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

Memorandum submitted by Professor Deborah Eyre

  The current Government should be commended for creating the National Programme for Gifted and Talented.

  It is the first Government to give priority to this area of work and to recognise its importance in the creation of a high performing education system. During the duration of the programme to date many students have, without doubt, benefitted. However, in a general sense the policy aspirations have not been translated into a sustainable model for the future. The reasons for this are complex but the constant changes in delivery models over the 10 year period have led to policy incoherence and inconsistency.

  This is particularly damaging in the light of the clear steer from the 1999 Education and Employment Committee Report (Third Report, Highly Able Children) which indicated that the development that would make most difference would be a change in attitude among teachers, LEAs and perhaps even more importantly among the public and society at large. So a clear, simple and consistent policy was needed if hearts and minds were to be won. In this climate any sensible programme would also need a systematic communications plan aimed at drawing attention to the benefits of the new programme for students, families, schools and society at large if it was to secure greater acceptance and system-wide culture change. This did not occur.

  Not only was this period characterised by frequent changes in the major delivery platform but crucially, at no time was the policy delivered or co-ordinated through one single delivery platform. For example, during the NAGTY period (2002-07), NAGTY was in receipt of approximately 50% of the centrally held budget with the other 50% being deployed direct by DfES through a plethora of small, autonomous and sometimes conflicting initiatives. This created a very confusing landscape for schools.

  The constant change has led to weariness in schools with some schools increasing their activity and support in one phase of the programme only to retreat at a later stage when more changes occurred. (Gifted and talented pupils in schools, Ofsted 2009). It also led to frustration for parents and out-of-school providers with again ebb and flow in both interest and activity levels.

  Finally, when delivery models were changed the lessons learned and successes secured were not transferred and hence rather than a cumulative effect the result was a constant restarting of the programme with resultant superficiality in content and slowness in delivery.

  A revised model is essential but it must build on what has been learned, seek to rectify these problems and strive for sustainability.

Why is a sustainable approach to Gifted and Talented education important?

  The gifted and talented agenda is significant for a range of reasons which transcend the needs of the individual. It has system-wide implications and hence securing a robust and sustainable approach is important.

  1.  Economic competitiveness. It is widely accepted internationally that national workforces are suffering from a shortage of highly educated and highly skilled personnel. This "talent crunch" is forecast to increase with an ever increasing need for a high performing young people. (Manpower Inc, 2007). This appetite for high performing individuals requires the school system to raise its expectations, to nurture its most able students from a wider range of backgrounds in order to provide the volume of high achievers needed and hence to minimise talent wastage and maximise achievement in the system. For a country like England which is so dependent on intellectual capital as a form of wealth creation this is particularly pertinent. Competitors in the "Asian Tiger" countries and in the parts of the Middle East are already addressing this agenda and the UK risks being left behind. The G&T agenda is the mechanism for increasing the volume of high performers.

  2.  School improvement and performance. Research evidence suggests that where schools approach Gifted and Talented education by providing challenging curricula coupled with a structured approach to the provision of demanding opportunities, then overall standards in the school are likely to rise. Expectations of students generally are raised, not just those of the target group. Hence when well used the G&T agenda can provide a mechanism for driving up overall standards.

  3.  Social mobility. In the drive to improve social mobility education is vital. Research evidence around the financial and other benefits of a university education PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP(2005) indicate that gaining a university degree can lead to 23% more in earnings a lifetime than leaving school with 2 A levels. At the school level those most likely to achieve social mobility are those who perform highly in their educational setting. Hence where gifted and talented provision is effectively applied it can create a structural mechanism for increasing social mobility. For example, the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY) demonstrated that all students admitted into NAGTY were statistically likely to obtain places at leading universities, regardless of socio-economic background.

  4.  Individual fulfilment. For the individual, education matters. Whist the general public often believe that the most able students will achieve regardless of their education this idea is comprehensively refuted by the evidence. Without appropriate provision they under-achieve. All students, even those from the most advantaged backgrounds need an education that creates appropriately demanding opportunities, supports them at difficult times and helps them to develop learner behaviours such as resilience and persistence that are the building blocks for high levels of performance. Without a system-wide approach to nurturing giftedness and talent, system-wide underachievement occurs with this being most pronounced amongst minority populations.

