Bright sparks need support to match
"CHALLENGING" IS how the Department for Education and Skills describes the role of leading teachers for gifted and talented (GT) education in the guidance it published earlier this year.
The job, it says, has two main aspects to it: to develop whole-school evaluation and improvement planning for the provision and outcomes for gifted and talented pupils; and to develop effective classroom practice for them.
Yet all too often the position is one of those tricky whole-school numbers filled by someone who is already too busy and lacks the leadership clout required to push changes through.
A survey of GT co-ordinators carried out in 2005 by the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth found that while some 30 per cent had one other additional responsibility, almost a quarter were burdened with more than five. Most were not members of their schools' senior management teams, and more than half were given no extra non-contact time in which to do the job.
Jessica Jones receives no additional time to carry out her responsibilities as the gifted and talented leading teacher at Alwoodley primary school in Leeds, but she does have half a day a week for her role as co-ordinator of their seven-school cluster under the Excellence in Cities (EiC) scheme.
She sees her role as being to ensure whole-school commitment to the gifted and talented provision, for which she enjoys the full backing of the senior leadership team. "We make gifted and talented a priority," she says.
She had five days' initial training which she has since passed on to her colleagues: "I trained the whole staff for a day's in-service, attended a governors' meeting and trained the teaching assistants," she says. "We also had a special parents' evening."
But training and keeping people informed about developments needs to be a continuous process: "You need to keep it bubbling under all the time," she says. "We are due another session with the staff at my school again. New staff come in - there's always more work to do."
The emphasis now, especially in primary schools, is on the overall improvement of day-to-day classroom experiences for the gifted and talented, rather than, for example, a once-termly afternoon spent in a secondary school's science labs.
Schools are currently nominating their leading teachers for gifted and talented - one each for secondaries and one per network of primary schools.
They will receive local authority-funded training in the autumn. In fact, Gorden Pope, co-ordinator for gifted and talented provision in the London borough of Lewisham, says "many authorities will provide training for GT teachers for all their primaries".
The training will consist of two half-day face-to-face sessions, with various e-modules to follow. Schools will be expected to stump up for the cost of cover, but it will be up to the leading teachers to disseminate what they have learnt across their schools.
"There needs to be a lot more done in the training of their colleagues,"
says Mr Pope. "Some schools are also training up their teaching assistants to be able to work with GT pupils."
But funding such training is not easy. Under the EiC programme, schools received a specific budget to spend on the gifted and talented. There is still some money there - in the minds of mandarins at the Department for Education and Skills at least - but contained in the overall allocation for "personalised learning", which is itself well buried within the standards budget, which in any case is not ring-fenced - and so not at all easy for a leading teacher to access.
Yes, "challenging" seems a fair enough description of the role.
Schools should... Appoint a leading teacher for the gifted and talented. The person should have strong links with the senior leadership team.
Agree their definition of "gifted and talented".
Maintain a register of gifted and talented pupils. The Department for Education and Skills suggests that it should be 10 per cent of pupils, but it is ultimately the school's decision.
Identify a link governor.
Communicate clearly with parents, carers and students and involve them all in the identification process and in deciding how to make the most appropriate provision.
Ensure that everyday classroom experience challenges gifted and talented pupils.
Provide andor broker opportunities for pupils out of school hours, on and beyond the school site.
Use a range of data to track and evaluate pupils' progress and to set appropriate targets.
National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth; see: www.nagty.ac.uk