What Has Become of the European Talent Network? Part Two

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This is the second and concluding part of a post about progress by the European Talent Centre towards a European Talent Network.

EU flag CapturePart One:

  • Provided an updated description of the Hungarian model for talent support and its increasingly complex infrastructure.
  • Described the origins of the European Talent project and how its scope and objectives have changed since its inception and.
  • Outlined the project’s initial advocacy effort within the European Commission.

This second episode describes the evolution of the model for the European Network, continues the history of its advocacy effort and reviews the progress Flag_of_Hungarymade by the European Centre in Budapest towards achieving its aims.

It concludes with an overall assessment of progress that highlights some key fault lines and weaknesses that, if addressed, would significantly improve the chances of overall success.

Initial Efforts to Design the European Network

A Draft Talent Points Plan 

At the 2012 ECHA Conference in Munster, a draft ‘Talent Points Plan’ was circulated which set out proposed criteria for EU Talent Points.

The following entities qualify for inclusion on the EU Talent Map:

  • ‘an already existing at least 2 year-old network connected to talent support
  • organizations/institutions focusing mainly on talent support: research, development, identification (eg schools, university departments, talent centers, excellence centers etc)
  • policy makers on national or international level (ministries, local authorities)
  • NGOs
  • business corporation with talent management programs (talent identification, corporate responsibility programs, creative climates)
  • parent organizations of gifted and talented children.’

But only organisations count as EU Talent Points. Each:

  • ‘has a strategy/action plan connected to talent (identification, support, research, carrier planning, etc…)
  • is willing to share at least one best/good practice, research results, video
  • is willing to share information on talent support (programs, conferences, talent days)
  • is open to be visited by other network members
  • is open to cooperate
  • accepts English as a common language while communicating in the network
  • is willing to update the data of home page 2 times/year.’ [sic]

My feedback on this draft urged a more flexible, inclusive approach – similar to what had been proposed earlier – as well as an online consultation of stakeholders to find out what they wanted from the Centre and the wider network.

Curiously, the ‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ publication that was also distributed at the Conference took a somewhat different line, suggesting a more distributed network in which each country has its own Talent Support Centre:

‘The Talent Support Centres of the European countries could serve as regional hubs of this network building a contact structure going beyond their own country, while the core elements of our unique network could be the so-called European Talent Points… European Talent Centres are proposed to be registered by the Committee of the European Council of High Ability… A European Talent Centre should be an organization or a distinct part of a larger organization established for this purpose.

This is a pronounced shift from the ‘networked hubs’ proposed previously.

The publication goes on to set out ‘proposed requirements for a European Talent Centre’. Each:

  • ‘has an expertise of at least one year to coordinate the talent support activity of minimum 10 thousand persons 
  • has minimum two full-time employees who are dedicated to the tasks listed below 
  • is able to provide high quality information on theoretical and practical issues of gifted education and talent support
  • is able to keep records on the talent support activity of its region including the registration, help and coordination of European Talent Points and making this information available on the web (in the form of a Talent Support Map of the region)
  • is willing to cooperate with other European Talent Centres and with ECHA
  • is willing and able to coordinate joint actions, international events, Talent Days and other meetings in the field of talent support
  • is open to be visited by representatives, experts, talented young people of other European Talent Centres
  • is able to help and influence decisions on regional, national and/or European policies concerning the gifted and talented.’

The document also offers an alternative version of the criteria for European Talent Points.

Whereas the draft I began with specified that only organisations could be placed on the EU Talent Map, this version offers a more liberal interpretation, saying that Talent Points may be:

  • ‘organizations/institutions focusing mainly on talent support: research, development, identification (e. g: schools, university departments, talent centres, excellence centres, NGOs, etc.)
  • talent-related policy makers on national or international level [sic] (ministries, local authorities)
  • business corporation with talent management programs (talent identification, corporate responsibility programs, creative climate)
  • organizations of gifted and talented people
  • organizations of parents of gifted and talented children, or
  • umbrella organization (network) of organizations of the above types’

Talent points are to be registered (not accredited) by the appropriate European talent centres, but it appears that the centres would not enjoy discretion in such matters because there is a second set of proposed requirements:

  • ‘Has a strategy/action plan connected to talent (identification, support, research, career planning, etc.)
  • Is able and willing to share information on its talent support practices and other talent-related matters with other European Talent Points (programs, conferences, Talent Days) including sending the necessary data to a European Talent Centre and sharing at least one best practice/research result on the web
  • Is open to cooperate with other European Talent Points including the hosting of visiting representatives, talented young people from other European Talent Points.’

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Problems with the Talent Points Plan

‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ stipulates – for no apparent reason – that a European Talent Centre has to be an organisation or part of an organisation established specifically for this purpose. It cannot be subsumed seamlessly into the existing responsibilities of an organisation.

There is no reference to funding to cover the cost of this activity, so that is presumably to be provided, or at least secured, by the organisation in question.

The criteria for European centres seem to be seeking to clone the Budapest Centre. To locate one in every European country – so roughly 50 countries – would be a tall order indeed, requiring a minimum of 100FTE employees.

The impact on the role and responsibilities of the Budapest Centre is not discussed. What would it do in this brave new world, other than to cover Hungary’s contribution to the network?

The only justification for ECHA’s involvement is presumably the reference earlier in ‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’:

‘Stemming from its traditions – and especially due to its consultative status as a non-governmental organization (NGO) at the Council of Europe –ECHA has to stand in the forefront in building a European Talent Support Network; a network of all people involved in talent support.’