Why has a sustainable approach not been achieved?

  Over the 10 year period the Government has attempted to structure its G&T programme in a variety of ways and tried many approaches.

  For the benefits outlined previously to be secured, not only is a strong G&T policy (maybe in preference to a programme) needed, but its delivery must be configured in such a way as to achieve the desired goals. Much was known from the experience of other countries about what works at the delivery level and also about potential difficulties. This knowledge was not appropriately factored into G&T policy planning. The overall approach adopted was old-fashioned and sometimes confused.

  Without doubt the constant changes in G&T policy emphasis and hence in delivery structures has impeded progress on this agenda. The reasons for these constant changes are not clear but two tensions in policy prioritisation seem to have contributed significantly to the constant changes in emphasis and hence delivery structures.

    1. Tensions around the merit of focusing the programme as a universal benefit for all relevant students or as a targeted intervention for the disadvantaged students.

    2. Tensions around the focus on in-school improvement and out-of-school enhancement.

  For a National Programme for Gifted and Talented to be truly effective it would need to operate simultaneously on all four quadrants. In this way it harnesses the benefits of integrated in-school and out-of-school provision (Eyre's English Model, 2009) and also provides a universal service whilst using incentives to actively manage take-up from disadvantaged groups. In the National Programme these elements have been construed as an either/or option with policy see-sawing between the two extremes.

  Hence, as general education policy has shifted in emphasis so the National Programme for Gifted and Talented has shifted in response. At periods when general education policy has focused on standards (White Papers: Excellence in Schools 1997 and Higher standards better schools for all 2005) the focus in the National Programme for Gifted and Talented tended towards universal services and towards an integrated model of in-school and out-of school provision—these being seen as the best routes to high performance for students. With a change in direction to focus on Narrowing the Gap (Children's plan 2007, Every Child Matters 2008 etc) the National Gifted and Talented Programme shifted its focus towards disadvantaged students, particularly those located in urban environments. In effect this moved the National Programme for Gifted and talented back to its Excellence in Cities roots and lowered its profile in suburban and rural schools.

  Throughout the 10 year period the National Programme for Gifted and Talented has suffered from a lack of priority (and sometimes interest) in the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Most policy interest in education during this period has been around the securing of floor level targets—A-C at GCSE, Level 4 at KS2, reduction of NEETs, Sure Start, etc. Hence the National Programme for G&T has sometimes appeared marginalised and those charged with driving forward this agenda at Local Authority and school levels have complained of lack of clear expectations from the Department and lack of penalties for non-compliance. In a period of strong accountability schools were not held systematically accountable for demonstrating their gifted and talented provision in school. Indeed some schools themselves complained of a lack of interest and knowledge amongst Ofsted inspection teams and School Improvement Partners. During the 2003-05 period this in balance began to be addressed with, for example, clear references to "support and challenge" in the White Paper, Higher Standards, Better Schools for All (2005) but this was not sustained in subsequent government documentation.

  Non-governmental public bodies have also failed to factor significantly the National Programme for Gifted and Talented into their on-going work during the period and hence have not contributed to system-wide changes in attitudes in schools. For example, TDA, in its annual NQT surveys did not ask about the preparedness of NQTs to provide high levels of classroom challenge for the gifted and talented nor did they highlight gifted and talented in their national CPD priorities. Work in BECTA and NCSL has been equally slight. Set in this context the findings from Ofsted (Gifted and talented pupils in schools, 2009) are unsurprising.

What is now known about in-school provision

  Over the last 10 years the National Programme has learnt much about school-based provision. It has confirmed the findings from the international literature and enabled a better understanding of how to achieve this optimal provision within the English education system.

  Findings from Ofsted suggest that, during this period, most schools have engaged with this agenda, at least at a superficial level, but often with insufficient understanding so leading to the implementation of generic approaches and structures which do not fit comfortably in their school. Academic research in this field in the UK is underdeveloped and there has been no examination of whether the instruments and structures being recommended by the Department and National Strategies are fit for purpose. So the reasons why most schools have failed to make the required progress is unclear but the impression is a combination of; lack of sympathy with the agenda, low priority in school, lack of expertise in teaching for high performance and inadequate leadership from Senior Leaders and governors.

