The Gifted and Talented programme - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-48)



  Q1  Chairman: I welcome our witnesses, Professor Deborah Eyre, Sue Mordecai, Joy Blaker, Denise Yates and Richard Gould, to the evidence session. I apologise for trying to get as much expertise as possible into today's session, but as you can see, it will be both stimulating and broad-reaching. As I said outside, we have been waiting for some time to look at the gifted and talented programme, because in some senses it is a classic. It has been around for some time. It has changed and had different modes. Some of us have actually kept an eye on it. I visited the University of Warwick with Sir Peter Lampl at one stage to look at it and met Professor Eyre. We all know that it has had an interesting history, which I have been rereading over the weekend. We do not normally allow five witnesses to give evidence at the same time. Can I tell you that whatever they—my colleagues—ask you, not all of you can answer each question, otherwise, we'll never cover the breadth of the question. Please forgive us for that. I will have to cut people off. If you indicate that you want to come back on a question, I will try to make it manageable by calling you. Professor Eyre—all of you—do you mind if we revert to first name terms rather than titles? Doing so adds to the informality and the speed. Let us start with Deborah and riff across a tiny element of what your involvement in gifted and talented has been. Can you put in a tiny nutshell whether you think it has been a good thing?

Professor Eyre: My background is that I've got 30-some years experience in gifted and talented from the school level—the local authority level—as a university researcher and as part of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children. At the moment, I make my living designing and advising on system-wide schemes for nurturing giftedness and creativity across the world. We've had a lot of variety in the UK. In terms of where it has all gone, that would be interesting to explore. One of the lessons from other parts of the world is that you have to have a very sharp focus if you want to make a difference.

  Q2  Chairman: When I visited you in Warwick some years ago, you seemed to have a sharp focus and to be doing all right. Why did the Government pull the plug on Warwick doing the programme?

  Professor Eyre: I think the Government felt that some of the things we were doing at Warwick were really good, and everybody who worked on that programme is extremely proud of what they did. It had a very small amount of money—£4.75 million a year—which in the great scheme of things is not that big. It had a remit that started off asking us to work only on out-of-school programmes and on informal learning. We did that and as part of that, we discovered an awful lot about what happens to gifted and talented students in the 21st century, in relation to our autonomous learners and what they do. Then we were asked to expand the cohort from 20,000 to 200,000 on the same budget and to take on school-based provision—also on the same budget. So at the point at which we came to a change in contract, there was a decision at Government level to split the in-school and out-of-school work and, in both cases, to scale it up substantially. Warwick took the view that what was on offer in the contract was not really the right kind of territory for a university, so it indicated that it didn't wish to be the delivery partner.

  Chairman: You didn't bid for the second contract.

  Professor Eyre: No.

  Sue Mordecai: Good afternoon. My background has been in gifted and talented education for 20 years. Previous to that, I was a history and politics teacher in Wales and in England. My current job—my day job—is principal adviser with Bromley local authority, where I am heading up the school improvement agenda. But I am here in the capacity of Chair of Trustees and President of the National Association for Able Children in Education, which is the largest independent organisation that supports teachers in schools. It has been in existence for 27 years. We have membership in virtually every local authority in England and we are heavily involved in Wales and further afield.

  Q3  Chairman: Is all well with gifted and talented programmes for young people in this country now?

  Sue Mordecai: It's a mixed picture. There were lots of good intentions, but it seems that there are too many programmes—that's perhaps the key word—and lots of initiatives, with a lack of ideological and philosophical underpinning and research behind some of the events and programmes. Probably the main criticism would be that it did not impact sufficiently where it should have impacted, which is in the classroom.

  Joy Blaker: Good afternoon. I am primary gifted and talented consultant for Rotherham local authority, and within that role I feel it is my duty to champion gifted and talented children, to work closely with schools to create challenge and engagement, and to promote innovative pedagogy. I also believe that it is my role both to work with agencies and experts to bring children together in groupings that span personalities, social class and other barriers that could present themselves, so that children are brought together in a learning community, which is important, and to engage with the region to promote research opportunities and wider experiences for children that I think are very important, particularly in areas with high levels of deprivation.

  Q4  Chairman: Hasn't that more or less been the drift? The Government have been changing their mind and are being more focused these days—certainly since the recent report on social mobility—on gifted and talented children from a poorer background.

  Joy Blaker: I think that has been an increased focus, and is very important, but I think there is a danger in focusing very much on areas of deprivation and not bringing those children into social groupings with children from other areas. That is important to break down barriers and to create bridges that will give them the strength to go forward in future. I think that needs to be from an early age, with early intervention when children are encouraged to recognise their strengths, and to socialise with children on the basis of their strengths rather than their differences.

  Denise Yates: I am Chief Executive of the National Association for Gifted Children, which is an organisation that works face to face with about 15,000 parents and carers a year. We have been in existence for 43 years. My background is that I have dealt with the whole spread of special needs within education and training since about 1984.

  Q5Chairman: Thank you. Are you happy with the way things are at the moment, or do you think that the gifted and talented world could be improved?

  Denise Yates: I would agree with what NACE said—there is a wide spread of different involvements in schools. There are some excellent schools with excellent leadership and excellent programmes for the gifted and talented, but parents are extremely worried that the other end is not catered for. Many schools do not understand what gifted and talented means and are not prepared to put in place programmes that cater for gifted and talented children, and parents are extremely concerned.

  Q6  Chairman: I was talking to a young woman who was in high school at about the time all this started, and she felt a bit resentful that she was not chosen as being gifted and talented. She felt it was a way in which teachers could play favourites. Is that a commonplace resentment that you pick up?

  Denise Yates: The sooner gifted and talented stops being seen as an elitist issue and starts being seen as an equal opportunities issue the better. If you pick someone, by definition you will always not pick someone. That issue needs to be considered within society as a whole.

  Q7  Chairman: The current programme started with 1 or 2%, and the percentage then gradually increased. Is that a mistake? Is it best to narrow it to 1 or 2%, or should you broaden it to a larger percentage of 5 or 10%?

  Denise Yates: I think I would be more concerned about having programmes for gifted and talented children writ large. Throw the dice up, and see what falls. Let's see whether some of the under-achievers who sit at the back of the class and who are bored and lack challenge are being picked up as well as the ones who sit at the front of the class and hand in their homework on time.

