I became co-ordinator for the gifted and talented in my school - a boys'
comprehensive with a mixed sixth form - simply because, when the scheme was discussed in a 1999 senior management team meeting, I was the only person, other than the head, who had read the proposals.
I was concerned that we should not create some sort of privileged elite, but I decided to give it my best shot, and make sure our programme fitted in with our commitment to equal opportunities. We talked about identification processes and soon realised we had put the cart before the horse. We realised we had to talk about what we understood by intelligence, and look at how different intelligences may manifest themselves. It was at this point that I became committed and enthusiastic. I was fascinated to be learning and talking about intelligence and ability.
I soon had a clearer idea of what I wanted our programme and policy to look like. We decided to use as much baseline data as we could to discover students' attainment and potential ability. We used all the usuals - Sats, Cats, reading tests, profiles, primary records and teacher observation. We then interviewed many students to understand what their experience felt like to them, and what they believed should be in the curriculum. They were clear that they did not want to be given more of the same work just to keep them quiet while the others caught up, which, they said, had sometimes happened.
Although it was important to organise enriching extra-curricular experiences, we knew that the central focus of our work needed to be on what happened every day in the classroom. We made gifted and talented a standing item on departmental development plans and required all departments to create a Gamp;T policy in line with our school policy. Teachers then could see that provision was everyone's responsibility; it was not something "done" by me and my team (an assistant for each key stage) in isolation "over there" somewhere.
Extracurricular activities are paid for through all of our three funding sources - school, cluster and borough budgets. Borough activities include university summer schools for Year 11 students; this year, our boys have gone to local universities, residential courses in the south-east, and to specialist courses such as at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Other borough activities include masterclasses, a one-year GCSE course for Year 10 students in astronomy and a cross-phase field trip to Wales, which is based around geology but incorporates all sorts of problem-solving and team-building events.
At cluster level, we work with the other two schools in our sixth-form consortium and have had joint activities such as thinking skills days and challenge days. We are now buying whiteboard conferencing technology so students can work virtually together across the cluster, and our three librarians are preparing a special book event that will include author visits to the three sites, competitions and various activities.
School activities include work experience in City firms for Years 10 and 11, theatre, art, geography, history and science trips, extra classes, a supervised study area for Year 11 students, maths challenges, drama productions and advanced extension awards - the list grows each year.
We also make every effort to teach the students about failure and how to cope; successful academic students can allow themselves to be defeated by failure or the fear of it. We also believe our programme has helped us to break down the "anti-boffin" culture that can easily prevail in an inner-city boys' school. It is now cool to achieve academic success at Forest Hill. This is not just because of the gifted and talented programme - but it's certainly helped.
Diana Sparkes is assistant head and co-ordinator for gifted and talented pupils at Forest Hill school, south London