  In reality, good school provision requires:

    1. A school-wide understanding of the nature of advanced academic performance and the routes to it.

    2. An understanding of the values, attitudes and attributes associated with outstanding performance.

    3. An understanding of the potential barriers to success for individuals and mitigations for them.

    4. Structures and culture that deliver the above. There is no single structural approach that will fit all schools or all students.

  A minority of schools do now have in place good provision with demanding curricula, tight monitoring of progress of individuals, an effective blend of in-class and additional opportunities and high expectations across the school. This good practice needs to be built upon using more robust mechanisms for recognising effective schools and more systematic incentives and methodologies for sharing practice. We also need national data showing system-wide progress and the proportion of schools reaching this status.

  During this period a major success has raised awareness amongst students and parents in schools. Some students have gained real empowerment and are able to critique their experiences. Ofsted (2009) signalled that it was the pupils rather than the teachers who indicated that the level of challenge was inconsistent across their lessons, and some had requested more challenging work. Students should be more actively engaged in their schooling as these are the most adept learners with the strongest sense of how to "co-construct" (Leadbeater, 2004) their learning. At the same time this inability of teachers to create high levels of challenge consistently in lessons should be noted as the single most important target for change. This is so important that it warrants recognition as a national CPD priority.

What is now known about out-of-school provision

  NAGTY proved conclusively that out-of-school informal learning has the potential to change lives and expectations.

    (A) In the 21st century technology has made informal learning readily accessible and increasingly impactful on student performance. For the most able students it provides a mechanism for empowering autonomous, self seekers after knowledge. High quality, non-school, academic learning, which uses web-technology to provide links to; experts, communication with like minded peers and on-line courses, etc can transform learning opportunities in areas that interest the individual student at any age—personalisation in action. Nrich (University of Cambridge) offers this opportunity in maths for even the youngest students. It can supplement and enhance school-based learning and motivate the pupil.

    (B) Intensive face-to-face with experts. These highly motivational opportunities can open the eyes of students to subject learning beyond the traditional school curriculum. Working with experts such as Chatham House or the Royal Shakespeare Company is the intellectual equivalent to football coaching at a premier club. New advanced skills are learned and expectations are raised. The student is better equipped for work in school and more motivated to do well. The longer the session the greater the impact with Summer Schools which are designed to study one subject for a week or two weeks offering the greatest impact (Ofsted 2004).

    (C) On-line chat and other contact with similarly academic students. For academically able students, especially in low achieving schools or from families with limited formal education, isolation can be a problem. The community effect of NAGTY proved immensely powerful in providing a support structure for these students enabling them to achieve highly and without emotional distress. NAGTY has been closed for two years but students still continue to support each other via NAGTY Forever, a site they created on Facebook so indicating its importance in their lives.

  In short out-of-school opportunities can transform individuals but only if they are (a) frequent, (b) of high quality and (c) linked back to school work. It must be a comprehensive rather than a piecemeal approach.

  In addition national identification schemes such as NAGTY entry can empower students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds but only if the identification process is seen as robust. School registers have not achieved a similar effect on student self-belief.

The new proposals for the National Programme for Gifted and Talented

  The new proposals appear to have three strands:

    1. Targeting gifted pupils from deprived backgrounds with a new £250 annual scholarship for up to four years, to help them develop their particular gift or talent from 2010.

    2. A new online catalogue of learning opportunities for G&T pupils provided at local authority, regional and national level where pupils can "shop" for opportunities that suit their particular gift.

    3. A new network of High Performing Specialist Schools that will focus on Gifted and Talented as part of their specialism, to work alongside local authorities in improving the quality of support for G&T learners across the country.

    (DCSF July 2009)

  These proposals do not constitute a comprehensive response to either the system requirements outlined in page 2 of this submission or the four components outlined on page 3. As in the 1997-2002 approach, the 2002-07 and the 2007-09 models; the new arrangements provide only a partial response rather than a thought through approach and again fail to build on what has been learned.