  Richard Gould: Good afternoon. I am director of Villiers Park Educational Trust, which works with post-16 able students, and have been doing that for about 45 years. I have worked with the organisation for about 20 years. I think Student Voice is an important part of our work, and we speak to 1,000-plus students every year. When I started to work in the field about 20 years ago, listening to those students made us realise that there were things that needed to change in the everyday school, and that it was very important to add them to our programme, which until then had been working only with students. One problem that has not been resolved with the whole gifted and talented agenda is what happens with colleges. A lot has been happening in schools and, as colleagues have said, it is a mixed picture. There has been a lot of improvement and provision in many schools, but there has been little to involve sixth form and FE colleges, which is a big problem.

  Q8  Chairman: I've warmed you up. I have only one more question before I pass over to my colleagues. Deborah, you were involved in the first wave of five years. You have been keeping in touch, of course, with what has happened since. What do you think of Government policy—has there been a seamless building up of experience with things always getting better, or has it gone up and down? The policy agenda looks a bit dislocated. What do you think?

  Professor Eyre: It's inconsistent and incoherent—that's what I think. There are a variety of stakeholders who have goals and purposes for a gifted and talented programme. They have no intention of working with each other and sometimes work in opposition to each other. For example, under the social mobility agenda, the purpose of a gifted and talented initiative is to increase social mobility. That is its main purpose, even if that means holding back some people in order to allow others to catch up. Sets of initiatives sometimes come out, such as the fair access into the professions initiative, where social mobility is all. There is a concentration on mentoring soft skills and so on. Those things are all tremendously important, but I am attached to the University of Oxford and, at the end of the day, when we are looking for potential students, we want those kinds of skills, but we also want high academic performance. High academic performance is, for the majority of people, exactly what other countries in the world are concerned with. They see this as an economic issue as much as an educational issue. It is about making sure that all our students in school have an opportunity to achieve highly because as a country we need a high performing, highly skilled set of young people. In other parts of the world, there is far less emphasis on who is or is not gifted and far more emphasis on what kind of provision leads to high performance in a wide variety of domains. In other parts of the world, when you say that part of the argument in the UK is about whether you are academic or vocational—that is cognitive or skills—people will throw back that it is difficult to envisage any kind of endeavour that doesn't involve both cognitive and skills development. That is absolutely the case. In some ways, I think we have a very old-fashioned view of what we might do in terms of gifted and talented. We are living in a very fast-moving world and statistics show that most people are working in jobs that didn't exist when they went to school and that many of us will have had seven or eight jobs by our late 30s. The whole idea that everything that will happen to you can be predicted seems to be refuted by the evidence. All the work that has been done in the last 10 to 20 years in neuroscience and psychology, and research that has looked at very successful people and their trajectories to success, suggests that the opportunities and conditions that people experience—what happens to them educationally—plus personality characteristics such as a desire to do well, are more influential than any inherited predisposition or other factors. We seem to be in a rather mid-20th century model, whereas other parts of the world are moving into what I would describe as a more 21st century model, which involves an ambition of high performance for a lot of people.

  Q9  Chairman: I suppose one trouble is that some of my constituents would say, "Gifted and talented for what?" When I thought about gifted and talented, I always thought of the brilliant scientists who would be researching the genome and medicine, or top people in music, the arts and public administration. You mentioned Oxford. I remember walking across the hallowed turf of Magdalen College with the Master. I said, "Do any of your graduates go into public service, such as local government, teaching or the civil service?" He said, "No, no, no, they all go into the City." If gifted and talented will only produce people who go to make a lot of money in the City, I won't be able to persuade my constituents to support it, will I?

  Professor Eyre: One of the joys of the opportunity to work with the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth was that we had 152,000 students drawn from all over the country. They are very articulate students and they talked, so one of the outcomes was that we have a far better understanding of what it is like to be in their position and what they are interested in doing. Generally speaking, most of those students had a very high level of social responsibility. They wanted to give back. Certainly, there may have been a minority who saw themselves going into the City, but they were that—a minority.

  Chairman: Perhaps not at Magdalen.

  Professor Eyre: Maybe not.

  Chairman: The message we got from that response is very interesting, Deborah, but "inconsistent and incoherent" will remain with us for the moment. I now ask Graham to lead on looking at the in-school provision.

  Q10  Mr Graham Stuart: Before I do so, may I follow up on the previous point. I wonder whether the panel think that the balance between the funding for tackling underperformance, particularly in areas of disadvantage, and the funding for supporting the gifted and talented has been struck properly.

  Denise Yates: If every child matters, so too does every gifted and talented child. What parents are looking for is some sort of equality in the amount of funding being given. That said, I think there are structural issues that need to be addressed—in areas of deprivation, for example—but we also need to look at areas in a wider sense by looking, for example, at children in rural areas, children who are underachieving, or children who are what is called dual or multiple exceptional. I don't think it's just one issue, but certainly I would not want a child's needs to be looked at in terms of the postcode or the amount of income their parent has. I would want it to be available for everybody.

  Q11  Mr Stuart: What about their potential? Here you are, a champion for gifted and talented, trying desperately to pose the whole argument in terms of social equity, when in fact the answer that Barry undoubtedly wouldn't give his constituents is that 25% of all income tax is paid by 1% of taxpayers, and 40% of income tax is paid by 5% of taxpayers. That is what provides the teachers and public services. We actually need people who will be globally competitive. We need to have excellence promoted and supported in this country and not always couched in terms of equity. It is also about excellence, not just equity. Have we been cowed by the current debate and mind-think so that we are unable to stand up and speak the fact that we should give special resources and support to those, wherever they come from, who are brilliant? Failing to do so is a mistake.

  Denise Yates: Absolutely. That is exactly what I am saying. It should be an equal opportunity issue, so everyone should have equal access to the resources that are available, but at the same time we should understand that there are some structural needs that have to be addressed. For example, if a kid in an inner-city area hasn't got a laptop and £250 would buy them one, so be it. What I would be happier to see, however, is a national strategy that said, "Okay, we're going to deal with that as one issue. Next year we will deal with the issue of children in rural areas, and the year after we will deal with underachievement." I see no long-term vision in the current programme for how we want it to be seen. You asked why we are doing all this. Yes, a very strong reason is to raise talent and aspiration in this country, but I don't think we should forget about the child either. Why are we doing it for the child? Because the child wants to feel fulfilled. They do not want to know whether they are going to be a banker because they went to Magdalen college. They want to know that they go home and they're happy.

