“Ofsted will focus more closely in its inspections on the teaching and progress of the most able students, the curriculum available to them, and the information, advice and guidance provided to the most able students.” Ofsted ‘The most able students’ June 2013
I cannot remember any other time that the progress of our able learners has been national headline news! This is of course because Ofsted has published a ‘landmark’ report which suggests much more needs to be done to fulfil the potential of able learners. Though the report has a focus on non-selective state secondaries, the implications will undoubtedly be explored at all key stages.
Being new to the leadership of gifted and talented policies is going to be as challenging as ever and influential Ofsted reports can send a list of recommendations and expectations swimming in front of the eyes. Blind fury is possible since schools are working so hard on so many initiatives.
However, like all reports, maybe there are some key pointers which may prove useful if furthering progress with able learners is on your school improvement plan; and the frequent references to the need for improved leadership have enabled a key concept about GT policies to surface: making progress with able learners is not an initiative at all, but an ongoing central part of all schools’ teaching and learning action plans. The best GT leaders I have worked with have developed exciting provision through the school which in turn has stimulated identification and further action. The evaluation of systems like mixed ability teaching becomes part of tracking and monitoring of all pupils. Why would able learners not be included?
Advice I have often given GT leaders who are not on the senior leadership team is that they must work very closely with someone who is. It has been incredibly frustrating at times for keen teachers to find themselves working in a vacuum or finding GT policies have been put on the ‘back burner’. However, the best schools I work with have highlighted the search for excellence as a number one priority with the kind of ‘scholastic achievement’ mentioned in the report as an entitlement, since, at its most effective, gifted and talented education encourages social mobility which is critical for the individuals concerned and the flowering of talent across the country.
The debate over the validity of data which tracks progress from SATS will certainly continue and The Association of School and College Leaders has rightly questioned some of the findings in the report, especially noting the huge difference between a low level 5 and a high level 5 when setting targets. In addition, maths and English once again dominate the debate at the expense of other areas.
Overall, it is likely that the report will accelerate further the increasing emphasis on the part school leaders can play in forming more cohesive structures for leading learning. Anyone new to GT leadership will need more ideas on how to develop provision, how to manage and lead GT, and how to spread a bit of inspiration directly to the pupils! Growing new talents will be the most exciting part of the journey!
The first recommendation made in the report is, I think, the central one:
Maintained schools and academies should:
“Develop their culture and ethos so that the needs of able students are championed by school leaders.”