1.  Targeting gifted pupils from deprived backgrounds

  Here the policy emphasis is on the "targeted rescue" end of the continuum rather than the universal provision end. In line with the recommendations of the Final Report of the Panel for Fair Access to the Professions (2009) a main focus is now to be gifted pupils from deprived backgrounds. It is however unclear how a small grant to individuals will help achieve this social mobility given the twin problems of inadequate academic performance and low cultural capital. The National Programme has gained good understanding of what is needed to achieve large scale social mobility in the G&T cohort. This response does not seem to build significantly on these findings. It does not appear to be a co-ordinated response to this issue and is unlikely to gain success.

  For example, research evidence suggests that it is unlikely that appropriate students will be identified. Numerous studies in Europe, Asia and US (Frasier, M M, Garcia, J H, & Passow, A H (1995), Campbell, R J, Muijs, R D, Neelands, J G A, Robinson, W, Eyre, D, & Hewston, R, (2007), Patton, J M, Townsend, B L, (1997), McBee, M T, (2006), Phillipson, S N, and Tse, A K, (2007)) indicate under-representation of minority groups within selected cohorts. In the US Borland (2005) noting that in the National Educational Longitudinal Study of eighth graders (1991), children from affluent families were five times more likely to enter gifted programmes than their poorer peers.

  Also, we have learned much about the level and types of support needed to secure social mobility. It is high-touch and the student needs regular support over a sustained period. Hence it is unlikely to be secured via a cash payment approach (vouchers) as identified in this scheme. In addition success seems not only to be related to access to appropriate additional opportunities but also to changes in the individual's self-esteem and intellectual confidence. Hence a more structural response will be necessary if progress is to be made on this agenda.

2.  A new online catalogue of learning opportunities for G&T pupils provided at local authority, regional and national level where pupils can "shop" for opportunities that suit their particular gift

  The experience of the levels of success of the contrasting model of delivery characterised by NAGTY and YG&T demonstrate clearly that an unmanaged directory of events is unlikely to be effective, at least in the short term. Reasons for this are as follows:

    — Students do not find the concept of a directory attractive and need to see a reason to engage. Take-up of opportunities offered through YG&T was small whereas in NAGTY it was significant. This was because NAGTY had a social as well as an academic purpose and enabled students to join a club of like-minded individuals operating at a similar intellectual level and with similar interests. A directory is passive, it will not, in itself, create demand.

    — A directory does not guarantee quality, adherence to any particular pedagogy, continuity or progression. It is therefore unlikely to provide a life-changing experience or significant enhancement to school learning.

    — This approach does not offer an effective route for social mobility. £250 will buy very little access for the disadvantaged to these experiences, so this kind of provision is likely to join sport, art and music as essentially middle class and may serve to increase the social mobility gap.

    — Supply of opportunities is likely to vary across localities and across subjects as no one is charged with managing the market or stimulating supply. Rural communities are likely to be the main losers in this approach.

  3.  A new network of High Performing Specialist Schools that will focus on Gifted and Talented as part of their specialism to work alongside local authorities in improving the quality of support for G&T learners across the country

  Evidence given to the Committee suggested that the existing set of Specialist Schools already identified did not always demonstrate effective provision, so this scheme will need to be strengthened if it is to be useful. Schools need to be expected to compete more strongly for the status and meet more robust requirements.

  There is also some concern about positioning the main policy in schools. Consistent findings from HMI (1992) and Ofsted (2003) have shown lack of challenge in the classroom to be a on-going problem of longstanding. In addition, the literature base indicates that a dependency on the school as a key institution for delivery of gifted and talented provision may be problematic. Some (Bourdieu, in Lawrence, 1991 p 244) suggest that life chances are not so much promoted by school as restricted by them. Hence this approach may serve to perpetuate the status quo with even the most gifted individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds continuing to be unlikely to achieve high attainment.

  Overall, the new approach is passive. It has no advocates to drive forward improvements. No advocates operating on behalf of the students and parents (NAGTY), no national, regional or local change managers (Local Authority G&T staff or Regional bodies) and no mechanism for changing the attitudes and culture in society towards the value of investing in these children. Something more active and comprehensive is needed if transformational or even incremental, sustainable change is to be achieved.

