Public schools should look to state's gifted kids

30th October 2009 at 00:00
Expert believes that comprehensive teachers can enrich the work of independent colleagues

The capital's leading official for gifted and talented children has claimed that independent school teachers can learn from their state school counterparts because they are often among the most effective at catering for the brightest pupils.

Ian Warwick, director of London Gifted and Talented, said state teachers have been helping public school colleagues learn how to stop "spoon feeding", and how to help pupils become more independent minded.

The organisation brings together staff from fee-paying, selective and comprehensive secondaries to increase the number of children getting A and A* grades.

Mr Warwick said the partnership, which oversees gifted and talented activities in London, has found excellence in the curriculum of many of the state schools - for example new laboratories and primary-style lessons to help Year 7 and 8 pupils adapt to secondary life.

An example of their work is giving pupils the opportunity to interview Laurent Cantet, director of hit French film The Class - in French.

Mr Warwick said: "It's helped independent schools stop spoon-feeding; teachers there now give pupils bigger chunks of knowledge so they can develop their academic chewing muscles."

"There are very clear mutual benefits for all schools involved, and recognition of where each can improve and how teachers can use each other's expertise."

The key to the project's success is its focus on teachers being involved in the new curriculum activities, according to Mr Warwick. There are around 15 to 20 every term.

"It's been successful because of the way the schools have bonded together, and shared ideas and expertise. Our role has been to act as a broker, to get organisations involved," he said.

Richard Thompson, a languages teacher from Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, said he admired the risks state school teachers were willing to take with the curriculum.

"We are certainly learning from each other, and it's a chance to destroy any preconceptions or prejudices on both sides," he said.

"Successful independent schools like ours need to keep an eye on what's happening in the state sector to prevent stagnation, we are certainly not smug."

And other teachers involved agree. David Murphy, an MFL teacher at Lampton School, a maintained secondary in Hounslow, said: "We've learnt a lot from each other, it's a real partnership. It's clear the private schools are keen to move away from an assessment culture in terms of teaching too."

"We wanted to move away from the trivial and tedious content of some language courses and beef it up for pupils so they see it as a useful subject and take it at key stage 4 and 5."

As well as improving exam results, the project also aims to get more pupils to study declining subjects at A-level and degree level.

The schools are collaborating to run activities together in modern foreign languages, science and maths - subjects traditionally seen as independent school strongholds. Academics, film directors, scientists and linguists have been signed up to help.

Other examples include the project's work around science. Pupils have been taught to develop better thinking and independent learning skills. They have worked on academic research projects in university laboratories, and have been given an insight into the degree admissions process, helped by the National Science Learning Centre, Wellcome Library and the British Association of Young Scientists.

A rural version in Cumbria is now also running.


- The London Gifted and Talented project aims to tackle social disadvantage through offering "aspirational" lessons. The aim is to get pupils to become more academic, motivated and to progress on to further education.

- Children are mentored, and there is special support for those with English as an additional language. Teachers have access to career development programmes to help them make lessons more challenging.

- Teachers running the project are sharing ideas and resources on a website, which also allows them to see news, write blogs and post on discussion boards.

- There is also a University Aspirations Programme to help poorer gifted and talented pupils aspire and prepare for degree courses and get places at top universities.

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