Building a Federation of UK G&T interests – Learning from New Zealand

The History

In Autumn 2009 I invited England’s Gifted and Talented Stakeholder Group to consider a short paper I had prepared about the potential benefits of closer collaboration between the interests they represented.

I argued that this would be necessary to ensure the survival of a national programme for G&T education given the:

  • imminent end of the contract with CfBT to run the Young Gifted and Talented (YG&T) programme;
  • limited transfer of responsibility from CfBT to the National Strategies;
  • limited scope of National Strategies activity in their final year, culminating in their termination in March 2011 and
  • impending cuts to public expenditure

The ensuing discussion was predictably disappointing. Many of the stakeholders had become accustomed to – perhaps even dependent on – a ‘top-down’ programme and couldn’t easily visualise the picture of the future that I was painting.

I suppose I had anticipated that it would be too soon for the Group to engage seriously with the issues, but it seemed to me important to plant the seeds of subsequent discussion.

Unknown to me, that discussion began very shortly afterwards during the last few months of 2009.

Recent developments

I first became aware that talks were under way when invited to get involved in April 2010, following my retirement.

I argued for rapid action to establish a national federation or network. This was slightly before a General Election that the Conservatives were expected to win.

Their policy agenda was built around a ‘big society’ concept which involves delegating responsibilities away from Government to the voluntary and third sectors. At least part of the purpose – if undeclared – was to help them to manage the swingeing public expenditure cuts that they were also committed to securing.

I produced a first draft plan for the network – designed to secure initial consensus about its aims and purposes.

I offered to undertake the related development and secretariat work necessary to secure its establishment on a firm footing…only to be asked to stop because some factions were reportedly suspicious of my proximity to the Government. This on the verge of an Election that was about to introduce an entirely new one!

It was cowardly of those factions not to discuss their concerns with me face to face.  But the situation was also intensely frustrating as I was convinced that having a network in place as soon as the new Government assumed power could pay major dividends.

It would have allowed us to ‘get in on the ground floor’ in terms of the new Government’s policy agenda for education and ‘the big society’ and to make vital policy connections with other interests while their plans were at the earliest stage of development. It might even have secured a fleeting reference in the forthcoming Schools White Paper.

In May I wrote an article for G&T Update (subscription required) setting out the case for an inclusive ‘G&T coalition’ and outlining some important links to the Coalition Government’s policy agenda.

I ended the article by urging that an entity must be in place by September at the latest, with an agreed 5-year strategy and an outline business plan. That timetable will not now be met and the potential benefits I identified are much less likely to be realised.

The draft proposal

The article was published in July. Meanwhile, an initial open meeting had taken place in June 2010 to discuss the prospects for a network. Progress felt painfully slow. There was lots of talking around the issue but the only practical outcomes have been a draft outline proposal and a commitment to meet again in September.

The draft proposal says:

‘There was broad agreement at the meeting that the establishment of a national group to enhance and promote the profile of GT education is imperative.

GT education is unlikely to be a Government priority in the foreseeable future and impending funding cuts will impact significantly on this policy area. It is only as a unified group of GT education supporters that we will be able to provide a degree of clarity to those seeking support and serve as a pressure group for change at local, national and international levels, by:

  • advocating for equitable educational opportunities for those with high learning potential, including GT students;
  • working pro-actively to raise the profile of the needs of GT learners with a range of stakeholders;
  • working collaboratively to develop policy and delivery models that take account of wider educational change, and helping to secure funding where appropriate;
  • developing a professional community to network, support and learn from each other;
  • encouraging the pursuit and sharing of best practice in GT education;
  • helping ensure that GT education can make a significant contribution to social mobility;
  • engaging in practical research that sets out to demonstrate the value of focusing on GT provision.

As far as possible, the group will undertake these activities without compromising the autonomy, influence and income-generating capacity of its members.’

The international dimension

I was responsible for the introduction of the word ‘international’, not least because such a network could have an important role in supporting Hungary’s plans for an EU initiative – a welcome development that I have covered in a previous post.

I also suggested the final sentence.

Incidentally, I should mention in passing that discussion at the meeting was confined largely to England. An important future consideration is whether we can and should create a UK-wide network taking full account of the interests of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Maybe Eire would also like to be affiliated.

