Select Committee on Education and Employment First Special Report


Third Report: Highly Able Children (HC 22-I)

Third Report: Highly Able Children (HC 22-I)
Published: 28 April 1999
Government Reply:  Fourth Special Report, Session

 1998-99 (HC 610)


Published: 29 June 1999

Recommendation

Government Response

Further Government Action

The Report acknowledges problems with identifying the highly able but opts for the top 20 per cent as regards all-round ability, plus those with ability in a particular area, totalling perhaps 30-40 per cent of the school population. (Includes 5 per cent very able and 1-2 per cent exceptionally able).

The Government's starting point for Excellence in Cities (EiC) is that all schools need to ensure that they are catering for their most able pupils, regardless of whether they form part of a specific national cohort. It recognises that this will mean a different range of ability in each school, but this approach ensures that every school will have to engage with the issue.

The Report draws attention to difficulties associated with a quantitative approach to identifying G&T children. EiC uses 5-10 per cent per secondary school as a broad indicator of the target group for the initiative. This is not a fixed quota and partnerships/schools will have some flexibility to respond to local needs. The percentage has no scientific basis, but we do need to define a fairly restricted target group to prevent the available funding being so widely diffused that it does not make a difference.


The gifted and talented strand of Excellence in Cities has now been in place for a year in 23 first phase partnerships. From September, it is being extended to a further 22 partnerships. A small scale primary pilot is also being introduced.

From September 2001, a further 11 partnerships will benefit, as well as a pilot group of smaller Excellence Clusters. The Excellence Challenge will also extend the gifted and talented strand to 16-19 institutions in first and second phase areas, as well as introducing a complementary strand for 13-19 year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds with the potential to enter HE.

A national programme of 500 summer schools for gifted and talented 10-14 year-olds ran this Summer.

A report on the range and quality of provision for gifted and talented children across England is due in November. We are planning the development of a 'toolkit' to support LEAs and schools who wish to improve their provision.


Much evidence to the Committee noted that provision for the highly able is not satisfactory in the majority of English schools.

The Government is clear that current standards of provision are unacceptable and is taking action to address that, through a national strategy with inner city secondary schools as the top priority. Many schools—perhaps most—could make significant improvements in this area, but recent inspection evidence is limited. We need a clearer picture of provision and its quality. EiC areas are engaged in local audits, to serve as a baseline for the plans they are developing. DfEE is planning a research survey to establish what is known about the range and quality of provision nationally. OFSTED will also be involved (see paragraphs 65-66 below).

Also clear that there is limited understanding of what constitutes good practice. The first, pilot year of the gifted and talented strand of EiC will add significantly to that understanding, and ensure that it is disseminated effectively within and between schools.


  

The common view that able children can get by on their own is not borne out by the evidence; there is also evidence of an association between good provision for the most able and for all children in a school.

The Government believes in academic excellence for all. Schools should be educating effectively all the children attending them: it is simply unacceptable to argue that the most able need relatively little or no assistance. Like all children, they need the right blend of challenge and support to fulfil their potential. (OFSTED suggest that the common view cited by the Committee is not nearly as widespread as it used to be.)

The evaluation of EiC will include an explicit focus on the gifted and talented strand of the initiative, and will provide an opportunity to test its impact on schools' overall attainment. We certainly expect the focus on better differentiation and the raising of teacher expectations to benefit the school as a whole. Some have argued that, as a result of focusing on the needs of a fairly clearly defined group of able pupils, others who are not part of that group will be demotivated and their performance will suffer. It is vital that schools do not allow that kind of climate to develop. Those outside the gifted and talented cohort within EiC schools are also benefiting significantly from other strands of the EiC initiative.


  

The main problems with current provision are:

Providing for the highly able is not seen as a priority by teachers and schools.


The Government strongly agrees. The clear commitment to a national strategy, with EiC as the primary focus, will have a major impact in this respect, bringing provision for gifted and talented children to centre stage. Secondary schools within EiC areas will each have a trained senior co-ordinator whose job will be to secure whole school commitment and lead the development and implementation of an effective whole school policy, with a distinct teaching and learning programme at its heart. The Government expects that schools nationally will respond by giving higher priority to this issue, and targeting Standards Fund School Improvement Grant towards improving the quality of their provision.

