The Search for Excellence

8 March, 2013


Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Schools, has ordered what he calls a ‘landmark’ report into how state schools teach the most able students. There will be a particular focus on how secondary schools make the required progress with able pupils and on continuity and progression.

In fact, many schools have independently reached the conclusion that they need to improve stretch and challenge for all pupils, including the very able, because doing this successfully is an integral part of moves towards an ongoing excellence culture.

In the past two or three years, many more schools have begun to move away from policies and approaches which produce sound and satisfactory results towards putting the emphasis on planning from the top and opening up expectations for all. This is a movement which can be exciting if well managed and embraces much more the thinking in Deborah Eyre’s report on the excellence culture, ‘Room at the Top’.

In practice, the search for excellence is much more of a road to creative possibilities, growth mindsets and reflective thinking than the reproducing of set systems for all. Planning from the top is critical and the notion of many different routes to excellence is potentially liberating. Once teachers start understanding the larger concepts involved in creating ‘more room at the top for more’, then a deeper questioning environment can develop in the staff room. It’s not so much ‘have you planned learning objectives?’ but ‘why have you planned learning objectives and how are the pupils engaged in achieving them?’ I have seen teachers completely turn round their classroom ethos by creating a series of high-level challenges and presenting them as fun and attainable. The process of engagement becomes as important as the answer in such classroom environments and the search for excellence is taking place naturally and regularly. Able pupils are also learning how to struggle and how to solve problems while opportunities are being set for new talents to ‘grow’.

This is where we are seeing a huge mindset change in terms of the place of gifted and talented education. School leaders are more and more interested in how excellence comes about, in the classroom and across the school, and there is no single answer. The urgent need is for an incorporation of G&T policies into Whole School Action Plans to stimulate excellence for all. It’s not possible to teach an outstanding lesson without including all pupils, and that means access for the very able is the starting point.

For many talented teachers and schools I work with, the move away from standard templates, teaching to the middle and an over-reliance on structured three or four part lessons is a move towards creativity and excellence; but everyone is on a learning journey. Once it is acknowledged that there are many routes to excellence, that schools can and should map their own journey, based on self-evaluation, and that ‘success’ is measured in the outcome but achieved through diverse means, schools need both courage and a love of learning to make the next steps on the journey.

For many schools now, the search is on to discover how to extend and enrich able learners as a way of developing effective approaches for all and include the kinds of ‘stretch and challenge’ which the Ofsted ‘landmark report’ will no doubt recommend.



Bob Cox has supported over 200 schools and Local Authorities to improve G&T provision. Bob has published international G&T resources as well as Local Authority G&T policies. He is also the managing director of Searching for Excellence.

To find out more about Bob and the courses he presents, see here

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