inevitably nearly 70% of respondents were from Western cultures, e.g. Western Europe, North America or Australia and New Zealand. Eastern Europe, including the Baltic States, only accounted for ten percent. The Middle East and South America each provided 7% of the responses, trailed by the Far East (4%) and Africa (2%).
Nevertheless despite this diversity, there was clear agreement regarding the values underlying provision for the gifted and talented. The main values that guided respondents’ in what and how they provided for gifted education are listed here in order of their popularity.
• Include all potentially disadvantaged groups. Every student or group of students has the right to accept the challenge, to have any disadvantages acknowledged and catered for and to be included in gifted cohorts.
• Teach students’ the core humanist values. Gifted students should be seen as potential future leaders so they need to develop skills in ethics, compassion for others, humanist values and democracy.
• Understand that the affective domain is critical. The need for gifted education to focus on developing the whole child and to boost confidence and self-esteem.
• Look at specific domains. Skills development in specific domains or more generally in terms of creative and critical thinking, independent learning and divergent thinking are critically important.
• Focus on the diversity of the most able. The need to recognize the most able students, understand their highly diverse needs and develop a personalized learning programme to meet them.
• Acknowledge your top students. The top students have a right to be supported, have their expertise understood and acknowledged, and their potential recognized and realised.
Practical advice from the practitioners
The survey then asked respondents to provide advice from their own experience to other schools that are setting up or running programmes for gifted and talented students. Once again the agreement was remarkable. The following were their core suggestions:
- Regarding school-wide procedural issues
Agree your identification procedures and long-term strategies
Set up opportunities to celebrate all achievement across the whole school
Ensure you evaluate from the beginning and keep the momentum going
Differentiate your curriculum with high-level challenge for the gifted
Make all procedures inclusive of all groups
- On effective within-classroom strategies
Promote the use of authentic problem solving
Work on strategies to enhance subject-specialised challenges
Use vertical grouping, enrichment and acceleration as appropriate
Participate in challenging real-world competitions
Provide opportunities for any student to shine
- On forming partnerships beyond school
Seek expertise from beyond your school and bring in graduates and researchers
Improve access to good facilities and get volunteers from outside school
Form networks with like-minded schools
Use the internet and find specifically designed online multimedia resources
- Regarding the involvement of stakeholders
Get the parents involved to support your work
Build good communication networks with all your key stakeholders
Work closely with leadership teams and governors within your school
Don’t neglect public opinion
- On making use of student voices
Listen carefully to what students tell you that they like and want
Share those ideas with colleagues
Set up school councils with real responsibilities
- Regarding the use of external agencies to increase impact
Apply for long-term funding
Get scholarships for your students
- On ensuring continuing teacher development
Get teachers involved at all levels and train them effectively
Ensure teachers receive further professional training and certification
Have online and live support for longer-term effective training.
Major trends from the survey
There is a clear and steady movement away from seeing more able education designed in terms of talent being seen as predominantly inherited and fixed, with a small percentage of measurable high achievers and dominated by acceleration techniques and/or withdrawal for special provision. Instead there was a tendency to see potential giftedness among many ‘normal’ learners and mainly developed through opportunity allied with application and effort, with the focus on a wide range of abilities extending beyond the academic. This seen to be encouraged by enrichment and differentiation within the normal classroom.
It was also startlingly clear that providers are becoming highly sophisticated in choosing and applying various models and recommendations in gifted education which are appropriate to their circumstances. This was well illustrated by the finding that over a hundred separate ‘authorities’ were cited by the respondents. Possibly, because of the limited research available to practitioners of what works in a local context, there is an increasing tendency to combine approaches, selecting and applying elements in new ways.