  Chairman: Very good point.

  Richard Gould: There is a third element. For the child's sake, gifted and talented is important, and it is important for competitive advantage and economic reasons as well.

  Mr Stuart: Good.

  Richard Gould: To answer your question specifically, I think the focus on excellence can have an impact not just on society and the individual child, but on the culture, ethos and attainment of the school, and it can move the whole school along. That is something I believe very strongly.

  Q12  Mr Stuart: Thank you, Richard, but that didn't actually answer my question. The question was, have we got the balance wrong? Are we pouring money into tackling disadvantage? Does the removal of the contract for gifted and talented show that this Government are not interested in supporting excellence?

  Chairman: Don't put answers into the witness's mouth.

  Sue Mordecai: I would say that we need to look at how the money is being used. That is critical. I come back to the fact that I don't think enough money has gone into the schools and had the impact that it should have done—whether on the advantaged or disadvantaged. It is not always about money. It is about considering the pedagogy in practice and the mindset. I can think of some outstanding schools that have not necessarily benefited from funding. I deal directly with my authority on standards funds; it is a question of mindsets, training and the focus on how we use the money. We need to step back and consider the question of what is an educated person today, for the 21st century. How are we going to get there? Why is it that some schools are highly successful with their most able? We should stop having these initiatives, stop spending money, stand back and reflect and, as Deborah has said, learn from other countries—although most of them seem to be learning from us. There is a paucity of research in this country. There is a lot elsewhere, so what can we learn from it? What do we want for the future?

  Q13  Chairman: Deborah, can you come in? You run a programme. I know that you said it was underfunded, but it is about £25 million of taxpayers' money over five years. Did you have it evaluated? Do we know whether it did any good, and where are those people now?

  Professor Eyre: Yes, we know that it was endlessly evaluated. Basically, when a student joined NAGTY, their trajectory was that they would go on to one of the leading universities. In the exit survey of 18-year-old students moving forward, it was the case not only for NAGTY students but for the 33,000 students from the lowest possible socio-economic backgrounds. That is social mobility in action. I am not suggesting that is in any way in conflict with what Sue has just said, because this is not an either/or situation. It is not that you have good provision outside school or good provision inside school. What you have is integrated provision, with good provision in school that is supplemented and enhanced by out-of-school provision. Social mobility happens when you have, as has occurred, a boy from inner-city Salford sitting next to a boy from Eton, and after a couple of sessions, he says to the tutor, "I'm as good as he is if not better." That is how you change belief. In answer to your question, 10 years ago when this Committee looked at highly able children, one of the things it said was that the Government had been through a period of time when they had been trying to secure minimum competence, and now they were going to give greater emphasis to excellence. I do not think that has necessarily been borne out in the funding arrangements. It is rather sad that we have had a national programme for 10 years, and at the end of 10 years we are still looking at rescue packages for a small minority of students rather than at a more universal approach of catering for and encouraging excellence in our schools. A more ambitious ambition might be to try to achieve high levels of performance across a wide range of domains for as many students as we can, including those people who have traditionally not performed so well in our system.

  Q14  Mr Stuart: What are the hallmarks of good in-school provision? Do you want to pick up that question, Joy?

  Joy Blaker: If we are going to look at good in-school provision, I will quote from one of our head teachers, who said, "What is good for gifted and talented is good for all children, but what is good for all children may not necessarily be good enough for gifted and talented." It is about opening up that whole opportunity for children—to give them challenge, open-ended opportunity and mixed ability working, where they can build from each other and develop a community of inquiry and where they can build their knowledge one upon another, facilitated by a teacher. That gives us the opportunity to gift-and-talent spot, which is the beginning of the whole process. Once you start that process, you're coming to something that's not elitist and not looking at social mobility, social deprivation or whatever. It's looking at the issues that are really important within the classroom: what can that child do and what are they really capable of?

  Q15  Mr Stuart: Can you tell us what leading teachers add, as opposed to gifted and talented co-ordinators?

  Joy Blaker: Can I give you the Rotherham model. We have co-ordinators who have the strategic role within a school and are generally part of the senior leadership team. They look at issues, such as the cohort, and champion the cause of the gifted and talented, whereas a leading teacher, as far as we're concerned, is someone who develops innovative practice within their classroom and is seeking out and researching different aspects of education and pedagogies so that they can share it within their own school and across a learning community or an authority. That is a really important capacity-building way forward.

  Q16  Mr Stuart: You spoke as if elitism was fundamentally a bad thing, which seems to me to cut across this whole agenda and is a further sign of the group-think that I would certainly not want to see. Some schools were reluctant even to return data on gifted and talented pupils in the termly census. Were the criteria for identifying pupils clear enough or was the anti-elitism component so strong in so many schools that they would not even play with the idea of helping people who are particularly gifted?

  Joy Blaker: I think there are two aspects to that. Schools are very accountable—they feel the responsibility; they feel particularly that identifying children at a young age may make them accountable and that they may be setting them up for failure in the future. We need to work against that, because there needs to be an inclusive element, to say, "We are strong in our identification procedures." There is that need to develop identification among the teaching staff.

  Q17  Mr Stuart: Does anyone else want to comment on that? Is there a cultural problem here?

  Richard Gould: Going back to post-16, which is important because that's the time when students are beginning to contemplate whether they want to go on to university and which university to go to, there hasn't been a register and identification at post-16. We visit lots of colleges all over Britain, and without doubt there is the claim of elitism—it hasn't been accepted as mainstream. In the vast majority of post-16 colleges, and more than 50% of students doing A-levels do so at a sixth form college or FE college, there is an important gap that needs to be addressed.

  Q18  Mr Stuart: Is there a prejudice that needs to be challenged? It is alleged that some children who are perfectly capable are dissuaded from applying to the top universities because of anti-elitism. Is that true, do you think?

  Richard Gould: It's a very mixed picture, but certainly that's true in certain schools and colleges, without doubt.