  

Teachers' expectations are too low.

The Government strongly agrees. Many teachers in many schools are not adequately meeting the needs of all their pupils, and it is those at the extremes of the ability range who tend to lose out. The 'world class tests', to be developed as part of the EiC initiative, will encourage teachers to pitch their expectations higher, as will the teaching and learning programme, tied to the achievement of realistic but challenging targets. Unless differentiation is of a very high standard, mixed ability teaching, can be a block on high expectations for the able. Each school's teaching and learning programme will need to utilise the blend of organisational strategies—setting, target grouping, acceleration etc—most suited to the needs of the pupils. Retaining an exclusively mixed ability approach will only be justifiable if able pupils' attainment is exceptional measured against comparable schools.

  

School ethos does not support highly able pupils.

The Government strongly agrees. The White Paper 'Excellence in Schools' acknowledged the vital importance of generating and sustaining a school ethos that values high ability and rewards high achievement. As the Report recognises, a negative attitude is often linked to the views of the local community, or to those of society as a whole. A key purpose of EiC is to challenge and refocus the negative attitudes that exist in some schools. This will be central to the whole school policies that school co-ordinators will be introducing. The local school networks will also play a part by engaging parents and the local community to a much greater extent in developing and supporting able pupils.

  

Teachers lack confidence because of inadequate coverage of this area in ITT and few dedicated INSET courses.

The Government agrees. The EiC strategy will provide a nationally-designed co-ordinator training programme, as well as in-service training for other teachers through local networks. The Department will also produce a range of guidance to help co-ordinators and class teachers develop their understanding of good practice throughout the EiC pilot year. Teacher confidence will be further enhanced by the existence of a strong whole-school policy and clearly identified sources of support, both within and beyond the school.

 

Inadequate resources/absence of earmarked resources.

The Government agrees. It is making what is almost certainly the biggest ever investment in improving the education of gifted and talented children. It has provisionally allocated some £45 million over the next three years to improve provision for pupils in EiC target areas, and a further £5.4 million to begin to put into place a national strategy for improving the education of gifted and talented children. We will want to look in due course at how to spread the lessons from the EiC programme into other areas.

We have made an additional investment in pilot schemes for masterclasses and summer schools and through the programme of independent/state school partnerships. There is already unhypothecated funding available through various Standards Fund Grants—for school improvement, specialist schools and study support—which schools nationally should be beginning to use to support activities for gifted and talented. From 2000, resources will also be available from the New Opportunities Fund to support summer schools for gifted and talented children.


 

Five general principles for improving provision for the highly able are identified:

· a change in attitude amongst teachers, LEAs and, most importantly, the public would make the most difference


See above


 

· the emphasis must be on improving provision in mainstream schools

That is the starting point for the Government's policies—and in all maintained schools (including special schools where appropriate) not just a small group of selective schools. Specialist schools have a clear role in providing for children with a marked aptitude. Of course the Government recognises that some exceptionally talented children in areas such as music and ballet can benefit from dedicated institutions, and that some exceptionally able children need a diversity of provision which may extend beyond their school.

 

· there is no single best way to meet all these children's needs

The Government acknowledges that gifted and talented children are a diverse and disparate group. One of the key messages to be disseminated through the national strategy and EiC is that provision needs to be developed from a thorough analysis of individuals' needs.

 

· highly able children must be allowed to enjoy their childhood

The Government is not interested in 'hot-housing' or pushing children to the limit. All children need the right blend of challenge and support, and gifted and talented children are no exception. Schools need to bear social and emotional maturity in mind, but it can be all too easy for them to use this as an excuse not to consider options such as acceleration or fast-tracking when their fundamental opposition may be on grounds of principle or administrative complexity.


· there is already good practice in a range of areas.

