Providing for the more able, gifted and talented should be more than just a few extra problems for homework.
The best definition I’ve seen of More Able, Gifted and Talented comes courtesy of Françoys Gagné. “Gifted students are those whose potential is distinctly above average in one or more of the following domains of human ability: intellectual, creative, social and physical. Talented students are those whose skills are distinctly above average in one or more areas of human performance.”
Note his use of the word “potential” for gifted and “skills” for talented, both of which imply the need for a mentor to develop the potential into skills and then develop skills into achievement.
Schools use a practical definition of “distinctly above average” to mean the top 5% to 20% of the class, school or national cohort. It varies by school. In addition, they are obliged to keep a register of children considered to be Gifted & Talented on a list which is now called “More Able” for primary schools children and “Most Able” for secondary schools.
What do schools do for More Able, Gifted and Talented children?
Parents are naturally drawn to a school that may develop their child’s potential better than another school. So it is for those who consider their children to be More Able, Gifted and Talented. Consequently a high performance programme is a selling point for independent schools, sports academies and arts schools. But some parents aren’t convinced, preferring home schooling. So what do schools actually offer?
It’s not easy to get a simple answer to this. The reason is that most schools do bits and pieces in an uncoordinated way. The most frequent “provision”, for example, is to give More Able, Gifted and Talented children more challenging or extension problems within the class or for homework.
There is sound theory behind the challenge and extension idea. Teachers are aiming to progress a child’s thinking and understanding beyond straight learning by rote. It stems from Bloom’s Taxonomy, a hierarchy of educational learning objectives, popularised in the 1960s and 1970s. In essence there are six levels, in order they are;
- Remember (learning by rote)
- Understand (be able to compare and contrast)
- Apply (using knowledge to solve new problems)
- Analyse (break down knowledge into constituent parts to make inferences and generalisations)
- Evaluate (apply judgements to analysed knowledge)
- Create (create something new from abstract pieces of knowledge)
Bloom’s Taxonomy can work for academic subjects, but is too narrow if just applied to maths, as is so often the case, and ignores other “domains of human ability”.
What does a school have to do to be good at More Able, Gifted and Talented provision?
A school that is better at providing for More Able, Gifted and Talented children will start with a designated member of staff (and governor) to oversee provision for all the “domains of human ability: intellectual, creative, social and physical”. Which means not just a bit of maths but other academic subjects, sport and the Arts.
Within each domain the school should be able to provide evidence of employing More Able, Gifted and Talented strategies;
- Challenge or extension tasks beyond the average pupil. Includes clubs and after school activities.
- Tailored interest programmes; specific projects to develop the interest with external resources.
- Faster learning; cover the same course material quicker to free up time for some of the other More Able activities. Includes moving pupils up a year for certain subjects.
- Pupil to pupil mentoring; matching younger or older students with similar talents.
- Teacher to pupil mentoring; matching like-minded teachers with pupils.
- Competition; easy for sport, but there are academic competitions too.
Some schools seek accreditation (beyond membership) from charities promoting programmes for Gifted and Talented children; in particular NACE (National Association for Able Children in Education) and Potential Plus.
A dilemma that some headteachers face over a More Able, Gifted and Talented policy is that they consider it socially divisive. It might create an “us and them” rift within the class. This is probably why less than 2% of schools have an accredited policy. Practically, however, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that a coordinated policy raises standards and achievement across the school, not just for the “chosen few”. And philosophically, if every child has a talent, (to quote school marketing) then every child has a potential that is distinctly above average, so every child is More Able, Gifted and Talented for something. It’s a question of finding that potential and nurturing it. Isn’t that what schools are for?