  Q19  Mr Stuart: How could that be challenged?

  Denise Yates: Just to follow through on that, there are two other issues that you've not taken into consideration. One is that many teachers aren't confident about the G&T word, don't know how to identify it and are frightened of talking to parents about it for risk of putting their head above the parapet. The other is that they're frightened that parents will ask them to do something about it if the child is identified as gifted and talented. That is the bigger issue and it needs to be addressed by all of us.

  Sue Mordecai: There is also an issue that is phase-related, because a lot of head teachers of the early years at Key Stage 1 felt uncomfortable about giving a title and a label when the cognitive development of children is uneven at that age: that's one aspect. The other aspect is that, again, NACE members would see it being much wider—at 20%—because looking at the top 5% in art, maths and physics, you can have a profile of about 20%. Other schools—the 164 grammar schools for example—would say that, under the criteria, all their pupils could be gifted and talented. For some, the word "gifted" has certainly got in the way, which is probably why the Welsh Assembly has adopted "more able and talented", and there doesn't seem to be the elitism or the philosophical problem in Wales, as there has been in England.

  Professor Eyre: There is a peculiarly English dimension to this around people feeling uncomfortable with the notion of identification. I agree with my colleagues entirely, which is to say that the younger the student, the less firm any kind of judgment might be about how they will perform at a later date. One difficulty with identification, particularly identification of younger children, is that once a cohort is identified and additional provision is made for them, those who are not identified are less likely to perform well, even if they had the aptitude, because they are not accessing the opportunities. The cohort approach, as it is called in the literature, has inherent structural problems. Hence the schools that are most successful, particularly in the secondary sector, but also across the board, in catering for the needs of these gifted and talented students are the ones that look at the provision that they make and are really focused on what makes an outstanding learner, what characteristics we are looking for and how we make that happen in our schools and classrooms in terms of expectations. The question of who is or is not is a secondary issue, which will reveal itself over time, so students begin to reveal what they are capable of doing. When we were at NAGTY, we were asked to look at some of the best practice in schools in the country. We selected a group of schools, which were called ambassador schools, and have gone on to take forward through SSAT some of the leading-edge work. It is really interesting that there wasn't one model in those schools—and some had no identification at all—but they did have outstanding practice and very satisfied, happy parents and very high performers. It is not axiomatic that because you identify a cohort, by whatever means, you are necessarily going to have the kind of provision that you are looking for.

  Q20  Mr Stuart: Deborah, I suppose that you're saying that one size does not fit all but, in general, do you think that the designation was a mistake—the gifted and talented tag—and we would be better not tagging people but worrying more about broad provision?

  Professor Eyre: That is my view. It is a very complex area and the problem is that, for some students, being identified as gifted and talented is what liberates them to perform. We had students in NAGTY who, once they had been identified on a national scheme, completely changed their self-image, their perception and that of their parents and teachers. There are some positives with labelling, but there are also some negatives, so we have to look at it in the round. The conclusion that has been drawn elsewhere is that, on the in-school provision, the main focus should be on securing high-quality provision, in terms of high expectations of all students in all areas and very clear monitoring of the progression of individual students right across the piece. In many ways, it is not just that the most able students somehow go on and succeed and others don't—what actually happens is that part of this is about some students who just fall away. In the international research, for example, the evidence suggests that if you are identified at five, you are unlikely to be identified statistically at 16. Why is that and what does it mean about identification? There are some hugely problematic areas with identification and, therefore, the judgment is, can you still have the relentless focus on helping people to achieve highly by a focus on high expectations coupled with progress reviews and still get to the same place, as opposed to the kind of baby Einstein theory of being born entirely different from the rest of the species? Research shows that that is sometimes a bit of a burden for people. Certainly, the NAGTY students felt that they didn't mind being labelled as gifted and talented, as long as we were all clear that that just meant that they might have the capacity to do well if they worked hard. It was not Willy Wonka's golden ticket to success. In the States, particularly, they have had a lot of problems with their gifted and talented programmes creating the kind of sense that, if I'm labelled as gifted, it must all turn out, whereas in the Asian countries, where they focus very strongly on the ethic that if you work at it, you will succeed, giftedness is the end point. If people stick with something and get to the point of high performance, that is giftedness. In the kind of desultory way that one does as an academic, I have been looking at when the term "giftedness" is used. Outside education, it is most often used in people's obituaries—it is a retrospective view where your peer group deems you to have achieved in a particular way, which means that you excelled.

  Q21  Chairman: Deborah, you never answered the question that I threw in in the middle about whether you evaluated what happened to your gifted and talented students.

  Professor Eyre: We set up a longitudinal study to evaluate what happened to our gifted and talented students. We evaluated for the duration of NAGTY, after which, of course, the data were transferred across to the subsequent providers. My understanding is that that did not occur. The lack of research is a problematic area for us. We know that in other parts of education, things such as the childhood study from the London institute have been particularly influential in helping us to understand what really happens, and to unpick the myth from the reality. We are still at a point, after 10 years, where we have had a lot of experimentation and a fair bit of novelty but not necessarily the longitudinal evidence that will help to tell us what really works. We gathered a lot of data during the NAGTY years to try to understand that better, but there is no substitute for longitudinal studies.

  Chairman: But the longitudinal study has finished.

  Denise Yates: We hear from parents what has happened to the NAGTY students, and in universities across the country, in different socio-economic classes, these children have chosen to go to university or chosen a course because of the NAGTY courses. When NAGTY went, they themselves set up a website called NAGTY Forever, which gets upward of 3,000 posts a month.

  Q22  Annette Brooke: I wonder whether you could help me a little. Despite all the questions we have had so far, I still do not really know how we are defining "gifted and talented". I understand Deborah's point, and I can empathise with the point that perhaps outcomes would be the easiest way to do it. Could you just explain this simply? If you have a child gifted in music, art or dance, there would be fairly straightforward settings and criteria, but I really cannot come to grips with the idea that a particular school should just take a percentage. Can you comment on that?