The Government agrees that there is some good practice, and it very much welcomes the Select Committee's contribution to identifying and disseminating it. We need to know more, and that is the purpose of the Department's research survey. The received wisdom is that good practice is currently not widespread. One important objective behind the EiC strategy, particularly in the pilot year, is to help build up the stock of good practice in some of the areas where it is relatively weak. The Government has improved significantly the capacity of the system to disseminate good practice, through initiatives such as the National Grid for Learning, the introduction of beacon schools and advanced skills teachers.

 

There is no statutory funding for the highly able (as with SEN). The Committee does not believe that a system of funding linked to individual pupils is the best way to meet their needs—children move in and out of the cohort and there would be administrative burdens. But we do need a more flexible way of funding to respond to the varying incidence of able children. Funding should be made available at school level. Schools should use part of their overall budget, but there should also be additional dedicated funding, possibly via the Standards Fund. Spending should be monitored and evaluated by the LEA and OFSTED.

The Government welcomes the Committee's conclusion that funding individual pupils is not the way forward. The Government has no plans to identify high ability as a statutory special educational need, or to set up a parallel system. There may just be a case for exploring that option with children of genuinely exceptional ability, who might receive their education through a range of different providers rather than solely at school. By and large, the Standards Fund is now devolved to school level. That includes the unhypothecated grants referred to above. Funding for the EiC initiative will go mainly to schools via a dedicated Standards Fund grant. Schools will be improving provision for the most able 5-10 per cent of pupils in each year group, so differences in the incidence of ability by year will not affect the distribution of funds (although schools might use the 5-10 per cent range to cater for this, with nearer 5 per cent identified in one year group and nearer 10 per cent in another.) All Standards Fund spending is monitored and evaluated, and we shall be carefully evaluating the EiC strategy to ascertain the impact on pupil attainment and other measures.

 

Welcome EiC, but the Government should do more to develop a national strategy. All national policies should include a specific section in the relevant documentation setting out how the initiative is relevant to the education of the highly able. This should also apply to the Department's national agencies.

The Government is committed to developing and implementing a national strategy spearheaded by the EiC initiative. An expert Advisory Group is in place, and helping officials examine all significant education policies to ensure they reflect gifted and talented pupils' needs. It has already looked at teacher development, submitting a response to the Teachers Green Paper response, and DfEE is considering its recommendations. The commitment to develop guidance and materials on primary literacy and numeracy mentioned in the EiC launch document stem from the Group's consideration of the literacy and numeracy strategies. Similarly, its views have informed QCA's decision to produce curriculum guidance for gifted and talented children.

 

There is evidence that OFSTED inspection has raised schools' awareness of the needs of the highly able. But the last full-scale survey was in 1992. The Committee recommends that OFSTED carry out another survey incorporating an audit of provision and a study of good practice. OFSTED could collect data via its programme of section 10 inspections. OFSTED should also undertake a fresh review its inspection evidence, similar to that undertaken in 1995 (and cited by DfEE in its evidence), drawing on a wider range of schools. OFSTED's inspection of LEAs should cover this area given the focus on it in EDPs.

The new inspection framework for Section 10 inspection and associated guidance, effective from 2000, will give more emphasis to meeting the needs of gifted and talented children. OFSTED is already re-running the data used for the internal report produced in 1997, and also using its database to identify schools that are particularly effective in this field. The research survey the Department is commissioning is intended to produce the kind of baseline information that the Committee would like to see collected. Officials are discussing with OFSTED what further activity they might undertake in support of the survey, such as the development of case study material exemplifying good practice, and will bear in mind the Committee's recommendations.

 

The Committee is cautious about adding further elements to the ITT curriculum but argue for higher priority in ITT to teaching and classroom organisation strategies for the highly able, eg training in effective differentiation and setting.

There is also a need to develop INSET in these areas for co-ordinators and classroom teachers. EiC co-ordinator training should be expanded to be available for all co-ordinators nationally who need it.


As noted above, the Advisory Group has submitted a response to the Teachers Green Paper recommending a co-ordinated approach in this field.