We can learn much from giftEDnz a similar coalition of interests established in New Zealand.

GiftedEDnz is impressive in many ways. It successfully attracted start-up and development funding from the Todd Foundation ($NZ 15,900 and $NZ 47,130 respectively). It has an established constitution, a website and newsletter.

It is piloting special interest groups (using the second tranche of Todd Foundation funding). It has already hosted a mini-conferences and is working towards its first majorevent in 2011.

But the New Zealand organisation has one major weakness – it is not fully inclusive. By confining itself to professional interests and not including the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children (NZAGC) it is potentially missing a trick.

I am clear from discussion with the chair of giftEDnz that this is all perfectly amicable and that her organisation enjoys a close relationship with NZAGC.

But I can see no reason for the UK to follow the same path.

A professional network or an inclusive network?

As I write, the draft proposal is circulating with the following proposed title and strapline:

G&T – One Voice

the national professional community
for the support and nurture
of gifted and talented young people,
and their families and educators

One doesn’t need a Nobel Prize to spot the contradiction in this statement, emphasised as it is by italicising the word ‘professional’

I for one shall be arguing strongly against such an exclusive approach when we meet again in September.

One fundamental purpose of the network is to bring all parties to the table in an inclusive fashion. No-one’s interests are served by excluding parents, carers and learners from proceedings.

It means that key topics such as parental engagement and student voice will be addressed from a narrow professional perspective. It runs directly counter to the Government’s direction of travel in encouraging groups of parents to establish their own free schools.

Were I a betting man, I would lay a wager that this emphasis originates with…

…Well perhaps I won’t name them, for the time being at least. Discretion is the better part of valour – and I want to give them an opportunity to prove me wrong.

For now  I will confine myself to making three cautious observations of a general nature:

  • Firstly, there are players in UK  G&T education that have considerable pride in their professional credentials. In some cases there are widely divergent views as to whether such pride is justified by the quality of output and the capacity to improve provision. When some of the most positive statements emanate from the entity itself, that tends to indicate a degree of insecurity rather than full and complete confidence in one’s own performance;
  • Secondly, anyone bringing a ‘not invented here’ mentality to future discussions will sabotage our best efforts to secure a full and effective partnership between G&T interests in this country. That would not be in the best interests of our gifted and talented learners, even if some believe that it would better serve the needs of their educators;
  • Thirdly, by the same token, anyone susceptible to that mentality will need to be thoroughly confident of their capacity to ‘go it alone’, potentially in head-to-head competition with a coalition of all the other interests in the field. They may be wise to adopt a ‘wait and see’ stance, reserving their position until they can judge more accurately whether or not the network is likely to be successful.

Let’s wait and see what happens.

For the avoidance of doubt, these are my personal views and not those of any organisation with which I am associated.

GP

July 2010

A Smorgasbord of Support for Science-based Gifted Education


Here is my review of Korean-led Pan-Asian initiatives supporting science-based gifted education.

It concentrates on the cross-ASEAN ACGS programme and the cross-APEC AMGS programme.

Truly a rich smorgasbord of acronyms, but I’ve included explanatory hyperlinks for those of a learning disposition who are not based in that region!

South Korea is a veritable powerhouse in G&T education – and we shall no doubt look more closely at their national provision in a future post.


GP

July 2010

Gifted Education in Africa – Part 2

In Part One we examined a somewhat questionable initiative to support pan-African gifted education.

In Part Two we will review two more positive programmes, each of them driven from the UK.

IGGY in Africa

In 2007 the University of Warwick completed its 5-year contract with the English Government to run the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth.

The 2007 World Conference took place at Warwick University, which used it to announce the formation of IGGY – The International Gateway for Gifted Youth.

IGGY is essentially an international network for G&T 7-19 year-olds which combines a variety of online activities with international summer schools.

Membership is currently free, but summer schools cost £1,000 per student plus travel costs. A limited number of means-tested bursaries is offered .

IGGY is linked with the host University’s ‘Warwick in Africa‘ project, which is currently focused mainly on South Africa (through its relationship with the University of Witwatersrand) and Tanzania, though with plans to expand into Mozambique.