  Professor Eyre: One of the difficulties with gifted and talented is that there is no universal, internationally recognised definition, so you decide on your definition and identify according to it. In essence, there are two different ways in which you can define. The first is around existing performance. In other words, those who are performing at a level that is significantly in advance of their peer group—a five-year-old who is doing things that are normally expected of a nine-year-old—are identified. Another methodology is to use psychometric tests to try to identify ability and aptitude which may or may not currently be realised. Most identification systems use a combination of the two. However, there are other methodologies. There are teachers nominating and parents nominating, but research evidence suggests that that can be of variable quality. What is kind of clear is that if you are identifying according to performance, the opportunities that people have had make a big difference to how well they perform. To take an obvious example, if you had the perfect violin teacher, you are likely to be a better violinist than if you have just been messing around at home. It is the same with schooling: the school that you go to makes a big difference. Performance is a reliable piece of evidence to some extent, but it is strongly influenced not just by opportunities but also by family support and background. Aptitude is equally controversial in terms of whether or not it is possible to measure potential. Again, there was much debate about that—as with creativity. Some people think if you sit a test, they will know if you are creative; others think that the nature of creativity is such that you can't measure it accurately. In terms of who is gifted, in some people and in some instances you know it when you see it—although not in all instances by any means. That is why identification in the entire field across the last 50 years has been a hugely problematic area, and why the field of gifted and talented education has kind of gone through three paradigms, which are loosely historical. The first model relates to the unique individual who is completely different from the rest of us. We do not see that very often—if you spot one on the tube, you'd know it. That is the sort of psycho-medical model that is very much linked to IQ testing and so on. The second model is much more about the fact that some people are not the same, but have certain things in common, so we put them in a cohort. That is very much based on the US post-1970ish kind of idea. There is masses of research on the effects of that—positive and negative. The more 20th-century approach suggests that perhaps the routes to expertise might be more open to more people and that we should perhaps focus more on the conditions that make it happen and less on the psychological profile.

  Sue Mordecai: I agree with a lot of what Deborah has said, but very often the issue is not about the teachers knowing whether or not a child is very, very bright; it is what they do with the child. The issue is about looking at some of the characteristics. One of my favourite characteristics is the child who can deal with ambiguity and cognitive confusion. Some of the children who underachieve do so because they are on a diet of questions and the answers, rather than one in which they have to delve into their mind and explore a pit of cognitive confusion, where they actually have to think and be challenged. The issue within the schools is how can children reveal their abilities unless they are given the opportunities to do so? It comes back to giving them those challenges. But it is very much a case of the teacher saying, "I've got a bright child—help!"

  Q23  Ms Buck: Apologies if you've covered this—I was attending another Committee meeting. What do we know about the extent to which children are categorised or defined as gifted and talented according to different types of school? Do we have comparative data on percentages of children who are defined as gifted and talented in relation to particular socio-economic backgrounds, or faith schools compared with maintained schools, academies or whatever? What is the range?

  Sue Mordecai: I would say it's very ad hoc. That is one of the issues. If you consider the matter, it is easier to look at it regionally rather than nationally. So if I represented the London regions, we actually have London data, so we can have a look. It will vary from anything from 5% to 30%, so it's very variable.

  Q24  Ms Buck: Paint me a picture of the variations. Does it incline towards a very positive effort to define children as gifted and talented from within schools and more challenging backgrounds, which would make sense, or are gifted and talented designations over-represented in your high achieving schools?

  Sue Mordecai: No, it is very much a mixed picture—[Interruption.]

  Chairman: There is a Division, so we shall suspend the sitting. I urge colleagues to get back very quickly.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

  Chairman: Karen, I think you were in charge when we finished.

  Q25  Ms Buck: I think Sue was in mid-response. As I was voting, I was reflecting that there must be some trend analysis. If not, where is the debate going on about providing consistency or monitoring the levels of consistency in designation?

  Sue Mordecai: The very fact that schools were asked to identify the top 5 to 10% in each school meant it had to be a relative term, because what is 5 to 10% in one school is different from what it is in another school. I suppose it gave a bottom line from which to start asking the questions. The data should raise the questions you want to ask. There is an emerging pattern where people are getting more consistent and more confident. We have moved beyond the identification and are looking much more at the curriculum of opportunity and the provision for those students. I agree with Deborah that it is about the day-in, day-out provision, but it is also about the enrichment and extension that they get. It must be seen inherently as a part of, not apart from, the whole school improvement agenda.

  Q26  Ms Buck: Just one last point on whether the 5 to 10% is consistent. Perhaps I misunderstood.

  Sue Mordecai: There is an element of consistency.

  Q27  Ms Buck: Did one of you refer to 30%?

  Sue Mordecai: I said up to 20%.

  Ms Buck: How does that sit with the 5 to 10%?

  Sue Mordecai: I was saying that the 5 to 10% was the guidance from the Government. NACE, the organisation that I represent, would say that students are not gifted and talented across the board. If you take the top 1, 2 or even 5% in physics, the arts and modern foreign languages, a large school would end up with a profile of about 20% of children being designated in the more able category.

  Q28  Ms Buck: There are cohorts of 5 to 10% of pupils from each school. Do we know anything about the differences between the cohorts from different schools? What kind of variation are you getting in the nature of pupils who are being classified as gifted and talented?

  Chairman: Sue and Deborah are both nodding. We'll start with Sue.

  Sue Mordecai: It's like anything. There is as much variation between schools as within schools. It depends on the nature of the school. Again, a number of characteristics define the people identified across schools. When the students are brought together on enrichment activities, they have a lot in common. The identification has got much more sophisticated. Some other interesting issues are emerging. The "Student Voice" research we have done at NACE has shown gender issues, for example. When we have asked boys whether they are comfortable being identified as gifted, they have no problem. When you ask girls, they say that they are not, but that they work hard.

  Q29  Ms Buck: That's interesting because my experience of pupils in tough schools is that boys will run from being designated as gifted and talented because it is potentially problematic. Girls find it much easier, because the fundamental gender element, which allows girls these days to be intellectually confident, does not apply to boys.

  Professor Eyre: One of the difficulties about this sort of stop-go approach that we have had is that there have been various different sorts of initiative.

  Q30  Chairman: You are changing your description. Just now you said that Government policy is incoherent and inconsistent. Now you are saying that it's stop-go.

  Professor Eyre: Well, it's the same thing. I am sorry, you are correct. The two are not mutually exclusive.

  Chairman: Deborah, I am being mischievous. Certain people in the public gallery were not present when you made the original comment.

