Gifted Talented tsar damns Government over yet another overhaul

5th February 2010 at 00:00
MPs told of teachers' 'great uncertainty' about reforms for top-performing pupils that leave them at the mercy of pushy parents

Government plans to radically alter teaching for England's brightest children are at risk of failing because schools will not support the changes, the Government's Gifted Talented (GT) tsar has said this week.

John Stannard told a schools' select committee hearing at the House of Commons that education for the top-performing pupils has been ineffective for years and will continue to underperform because reforms about to come into force leave schools at the beck and call of "pushy" parents.

From this year teachers will have to run their own activities for GT children, without any additional money or support. This system replaces a national programme run centrally.

MPs on the committee echoed Mr Stannard's criticism, blaming the lack of direction, frequent major overhauls and the decision not to review the progress of children involved.

Mr Stannard, appointed in 2007 to be a "national champion" and independent voice on the issue, says there is a "great deal of uncertainty" in schools about the new policy, which he thinks "opens up a can of worms".

Department for Children, Schools and Families officials have admitted they are relying on "pressure from parents" to make the changes effective.

Giving evidence to a parliamentary select committee, Mr Stannard told MPs that schools had been given "very low" sums of money to help the cleverest pupils. This, combined with the ongoing ideological opposition from some teachers to singling them out, meant GT education is still a "low priority" in many parts of the country.

"There is a great deal of uncertainty from schools at going down this new route," he said. "It's opening up a can of worms. Teachers think they will be held to account by pushy parents, there's a lot of worries about that."

Mr Stannard told the committee the work of education charity CfBT, which has run the national GT programme for the past two years, "has not been terrifically effective" because they were asked to help too many pupils without enough funding. "It was never destined to be a raging success," he said.

But schools minister Diana Johnson told MPs the changes would give "better support" to teachers, while Jon Coles, director general of schools at the DCSF, said the new GT approach would work because of the new parent and pupil guarantees.

"There will be a bottom-up pressure on schools from parents," he said.

Select committee chairman Barry Sheerman suggested to her the Government's work on GT education had been "discoordinated" and "wishy washy" with no set targets.

In her evidence to the committee Deborah Eyre, who ran the National Academy for Gifted Talented Youth, said the Government's gifted and talented policy had been "incoherent and inconsistent".

"It's been a stop-go approach and we seem to have moved backwards as well as forward," said Professor Eyre.

"Taking away university involvement will be a step in the wrong direction. They've been creative role models, created a catalyst and social leadership."


The national Gifted Talented programme has been radically altered three times since its inception under New Labour in 1997.

From 1997 until 2002 government money was spent helping deprived children in cities.

From 2002 until 2007 the centrally organised National Academy for Gifted Talented Youth, developed by Warwick University, concentrated on the elite top 5 per cent nationwide.

From 2007 education charity CfBT ran the national scheme, based on the internet and through regional partnerships and for pupils of all ages. The contract finishes this year.

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