ITT is always problematic because of the 'quart into pint pot' issue. The standards for newly-qualified teachers include reference to working with able pupils. The Government looks to ITT providers to give these issues the attention they deserve. They have a significant role in equipping teachers to meet the needs of highly able pupils, and the Department will be considering with the TTA ways of involving them more directly in the EiC action programme. Many schools involved in EiC will have trainees attached to them. Many HE training providers will also link with EiC schools through the local networks, and work in partnership for the benefit of gifted and talented children.

For the first time from September 1999 newly-qualified teachers will be expected to pass a set of induction standards after their first full year (or equivalent if part time), if they are to be eligible to continue to work as a teacher in maintained schools or special schools. These induction standards include being able to plan "effectively to ensure that pupils have the opportunity to meet their potential, ¼ taking account of the needs of pupils who are ¼ very able ¼ making use of relevant information and specialist help where available".

TTA standards for serving teachers also identify this area as a clear focus for development. It is important for the Government to take a broad view of teacher development, rather than focusing only on courses. Teacher development is one purpose of the whole pilot year within the EiC strategy. In addition to a clear training input—the nationally designed training programme—there will be extensive guidance and support for co-ordinators and other school staff.

As with the rest of the EiC programme, extension of the co-ordinator training programme beyond the target areas will depend on the availability of funds. However, once the programme is available, there is no reason in principle why schools outside the target areas should not use their School Improvement Grant allocations to purchase identical training for their own co-ordinators.

Excellence in Schools confirmed the Government's intention that every LEA should develop and implement an effective policy for improving the education of gifted and talented children. The Department's guidance on preparing EDPs included a requirement to address the needs of gifted and talented children. Although there were some notable exceptions, few EDPs gave this issue the attention it deserves: that is one reason for the focus on these children within EiC.

While the Government believes that LEAs' role is largely as the Committee describes it—and to intervene in inverse proportion to success—it is nevertheless important that they are equipped to intervene directly, or to identify someone else to intervene, when called upon to do so. While it may not be necessary for every LEA to employ an adviser with responsibility in this area, they should all have ready access to such support, eg through consultancy, or by sharing resources with a neighbouring authority. LEAs do not need additional resources to undertake this activity.

The new role of LEAs is reinforced in the EiC strategy by the emphasis placed on local support networks involving clusters of schools and a range of other agencies. Those are not intended to replace LEAs entirely, but may be expected to take on a number of the functions formerly expected of LEAs. In this context, LEA's role is to support the networks and encourage them to learn from each other.


 

LEAs have a quality assurance role, monitoring the implementation of the EDP, checking that schools have policies in place, and only intervening when inspection or internal monitoring shows problems exist. But LEAs must also have a policy, and set out details of their intended provision in their EDP. LEAs must ensure that the needs of all highly able children are identified but should be flexible about solutions: they should know what provision is available and give advice and support to teachers and parents in accessing it. Every LEA should appoint a senior adviser responsible for monitoring schools' progress and liaising with other providers in the area.

Excellence in Schools confirmed the Government's intention that every LEA should develop and implement an effective policy for improving the education of gifted and talented children. The Department's guidance on preparing EDPs included a requirement to address the needs of gifted and talented children. Although there were some notable exceptions, few EDPs gave this issue the attention it deserves: that is one reason for the focus on these children within EiC.

While the Government believes that LEAs' role is largely as the Committee describes it—and to intervene in inverse proportion to success—it is nevertheless important that they are equipped to intervene directly, or to identify someone else to intervene, when called upon to do so. While it may not be necessary for every LEA to employ an adviser with responsibility in this area, they should all have ready access to such support, eg through consultancy, or by sharing resources with a neighbouring authority. LEAs do not need additional resources to undertake this activity.

The new role of LEAs is reinforced in the EiC strategy by the emphasis placed on local support networks involving clusters of schools and a range of other agencies. Those are not intended to replace LEAs entirely, but may be expected to take on a number of the functions formerly expected of LEAs. In this context, LEA's role is to support the networks and encourage them to learn from each other.


 


 
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