  Professor Eyre: Right. One of the difficulties is that you don't have a data set that you can follow for any length of time. During the period that we were monitoring students who were put forward by their schools for admission to NAGTY, we could tell you something about that cohort of students. More broadly, one of the difficulties that seems to have emerged is that because not all schools put their students forward for the national database, the data is incomplete. Sue may well be right that identification has become more sophisticated, at least in some places, although the Ofsted work that was done just before Christmas suggests that in some places we are going backwards rather than forwards, but in 2007 schools definitely took different views about the proportion of students they considered to be among their gifted. They also took different views about whether, in order to be designated gifted, you had to be good at everything across the board or outstanding at something. In schools in inner-city areas, there was still a disproportionate number of students from wealthier families appearing in the cohort, even though they were in a school that was broadly disadvantaged. You are right that both genders have some difficulty with the whole concept unless it is presented positively in school. The savvy student, regardless of gender, will duck it, and if necessary underperform to avoid being in the cohort. There are strong cultural issues, such as it's not cool to be bright.

  Chairman: I have to keep us on track. Annette, do you want to come back?

  Q31  Annette Brooke: Sorry, I took us down that route, but it has been helpful. I'd like two people to answer this question. What are the main achievements of the national academy at Warwick from an insider's and an outsider's point of view?

  Professor Eyre: I think I'd say that the main achievement for the national academy was that we set down the models and templates that have provided for a variety of activities in future. In particular, we came to understand far more about what secondary-school age gifted and talented students in particular needed in terms of effective educational provision, and how they function in the educational world. As I said, to begin with we had a remit only for out-of-school activities, and in terms of the achievements there I think we evolved an effective pedagogy for out-of-school provision, which could enhance school provision, so it had characteristics to the way in which it worked. We then mobilised providers to provide that, and adopted a sort of managed market approach to try to stimulate providers to create that sort of provision because that was not there in the past. It is easy to forget that the first time we were asked to work with universities, they were universally hostile to the idea, saying that they did not usually work with schools. There has been a lot of difference, and NAGTY was not the only part of that widening participation and activities. None the less there was mobilisation of provision. We created role models and a catalyst with the student academy to explore what was possible with those very bright students, and what they told us and what they did astounded everyone. On the in-school agenda, which we held for the last three years of our period, we set expectations and offered some sector leadership to the local authorities. Working with them, we created a regional delivery structure and found ways to showcase best practice through the ambassador schools scheme, and we created some innovation opportunities. At the end of NAGTY—I looked back yesterday at the 2007 annual report—we commissioned two big surveys through Guardian Professional's Headspace and MORI. Headspace was a head teachers' survey into which we put a question, and we found that 46% of heads felt their provision for gifted and talented had improved over that period. In the MORI poll, 64% of classroom teachers in secondary schools, and 56% of primary teachers, felt their provision had improved. We provided some advocacy for G&T and some sector leadership. We provided a kind of catalyst. We developed an entire pedagogy for the out-of-hours integrated side of the provision, which led to a community of young people who were actively engaged with us. Our website had 4.6 million hits finally. But we made plenty of mistakes.

  Q32  Annette Brooke: Now I want a critique from the user side.

  Richard Gould: There are certainly some positives. Raising the national profile for gifted and talented was a great success and gave all those agencies such as mine that had been doing some work a focal point on where to meet and where to raise issues. A workable website as the central place where anyone involved in gifted and talented could go—be it a student, a local authority person or a teacher—was important. It was also important for something like gifted and talented to be based at a well respected research-based university. In my opinion, that's been a problem over the past three years. The division of the academy into a student part, a professional part and a research part was a good way of dividing up the workload, too. I should like to stress the positives. Perhaps someone else wants to talk about other issues.

  Denise Yates: I've already spoken about the positives, so I'll leave it there. One of the things that we were most excited about was the prospect of the gifted and talented agenda moving down to a younger age. In a recent survey, some 87% of parents have had their children identified as gifted and talented by the age of 10. So we wanted more provision at a younger age. That was the only bit of the equation that NAGTY was starting to work on but was missing. I remember saying to the best value review that was done at the time, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water, but let's have some good examples of what can be done with the younger age."

  Q33  Annette Brooke: We move on in time. Deborah has given some indication about why the national academy was closed. We move on to excellence hubs. Perhaps Richard can tell us something about these. Are they built on what the national academy did, what do they offer and how many children are involved?

  Richard Gould: Ahead of excellence hubs came regional partnerships in the same nine areas in England. Excellence hubs were not really integrated: they were a bit of an add-on and this created quite a lot of difficulties, particularly for the user—the student, the teacher—who had to go to three different places: the young, gifted and talented website, the regional partnerships and the excellence hubs. It was confusing for people to find what to do without having a central place. Excellence hubs provision is mixed. What goes on in the everyday classroom in terms of the standard of teaching has moved on enormously in some schools. What goes on at university in terms of the quality of the teaching is very mixed. As a result, when students went to university, they sometimes had a wonderful experience and sometimes it was a turn-off. There was, and continues to be, a big problem in the quality of provision that takes place at the universities.

  Q34  Annette Brooke: If I could just tighten the question slightly, have excellence hubs taken this forwards or backwards?

  Joy Blaker: There could be very patchy provision across the country, but in our opinion in the Yorkshire and Humber region, it has been a very positive experience. That is probably because the regional partnership was very strong from the beginning of Excellence in Cities, and that has developed over the past 10 years. Because it has worked very closely with the excellence hubs and there has been integrated provision and a feeding backwards and forwards of information and a lot of opportunity for our children in the region, we feel that that is a very strong aspect of our provision.

  Q35  Annette Brooke: Finally, there has been some suggestion that direct funding might be withdrawn from the excellence hubs. Would they continue if the direct funding were taken away?

  Denise Yates: The short answer to that is no. I believe that a lot of excellence hubs are doing their best to see what they can do if funding is withdrawn, but the short answer is no, they will not continue.

  Chairman: That leads us nicely to the future.

  Q36  Mr Chaytor: What I find difficult to understand is how the policy can move forward if there is no agreed definition of what constitutes a gifted and talented child.

