Gifted a talent for tautology

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Precocious Alex in my form wasn't quite sure whether he was officially "gifted" or "talented". So I checked it out with education HQ and told him straight. In his first lesson of the day (History), he would be "gifted".

An hour later, paintbrush in hand, he would switch to "talented" mode. In Science he would be "not quite gifted" as he had fallen just outside the top 5 per cent cut-off point.

In PE in the afternoon he would probably drop into the bottom 5 per cent - "talentless", as he put it himself. It has its success stories, I know, but the main obstacle facing the "gifted and talented" initiative is that the name is useless. Teachers, parents, pupils and Chambers dictionary all know that the two words mean the same thing and so we inevitably question the giftstalents of the people who dreamt the idea up. The designation just whiffs of committee compromise after a long afternoon of dilemma: "Well, let's call it gifted and talented."

Nor is it the only initiative to be hampered by a duff title. The Key Stage 3 Foundation Strategy, Assessment for Learning and the Tomlinson report are hardly the kind of titles to draw the punters into the educational process.

No one wants to hand the whole education package over to business, but maybe we could seek more help from the promotion folk.

Unless there is a relaunch under a new name, "gifted and talented" may prove to be the first mass movement in history to be destroyed by tautology. Contrast the muted response in many quarters to the "gifted and talented" initiative with the rapid acceptance of earlier double acts such as gin and tonic, rock and roll, strawberries and cream, Ant and Dec. All of these captured our imagination because the two ideas sounded distinct and yet worked together quite naturally.

Fortunately, the nation's "gifted and talented" youngsters appear to have seen through the artificial boundary drawn between them. Extremists on the "gifted" wing have apparently mixed quite happily with "talented" fundamentalists at special university summer schools. Police on standby have reported no serious trouble between the factions other than the occasional spat over interpretation of Ingmar Bergman films.

Undoubtedly the "gifted and talented" scheme has provided unprecedented opportunities for some youngsters. Many in education, however, cannot get much beyond the title and assume the whole idea to be differentiation under another, hopeless name. For too many it is not so much a case of reinventing the wheel as renaming it a "round and circular thing".

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