Let the talented pursue their dreams, no matter how geeky

29th June 2007 at 01:00
Joe Hallgarten is Learning Director at Creative Partnerships

In 1996, a journalist called Andrew Adonis wrote an article arguing that, if elected as Prime Minister, Tony Blair should become his own Education Secretary. Education was so important that, in his words, "sustained prime-ministerial attention is now so necessary".

With Gordon Brown finally in charge, it is tempting to suggest the opposite approach - is education too important not to be left alone? Tempting, but unrealistic. Independence for the Bank of Education is never going to happen, largely because the bank balance is so healthy. If you want the cash, you have to accept the scrutiny. The attention may feel intrusive at times, but the alternative is bleaker. Besides, nobody ever went into politics to tiller-touch.

So, what should Gordon do? More important, how should he do it? The former Chancellor has already talked about a new approach to politics, engaging partners in the making and delivery of policy - "I don't think you can solve problems without involving people." Even prime ministers need a pedagogy, especially one with a greater passion for ideas than his predecessor. But at the same time, a new leader may need a new narrative for education; a single, simple idea that can spark debate and motivate change. Personalisation has tried, but largely failed to do this. So here is another try.

Design education around one aim: to identify and nurture talent. This is talent in its broadest sense, unlike current guidelines, which state that you can only be "gifted" in the main curriculum subjects, and "talented" in art, music and PE, and where schools largely focus attention on the "usual suspects".

The dictionary says talent means "an aptitude or ability; a capacity for achievement or success". Why talent? It's the one resource our future economy will depend on - "the new oil", as one Middle East education minister claims. Not everyone can be equally talented, but young people should have an equal chance of finding their "element". All have a right to find and indulge in their obsessions, no matter how geeky, and some will need more support than others to draw out their latent talent.

This aim would not replace the standards agenda - literacy and numeracy are key foundations for talent. But it would ensure those standards became our servants rather than masters, and would reinforce the need to promote social and emotional learning and other key competencies, as well as add new emphasis to developing skills for creativity. Finding your talent can give you new motivation to succeed in those other key skills.

Schools would need to become connected in a way that few currently achieve - connected to the learning opportunities that the world outside them presents, from local businesses to national organisations to global resources. Schools should harness and celebrate the passions pupils engage in outside school. And their role would include the nurturing of collective and individual talents, including the potential of the communities they serve.

As talent generators, secondary schools would become even more proactive, seeking and saying "yes" to real learning opportunities that the wider world offers young people. Students could support the development of younger children's talents, already possible through the Young People's Arts Awards.

Primary pupils would need greater choice over the what, where and how of their learning, and access to a broader range of people to support that learning - all good preparation for the 14-19 diplomas.

The novelist Hanif Kureishi wrote that "ambition without imagination can be clumsy". The next Prime Minister needs the imagination to prioritise talent generation above all else, and the courage to inspire schools to do this.

We have had Every Child a Reader and Every Child Counts. How about Every Child a Dreamer?

* www.creative-partnerships.com

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