  Professor Eyre: The way that other countries deal with that is by agreeing a sense of what you want the system to achieve. For example, how would you know if you were being successful? How would the system know that it was successful? That might be specified in terms of outcomes rather than inputs: for example, getting more people performing highly in the way that we want to see them perform. I am not just talking about getting good exam results, although that is an integral part of it, but developing a kind of learning behaviour that is associated with high levels of expertise. That might sound esoteric but it is not. It is important that a good mathematician is not just somebody who can pass a maths A-level. It is someone who thinks like a mathematician. Part of what advanced provision in schools is about is making historians or mathematicians or whatever. It is about engaging with the subject domain and not just passing the test, although passing the test is important.

  Q37  Mr Chaytor: If I could just take that up, it is now 2010 and there are people in the Department for Children, Schools and Families beavering away, trying to decide what they are going to do with the pot of money they have got for the next few years. If you are suggesting that they should design a system that is based on outcomes, is it outcomes now? Will they evaluate the nation's mathematicians now or will projections appear? I just do not understand what the criteria will be.

  Professor Eyre: You could do this in different ways. For example, at the moment I am working with Saudi Arabia, which has instituted an approach to nurturing giftedness and creativity. Among other things, it involves the creation of an advanced supplementary curriculum that floats above the curriculum. It is more demanding and made available in particular kinds of ways. It has also instituted a very targeted programme that is focused on its teachers, and not on generic teaching skills. It is specifically looking at high-level performance within subject domains, even in the primary age range, and considering what it means to excel in a particular subject area as a primary age student. It has also instituted work that tries to engage parents more actively, both in how to support their child in their education and how, at home, they can nurture the characteristics that are associated with giftedness and creativity. So it's not like it's not known.

  Q38  Mr Chaytor: So you are saying that it is really about building support for parents, encouraging and enabling parents to give support, and giving professional help to teachers to allow greater flexibility and variation in the curriculum?

    Professor Eyre: Yes, absolutely. I also think that at the moment we don't systematise this in this country. Another thing they are doing in Saudi Arabia is providing incentivisation through creating a form of teacher who is considered to be particularly outstanding at nurturing high performance. Equally, schools get recognition if they are particularly outstanding at nurturing high performance.

  Q39  Mr Chaytor: That would come through in our Ofsted reporting.

  Professor Eyre: But in this country, the TDA does a survey every year to look at how well students are prepared to begin teaching. It asks lots of questions about how confident they feel about behaviour management and all kinds of things, but it does not ask how confident they feel about dealing with high-ability students.

  Sue Mordecai: On future funding, I think that there have been too many gifted and talented initiatives and they have been apart from mainstream education. We need greater alignment and synergy with organisations such as the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. Rather than create something new, we need to see what is already out there and how we can bring it together. The LAGT co-ordinators in some areas have been successful. Where they haven't been successful, they have not been given the clout or the funding to give support at a more local level.

  Chairman: What was that acronym, just for Hansard?

  Sue Mordecai: Local Authority Gifted and Talented co-ordinators. They have not been part of the school improvement agenda, although over the past year or so, personnel from the National Strategies have valiantly tried to bring that into the school improvement agenda.

  Q40  Chairman: They're only going to be around for another year aren't they?

  Sue Mordecai: Well, that's it. Just as you start to get things right, they seem to disappear, but there you go.

  Chairman: Ah. Denise.

  Denise Yates: I just want to talk about it from the front line. We can't duck this issue. It might be difficult—it might be impossible—but we shouldn't duck it. Last September, the NAGC put a questionnaire online that parents could fill in. It told them, although not definitely, whether their child might be gifted. Since last September, 4,323 parents have filled that in on behalf of their children. That shows that there is a great deal of impetus to get this right. People are looking at this to see how we can do it. Some schools are very good at this, as we have said. Better schools seem to be scrapping the special needs and gifted and talented agendas and coming up with a personalised learning agenda that gives every child an individual education plan. If that took place, we wouldn't need to worry about whether a child was on the SEN register or whether they were gifted and talented because the provision would be appropriate for the needs of the child.

  Q41  Mr Chaytor: It puzzles me that everyone seems to be critical of the succession of different initiatives, which I can understand, everyone seems to agree that it has to be based in schools, there is no dissent over the need to improve teachers' professional expertise, everyone thinks that there needs to be active professional advice from outside, such as specialist mathematics teaching, when that seems to be exactly what the Government are doing. Do those things not underlie the changes in policy? Why is there this mismatch?

  Sue Mordecai: Because, working directly with schools, I think there is still a strong accountability model through Ofsted about getting up to five A*s. While you have that very strong accountability model, it is very difficult.

  Q42  Mr Chaytor: But the current Bill, with the school report card, the changes to Ofsted and the school inspection framework, is part of that change of direction. It seems to be what you are arguing for.

  Sue Mordecai: No, again it could be seen as a form of accountability model. If you have the report card and the pupil guarantee, it will be very hard for some heads, particularly with very advantaged, articulate parents. They say that head teachers spend 90% of their time with 5% of their children or parents. It is about all children. We have to be careful in looking at where there is too much accountability and not enough development of the excellence that is there and more effective dissemination of it.

  Professor Eyre: I have been reading HMI reports since about the mid-'60s, and all of them have said that teachers find it very difficult to challenge the highest attainers, the most able students—whatever terminology you like to use. A key enduring factor is that it takes good teachers to get to that very high level of challenge—it is not an easy thing to do—so one piece of work definitely needs to be about how teachers can be helped to achieve that more effectively, working through subject organisations, through other routes and so on. The heart of students' engagement is through school—I agree with you—but one of the things that we have learned very much from NAGTY and from other experiences is that, in the 21st century, there are a lot of independent, autonomous learners learning all over the place. We have new technology. As one 13-year-old boy said to me once, "I have been interested in the second world war since I was about five. We're about to do it in year nine and the teacher thinks that I don't know anything about it yet, but I'm probably much more expert than they are." When you learn is no longer constrained by the school. These are the most able learners. They are the ones who are most adept at learning, and they will use the new technology. We have said, and I want to reiterate this, that there should be integrated provision—not just in-school provision but out-of-school provision. There are certain particularly challenging things that you can do in an out-of-school environment that you cannot do in school. It is not realistic to ask schools to carry the whole burden, and, if we do, we won't get outstanding performers. It is like asking your local sports teacher to do the same kind of work as a coach for some premier football club. It is just not fair.