During 2009, IGGY enrolled 43 gifted South African pupils from partner township schools and three of these attended the IGGY summer school in Warwick in the summer of that year.

In August 2010 IGGY is running a summer school in Warwick and another in Botswana, the latter in partnership with the Botswana Ministry of Education and Botswana Accountancy College (which is providing the venue).

Since the full tuition cost is £1,000 and the air fare is around £900 return from London, it would be interesting to know more about the nationality and background of those attending.

Botswana press reports suggest there will be up to 90 participants, 50% of them from Botswana. My guess is that others are likely to be drawn from international and private schools in neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. We know that 10 South African township pupils will receive scholarships to attend.

Current plans for IGGY include strengthening membership in the South African townships, creating an ‘IGGY hub’ at Wits, and providing six IGGY scholarships for South African learners and two for Tanzanian learners (costing £2,500 per scholarship).

Warwick is coy about the size of IGGY’s membership – which suggests overall numbers are relatively small. Furthermore, I can find no published evaluation.

That said, this initiative is clearly delivering a significant and tangible benefit to African G&T youngsters, including a few from notably disadvantaged backgrounds.

Of course, this activity isn’t entirely philanthropic. Like many others, Warwick has a mission to establish itself as a global university, so strengthening its capacity to generate income, recruit the best staff and attract international students against strong competition.

But there are significant benefits in both directions, which generates strong interest in Africa as well as in more developed countries, as this Association of Commonwealth Universities website demonstrates.

The African Gifted Foundation

The African Gifted Foundation was established by Tom Ilube, Chief Executive Officer at Garlik, an online identity protection company.

He is of Nigerian origin, having been educated mainly at Edo College and the University of Benin, both in Benin City, capital of Edo State in Southern Nigeria. But he also spent time at school in Kampala, Uganda and at a state school in Teddington, England.

Ilube subsequently worked for several companies including the London Stock Exchange (1986-87), Price Waterhouse Coopers (1990-94) and Goldman Sachs (1994-96). In 1996 he founded a software company, Lost Wax (1996-2003), before moving to Egg (2003-05), after which he co-founded Garlik.

He is a Trustee and Governor of three academies in England, including Hammersmith Academy, due to open in 2011…And he has his own blog which throws a personal light on his activities.

Who else is involved?

The Foundation is a UK registered charity whose Patron is Dr Mamphela Ramphele from South Africa, a former Managing Director of the World Bank and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town.

Trustees include:

  • Frank Russell, Director of the Centre for African Development Research and Education (CADRE), which is engaged in capacity building, education and research projects;
  • Andrew Alli, the Nigerian President and CEO of the Africa Finance Corporation (AFC), an investment bank and development finance institution based in Lagos.
  • Paul Mugambi, President of the Uganda National Academy of Science and Vice Chancellor of Nkumba University, Entebbe, Uganda.

The Foundation is advised by Deborah Eyre, former director of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY) but no other relationship is acknowledged with Warwick University.

A range of partners is listed, with a declared emphasis on maths and computing, including:

  • Cass Business School, London, UK (where Ilube studied for a MBA)
  • the Department of Mathematics, University of Makerere, Uganda (Uganda’s largest and oldest university)
  • Mara Foundation – the non-profit foundation of the Mara Group, supporting education in sub-Saharan Africa

Aims

The Foundation’s mission is to identify and develop the potential of the estimated 20 million learners within the top 5% by ability across Africa. Its aims are to:

  • deliver high quality gifted educational opportunities to 1,000 gifted young people each year, in cooperation with leading African universities;
  • identify and establish a membership network across Africa of 10,000 gifted young people by 2015;
  • direct the continent’s and the world’s premier universities towards Africa’s top 5% gifted population and specifically to the members of the African Gifted Foundation; and
  • become a focus for African expertise and research in gifted education, and a catalyst for the widespread provision of gifted education across Africa.

Delivery model

Members will be selected on the basis of school recommendations, tests in maths and reasoning skills and a self-written personal statement. Boys and girls will be equally represented and the target age of students will be 14-18.

The Foundation says it will:

‘ensure that personal background and financial resources will not be a barrier to membership or attending the Academy sessions’

but does not go into further details.

