I'd like to tell you about Christopher and Tashi. Tashi has just left my school. She had a real talent for the violin and was the best violinist we've had. We made special provision for her and she achieved a high standard. She could go on to play professionally. Christopher was gifted, too. He's probably about 30 now, but years ago, when he was in my class, he showed an aptitude for woodwork. I designed special projects for him and he finished Year 6 by making a beautiful bathroom cabinet.
It wasn't hard to make these special arrangements. I didn't write copious notes or have a co-ordinating team to check everything. Catering for the differing needs of children is part of a teacher's professional responsibility and, because I didn't have to write reams about it, all my energy went into ensuring it was actually done.
Not so today, it seems. I've just received a large, glossy folder telling me how I should address the needs of the gifted and talented. I groaned inwardly as I opened it, because I knew what was coming: a wad of paper that says much and means little. Page one tells me how to recognise a G and T. Have I any children with intrapersonal intelligence (no, I haven't a clue what it means either) or bodily-kinaesthetic potential? (Stop that bodily-kinaesthetic behaviour, boy, or you'll spend the morning with your nose on the wall.) Then I'm told that the diverse range of abilities should be nurtured. Fancy, I hadn't realised that.
Then I have toI yep, you've guessed itI write a policy. Nothing can be done in schools these days unless a policy has been written for it. My school has 43 written policies; they go down a treat with inspectors and advisers because it means they don't have to spend as much time with those funny little things called children. You name it, we've got a policy written for it. Dragonball-Z cards and bubble gum packets? In the bin with them. You know they're not allowed in school. It says so in our Dragonball-Z and bubble gum policy. I have to smile at the fortune being made by enterprising companies who provide a CD containing every policy you'd ever need. You just type your own school's name on them.
What's next? Ah yes, I'm told to have a named person for co-ordinating "all the issues relating to the education of G and Ts". No doubt the co-ordinator will need a working party and a steering committee. Lots of time out of class, too. You can't co-ordinate when you're teaching. Then a page of "school responsibilities" where those familiar words "monitor and evaluate" pop up repeatedly. And plenty of edujargon too; the school should "respond flexibly", "celebrate diversity" and "use a wide range of identification methods". The booklet doesn't tell you what these methods might be. And on it goes, for 85 pages. There are pictures, too. Urban's "Component Model of Creativity", and a drawing of "Reulli's Rings". I don't know what they are, but apparently they help define creativity.
One of my teachers was recently told that her son, at secondary school, had been deemed "gifted and talented". She wasn't told at what, but she'd hear more soon, because they'd formed an initial working party. She never heard from the school again. The co-ordinator was having trouble finding a date when the members of the working party were available. Makes me fancy a G and T myself.
Mike Kent is head of Comber Grove primary, London borough of Southwark.