  Q43  Chairman: Haven't we missed the boat, in the sense that this was a great fashion and fad, was it not, around about the time that new Labour came into government? Obviously it was favoured by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and Andrew Adonis, but then we saw it gradually dwindling. Was that because of a lack of enthusiasm from the Department and Ministers, or was it seen off by the teaching unions? What is your analysis of where the resistance to all of this has come from?

  Professor Eyre: I think there are a number of factors in all of that. Obviously, there were some political drivers behind the Tony Blair-Andrew Adonis kind of agenda. With the dismantling of the assisted places scheme, there was a political need to demonstrate that the state sector was doing more for its most able students. Having said that, I think it was a laudable aim, and there was a serious attempt to try to achieve it. In my view, where things have gone rather awry is in the two areas where there have been a variety of different kinds of initiatives, none of which has been allowed to develop for the kind of time that is necessary to give sustainability. Secondly, we failed to integrate this into the whole school improvement agenda and other structural agendas. It should be a matter of course that when you ask how a school is doing in any particular way—any characteristic, subject area, progression or anything else—you should be asking what is happening to the whole cohort of students. The acid test is obviously at the extremes: how well is the school dealing with those who can go furthest, and how well is it doing with those who are struggling? For gifted and talented, up until now—this is an opportunity to embed it more thoroughly in a mainstream way—there has been a kind of lip service, but we know that, culturally, there is still a lack of enthusiasm for it in some schools. I think the Ofsted report that was done in the autumn said that the 26 schools that were looked at thought that it was important but not a priority. If it is not a priority, it is because somebody else is indicating what the priorities might be, and they are not indicating that this is one.

  Denise Yates: I would like to return to the previous question. We recently did a survey of parents, and 55% of them said that the biggest priority for the Government to tackle at the moment is more training for teachers. While we wait for this nirvana to be reached, there will be a lot of parents who have children in schools where the performance of gifted and talented isn't so good. We need to preserve the out-of-school activity, so that—as Deborah said—parents from poor areas are mixing with those from more affluent areas. Last year, we ran a family weekend—we do so every year—and we had 550 parents and 550 children come along. The one thing they said to us was that it is wonderful to be able to book online and go to something that isn't school related. Ideally, school would be perfect. Let's have something in place before that day comes.

  Q44  Mr Chaytor: Is the logic of that that the amount of money per child spent on those who are defined as gifted and talented—however they are defined—should be greater than the amount of money per child spent on those in the middle?

  Denise Yates: No. As I said before, this is an equal opportunity issue.

  Q45  Mr Chaytor: So the budget should be equally distributed per capita according to the child's ability, or the definition of it.

  Denise Yates: Sometimes gifted and talented children have been the poor relation, but that does mean that we take very seriously the fact that money should be spent on gifted and talented.

  Sue Mordecai: We need to look at how we spend the money more effectively. You asked about why it has gone off the boil. I come back to the fact that there are too many things going on—that is why it has gone off the boil. We need to refocus. For example, is there a way that an outstanding school could be a mentor to another school? There are models that have worked, but there are so many models out there that we need to step back and say, "Where has there been the most effective use of people's time? Where do we need to refocus? Where is it having an impact?" We need to really look at some of the outstanding work that is there. We must absolutely be clear that this must not go off the national agenda. They are our greatest natural resource; we must keep this on the agenda.

  Q46  Ms Buck: I just wondered what evidence there was—I am not saying this sceptically—in the specialist schools programme and education action zones that successful schools mentoring others produced any differences in outcome. Was that done and monitored?

  Joy Blaker: In our local authority, we have champion schools that are cross-phase schools—primary and secondary—working together to develop practice in looking at the needs of a child from five to 19, and how we can develop excellent practice. Those schools, in combination with leading teachers, are having a really powerful effect upon other schools within the authority, and sharing that practice. To go back to Denise's point about master classes and opportunities for children, we have 400 children every week coming to master classes across the authority. In many cases, on a Saturday morning, parents queue up with their children to bring them to that kind of provision.

  Q47  Ms Buck: I was not challenging whether it worked; I was merely interested in whether it has been extensively trialled. It was very much part of the EAZ programme, but I was really interested to know what evidence there is of the difference it might have had on outcomes.

  Chairman: Everyone must be brief now, because we are winding up. We have the next session with the Minister.

  Richard Gould: Very sporadic. We ran a conference in the eastern region for high-performing specialist schools, which are now called lead schools. Even that change of name was symptomatic. There have been so many changes in the last six months. You go to a meeting one week and hear something that is actually very different from what happened the week before. But the quality of what those schools could offer, even though they had all had the same title bestowed on them, was very mixed—from excellent to, I shall use the phrase, useless. They had someone who was very low down the hierarchy within their school, who had sole responsibility for putting out the message for gifted and talented. They were one year off from being a newly qualified teacher and they had one hour a week to do the work. I worry about it being delegated to schools to do that job without having the lead from the national government setting it as an absolute priority. That point was made by heads in the Ofsted report, and I agree with it strongly. My final point is that that is why we continue to have a huge amount of underachievement among the most able students. Every report that comes out shows dramatic underachievement by a very large group of that cohort.

  Professor Eyre: My first point is that if we want to put the reliance on sharing best practice, as it were, we need to be clear that the schools we are drawing attention to really do have best practice. My second point is that the evidence shows that some can and some can't make a different to other schools. Being good yourself doesn't necessarily mean you can explain to or nurture others. We need a very clear methodology for how a school plays that role in relation to another.

  Q48  Mr Chaytor: The Young Gifted and Talented Learner Academy closes its doors on 12 February, and the website is already being wound down. Does anyone regret its passing? Has it served any useful purpose?

  Sue Mordecai: No.

  Chairman: No one else regret it? No. Thank you very much. It has been a very good session. It is always like this when there are five witnesses. It is all the Clerks' fault—I blame them entirely—but they were spoilt for choice because there was so much talent around and we wanted to have all of you. Please remain in contact with the Committee, because there are questions that we didn't ask you that you should have been asked, and there may be things you want to say to us after reflecting on this over the next few hours and days. Thank you again for your time.

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