A modern-day parable of the penpushers

14th December 2007 at 00:00
I hear the man behind the discredited literacy hour has been given a new brief. He's to chase all the secondary headteachers who refuse to acknowledge the term "gifted and talented". I'm sure many primary heads don't acknowledge them either. Me, for one. Consider these children from my school for a moment ...

Ruth was exceptionally good at maths, and her teacher (who also loved it) wanted to extend the time he could offer her on the subject. He discussed it with me, then formed a small group of able mathematicians. For an hour on Tuesdays I took his class for poetry, while he revelled in his Einsteins.

Alan took to the trumpet like a duck to water. His mother couldn't afford an instrument, so our visiting brass teacher, a professional musician, bought one second hand for pound;80, telling Alan's mother he'd spent pound;25, which she gladly paid. Alan played it night and day, formed his own band, and eventually played for a small orchestra.

Ryan wanted to join my guitar group. I wasn't keen because he is statemented and I didn't think he'd be able to cope. But my special needs teacher was convinced Ryan could do it, so she joined my beginners group, then taught Ryan some basics. He lapped them up and is now in the group.

You can probably guess where I'm going with all this. Spotting children who have a talent, and promoting it, is something teachers have been doing for years. It doesn't need yet another policy, or a GT co-ordinator. Even back when I was a struggling class teacher, I could work out that Christopher's woodworking talents needed to be nurtured because he was building a bathroom cabinet while the others were making teapot stands.

So what's changed?

Well, the addition of leaden bureaucracy, for a start. When the Department for Children, Schools and Families first got it's teeth into the GT concept, I received a large, glossy folder telling me how to address such children's needs. Page one was a recognition lesson. Had I any children with intra-personal intelligence or bodily kinaesthetic potential? (No, I haven't a clue, either.) Then 85 pages of edu-jargon, diagrams and demands, the first of which was, of course, to "write a comprehensive whole-school policy".

Later, I received a set - well, three sets actually - of beautifully produced booklets, with questions a school should ask itself, such as "Is there provision for staff to reach a common understanding of dual or multiple exceptionality?" Once you'd worked out what the questions actually meant, you realised it would need half a term to grapple with the content. Meanwhile there were children to be taught and GT is just one aspect of education.

Even the term "gifted" worries me. Mozart was gifted. So was Shakespeare. But there aren't too many of them. Talented is an appropriate word for children who are especially good at something, but labelling them in this way can raise their egos to a worrying level and harm their relationship with peers. I'd have hated it if my daughters had come home telling me they were gifted.

Instead of wasting money on glossy booklets, perhaps the National College for School Leadership could spend an hour with aspiring heads, discussing how to recognise the sort of children I've mentioned above.

Though come to think of it, they probably wouldn't even need an hour. Prospective heads with an ounce of common sense could do it anyway.

- mikejkent@aol.com

Mike Kent, Headteacher of Comber Grove Primary School, Camberwell, south London.

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