The website claims an integrated model that blends effective education in the students’ own schools with online activities and residential study schools.

Unfortunately there is no information about how the first part of this equation will be secured . If only one side of the bridge is constructed, integration will fail and students will simply enjoy a ‘bolt-on’ experience. (NAGTY itself was not entirely successful in this respect.)

The residential experiences will last two weeks, be university-based, and combine inputs from academics and experts from industry, some of them from the UK.

The first will be in January 2011 at Makerere University in Uganda. There will be 30 participants drawn from Uganda, Nigeria and Botswana (which suggests an undeclared link with IGGY, or else they will be in direct competition).

Moderated online debates will build on the content of the residential events. Both will focus predominantly on maths and computing.

A second residential event – this time for 200 participants from 6 countries – is scheduled for January 2012, rapidly followed by four more of the same size, so achieving the target of 1,000 participants by the end of that year.

This level of provision will then be sustained, with events hosted by leading universities throughout Africa. The timetable for expansion is therefore highly ambitious.

Graduates of the programme will remain engaged as alumni, on a lifelong membership basis – and will presumably provide a valuable income stream.

Will the Foundation succeed?

This venture certainly seems more likely to be realised than the African Council initiative backed by the World Council.

Its success will depend on whether it overcomes three key challenges:

  • Can it reach into all parts of Africa, including the poorest countries – there is a big risk that its reach will be confined to those which are relatively stable and wealthy;
  • Can it successfully influence the quality of learning in the students’ own schools, or will it remain largely a ‘bolt-on’ experience with a significantly diminished impact; and
  • Can it ensure that disadvantaged students are proportionately represented, or will it inevitably become an educational prop for Africa’s middle classes which merely offers some token scholarships for poorer learners?

These obstacles may prove insurmountable – but hats off to Ilube and his Foundation for trying!

I wish them every success.

GP

July 2010

Gifted and Talented Education in Africa: Part 1

Our steering committee for the 2007 World Council Conference in England was committed to making it a genuinely global event, inviting speakers from every continent. (Would that the World Council made this a requirement for all their conferences!)

We enjoyed a keynote speech from Professor Loyiso Nongxa, Vice Chancellor of Witwatersrand University, which served to highlight the desperate poverty of disadvantaged gifted learners in South Africa.

My only direct experience in Africa was a week-long consultancy to the Government of Mauritius which, at the time, was keen to develop into a Knowledge Based Economy a la Hong Kong and Singapore.

Although Mauritius has its fair share of poverty, the South African situation is clearly dire in comparison. But then South Africa is itself a wealthy country by African standards….Poverty is always relative, even in Africa.

After Nongxa’s keynote, several of us discussed the idea of establishing an international charitable foundation, to support disadvantaged gifted learners in developing countries and to lobby for international aid from developed countries to include some help for those learners.

That may have come to nothing but, three years on, support for African gifted education has increased significantly.

In Part Two I want to explore some promising developments, but let us begin with a salutary tale.

The African Council for Gifted and Talented

The November 2009 World Council Newsletter contains a report from a Professor Humphrey Oborah of Kenya who attended the Vancouver Conference.

The report concerns the establishment of an African Council for Gifted and Talented, making clear that the International Office of the University of Winnipeg (where the World Council is based) has a stake in this development.

No doubt that is because significant advantages might accrue to the University from such a relationship, not least a regular flow of bright (and sometimes wealthy) African students. Winnipeg would not be atypical in establishing a footing in sub-Sarahan Africa, as we shall see in Part Two.

The report informs us that Professor Oborah has been elected President of the African Council. An interim Secretariat has been appointed including named individuals from DR Congo, Egypt, Mozambique, Senegal and Zambia.

The piece includes an impressive illustration of the future Headquarters Building to be built at the ‘Digital Advisory Learning Centre (DALC) Open University’ in Nairobi.

The article concludes:

‘The WCGTC affirms its commitment to support the growth and development of the African Council for Gifted and Talented (ACfGT, The Millennium Learning Targets), as an affiliate member of the WCGTC, into a loud voice for gifted and talented children in Africa.