  In summary, the Government should be commended for persisting in its quest to find a sustainable model for gifted and talented education but the new arrangements look to be inadequate and a lost opportunity. They continue to be piecemeal, un-ambitious and conflicting in their intentions. It is unlikely that any of the 4 main goals for gifted education will be achieved via this model and another generation of children will be destined for under-achievement. The Government would be well-advised to conduct a proper review of this area in order to clarify goals before putting into place a long-term approach. As part of this they should look towards the modern, system-wide, international schemes which are setting the pace in this field of educational work.

  The gifted and talented agenda is important for the country, for the school system, for social mobility and for individuals. It is not a special interest for a small minority of named students. We have learned much in the last 10 years of the G&T National Programme and now we need to capitalise on it, not ignore it.

  So often UK has followed the USA but it is important that we do not do so here. In 2002 the US government passed the, No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which focused primarily on ensuring minimum levels of competence for all. Although it included a specific reference to gifted students, none-the-less overall it led to a waning of interest in gifted education and an outcry from some quarters.

    "Even as our high-tech world and age of modernity demand critical thinking, creativity and deep analysis, federal education resources are focused on making every child at least average—with no thought to fanning the flames of those whose intellect burns the brightest." Stanton decries NCLB, which "snuffs out" our "best and brightest", as the institution that will end the United States' "reign as the most powerful nation". NCLB is the "Smartest Child Left Behind Act."

    Billie Stanton Tucson Citizen (26 November 2007)

  It would be very unfortunate if after so much investment in this field, we, like the USA became deflected from this particular improvement agenda and allowed the quest for equality to lead to mediocrity. It is no coincidence that many of the top performing education systems (McKinsey and Company, 2007) have a strong emphasis on nurturing giftedness and creativity as a part of their pursuit of advanced student performance.

February 2010

REFERENCESBourdieu, P, (1986b). Distinction. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Campbell, R J, Eyre, D, Muijs, R D, Neelands, J G A, and Robinson, W, (2004). The English Model of Gifted and Talented Education: policy, context and challenges. Occasional Paper, 1. Warwick: National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth.

DCSF (July 2009) Gifted and Talented receive more targeted support. Press Notice 2009/0142.

DCSF (2008) Every Child Matters. London: The Stationery Office.

DCSF (2007) The Children's Plan. London: The Stationery Office.

DfES (2005) Higher standards better schools for all. London: The Stationery Office.

DfES (2001) Schools achieving success. London: The Stationery Office.

DfES (1997) Excellence in Schools. London: The Stationery Office.

Eyre, D (2009) The "English Model" of Gifted Education. In Shavinina, L (Ed) The International Handbook on Giftedness. Amsterdam: Springer Science & Business Media.

Frasier, M M, Garcia, J H, & Passow, A H, (1995). A review of assessment issues in gifted education and their implications for identifying gifted minority students (No. RM95204). Storrs, CT: National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

HMI (1992) Education Observed: The Education of Very Able Children in Maintained Schools. London: HMSO.

Leadbeater, C (2004) Learning about personalisation: how can the learner be at the heart of the education system? London: DEMOS.

Machin, (2003). Higher education, family income and changes in intergenerational mobility, in Dickens, Gregg and Wadsworth (eds), (2003), The labour market under New Labour: The state of working Britain.

Manpower Inc, (2007). Confronting the Talent Crunch. Milwaukee: Manpower Inc.

McBee, M T, (2006). A Descriptive Analysis of Referral Sources for Gifted Identification Screening by Race and Socioeconomic Status. 17(2), 103-111.

McKinsey and Company (2007) How the world's best performing systems come out on top.

Milburn, A (2009) Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions. London: Cabinet Office.

Ofsted (2009) Gifted and Talented Pupils in Schools. Downloaded from Feb 2010

Ofsted (2003) Standards and Quality 2002-03, The Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, Ofsted, London: The Stationery Office.

Patton, J M, Townsend, B L, (1997). Creating inclusive environments for African American children and youth with gifts and talents. Roeper Review, 20(1), 13-17.

Phillipson, S N, and Tse, A K, (2007). Discovering patterns of achievement in Hong Kong students: An application of the Rasch measurement model. High Ability Studies 18(2), 173-190.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (2005) The economic benefits of higher education qualifications.

Stanton, B, Tucson Citizen (26 November 2007).

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 7 April 2010