To begin with, faculty members of the University of Winnipeg, who are also members of the WCGTC, are making plans to visit Nairobi, Kenya to make presentations at the first mini-conference in Africa, which will take place on March 26, 2010, in Nairobi.’

The Council website is impressive, but has not been updated since March 2010. It sets out an ambitious governance structure for the Council, to match the grandeur of the building, but is it a castle in the air?

The Council is said to have charitable status. The Nairobi-based Executive Secretariat will comprise a Council President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Deputy Treasurer, Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary. They will be supported by an Executive Administrator and staff.

Each member country is to have a national secretariat on the same model.

The Executive Council was to have met on 20 December 2009, but there is no record of its deliberations on the publicly accessible parts of the website.

Objectives are to:

  • advocate for Africa’s gifted and talented in consultation with the World Council
  • provide identification and management services
  • conduct testing and provide support through physical and electronic teaching methods
  • develop and implement guidelines for testing ability and potential
  • develop and promote G&T curricula and resources in various disciplines
  • collaborate with other institutions of learning and research within and outside Africa.

More about DALC and its satellites

The Council’s parent organisation is DALC (Digital Advisory and Learning Centre). DALC has its own website

Although DALC boasts much of the paraphernalia of a university – faculties, campuses, admissions and examinations – one part of the site concedes ‘DALC is looking forward to being a university soon’, which rather contradicts the ‘Open University’ tag in the earlier World Council newsletter.

A list of services are offered that underpin the Council’s objectives, but these are provided through another body with its own website – the Centre for Academic Referrals Testing and Management – CARETM

And DALC has another partner – the Africa Centre for Anthropometric Research, Education, Testing and Management (risking confusion between CARETM and ACARETM) and – yes you’ve guessed it – it too has a website!

ACARETM offers ‘3-D body scanning’ which has ‘unlimited possibilities including…brain intelligence and knowledge diametrics’.

DALC tells us that the Director of ACARETM, Dr Rose Otieno, runs international research seminars, but the details provided do not support this description.

The relationship with the World Council

The projected mini-conference with the World Council clearly took place. The Council’s website includes the prospectus, but no report on the event itself.

However, this newspaper article suggests that a Memorandum of Understanding between the African Council and the World Council was agreed at the event. It would be very interesting to know what that Memorandum commits each party to achieving!

It would be equally interesting to learn what preliminary research the University of Winnipeg and the World Council undertook into DALC and its satellites. Certainly one cannot get far through a Google search without encountering repeated allegations that the whole edifice is a scam.

These may or may not be reliable – some are certainly scurrilous – but there is more substantive evidence to suggest that, in its past, DALC has improperly claimed a relationship with Oxford and Cambridge Universities: a matter which came to a head in 2008 as this newspaper report testifies.

To be fair, DALC is now at some pains to point out the true state of affairs.

Professor Oborah’s career history and academic credentials are set out here. This website is linked to the organisation that awarded him his doctorate and professorship and of which he is a Vice-President.

I make no comment. Read the piece and draw your own conclusions.

Interestingly, a month before the mini-Conference, Professor Oborah announced that he was to step down as DALC’s ‘Head of Missions/Executive Director’. It is unclear whether he continues as President of the African Council.

Some questions

There are too many to list but, how about these as a ‘starter for ten':

  • Did Winnipeg University and the World Council undertake due diligence before entering such a relationship?
  • Have they secured proper safeguards and commitments to ensure that the World Council’s reputation is not damaged?
  • What progress has been made towards the establishment of the African Council and the building of its new offices?

You may have access to some of the answers. I hope so…

GP

July 2010

Short posts on various international organisations

I have added pages on:

It’s not easy for a non-member to find reliable information on the recent activities of any of these. If you have access to more detailed information, please add it in the comments below.

European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education

This page contains my assessment of the recent report on gifted education by the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education.

My post concludes that such snapshot surveys are of limited value and that we would be better served by a permanent online registry for European G&T education, forming part of an EU network, the latter existing in parallel to and funded commensurately with this existing Special Needs Agency.

European readers in particular may have views on this recommendation.

Do the users of the existing Agency secure good value for money from its services? Does it provide a model that we might usefully replicate or are there better ways to set up a G&T network through the Hungarian initiative?