ECHA News carries a report of the minutes of an ECHA committee meeting held in April 2013:

‘It was suggested that ECHA should be an accrediting organization for European Talent Centres and Talent Points. In the following discussion it was concluded that (1) it might be possible to establish a special accrediting committee; (2) Talent Centres would decide where Talent Points can be; (3) the proposal for European Talent Centres and European Talent Points criteria would be sent to additional key ECHA members (including National Correspondents) as discussion material. Criteria will be decided later.’

So ECHA would have control of the decision which entities could become European Talent Centres. This is despite the fact that ECHA is an entirely separate membership organisation with no formal responsibility for the EU Talent initiative.

This is not a sensible arrangement.

There is no explanation of why the network itself could not accredit its own members.

Turning back to the proposed requirements for European talent centres, these must be minimum requirements since there would otherwise be no need for an accreditation committee to take decisions.

Presumably the committee might impose its own additional criteria, to distinguish, for example, between two competing proposals for the same region.

The requirement for a year’s experience in relation to ‘co-ordinating’ talent support activity for at least 10,000 people is not explained. What exactly does it mean?

It might have been better to avoid quantitative criteria altogether. Certainly it is questionable whether even the present centre in Budapest meets this description.

And why the attempt to control inputs – the reference to at least two full-time staff – rather than outcomes? Surely the employment of sufficient staff is a matter that should be left to the centre’s discretion entirely.

The broad idea of a distributed network rather than a Budapest-centred network is clearly right, but the reasoning that puts ECHA in a controlling position with regard to the network is out of kilter with that notion, while the criteria themselves are inflexible and unworkable, especially since there is no budget attached to them.

When it comes to the talent points there are clear conflicts between the two versions. The first set of criteria outlined above is the more onerous. They propose an exclusive – rather than illustrative – list of those that can be included on the EU Talent Map.

Additionally they add that existing networks can feature on the map, but only if they are at least two years old! And they stipulate an additional English language requirement and biannual updating of their website homepage.

Only an entity with some serious difficulties could manage to share two sets of different draft criteria – each with its own profound problems – at precisely the same time!

Hungary budapest by night

Budapest by Night

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The EU Advocacy Effort Continues

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What Became of the Written Declaration?

Written Declarations are designed to stimulate debate. Once submitted by MEPs they are printed in all official EU languages and entered into a register. There is then a three month window in which other MEPs may sign them.

Those attracting signatures from a majority of MEPs are announced by the President in a plenary session of the European Parliament and forwarded for consideration to the bodies named in the text.

Those that do not attract sufficient signatures officially lapse.

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The archive of written declarations shows that – despite the revisions outlined above and the best efforts of all those lobbying (including me) – WD 0034/2012 lapsed on 20 February 2013 having attracted 178 signatures. Since there are some 750 MEPs, that represents less than 25% of the total.

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A Parliamentary Hearing

As part of this ultimately unsuccessful lobbying effort, the Hungarian MEP who – along with three colleagues – submitted the Written Declaration also hosted a Parliamentary Hearing on the support of talents in the European Union.

The programme lists the speakers as:

  • Anneli Pauli, a Finn, formerly a Deputy Director General of the European Commission’s Research and Innovation Directorate.
  • Laszlo Andor, a Hungarian and EU Commissioner for employment, social affaris and inclusion. (Any contribution he made to the event is not included in the record, so he may or may not have been there.)
  • Peter Csermely. The current ECHA President and the man behind the EU Talent Centre.

There was no-one from the Commission’s Education Directorate involved.

The record of proceedings makes interesting reading, highlighting the Written Declaration, the economic value of talent development to the EU, the contribution it can make to research and innovation, the scope to support the inclusion of immigrants and minorities and the case for developing the European network.

Pauli is reported as saying that:

‘Talents are the heart of the future EU’s research area, thus they will work hard on it that the Horizon 2020 will offer enough support to them.’ [sic]

Horizon 2020 is the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. There is no explicit home for talent support within the framework of the Horizon 2020 programme, so it remains to be seen how this will materialise in practice.

She also says:

‘…that school education on talents and the creative education in school sciences should be strengthened’ [sic]

This presumably carried rather less authority considering her role – and considering that, as we have seen, the Declaration was framed exclusively in terms of ‘non-formal learning’.

There is little explicit reference to the specifics of the European Talent project other than that:

‘…EU-wide talent-support units are needed, Europren [sic] Talent Points Network, a European Talent Day could be organised, or even a Year of Excellence and Talents could be implemented in the future too.’

We are not told how well attended the hearing was, nor do we have any information about its influence.

Only 13 more MEPs signed the WD between the Hearing and the deadline, and that was that.

An EU Thematic Working Group on Talent Support?

The 2013 publication ‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ puts the best possible spin on the Written Declaration and the associated Hearing.

It then continues:

‘Confirming the importance of WD 34/2012, an EU Thematic Working Group on supporting talent and creativity was initiated by Prof. Péter Csermely. As a starting activity, the EU Thematic Working Group will work out the detailed agenda of discussions and possible EU member state co-operation in the area of talent support. This agenda may include items like:

  • Mutual information on measures to promote curricular and extra-curricular forms of talent support, including training for educational professionals to recognise and help talent;
  • Consideration of the development of an EU member state talent support network bringing together talent support communities, Talent Points and European Talent Centres in order to facilitate co-operation and the development and dissemination of the best talent support practices in Europe;
  • Consideration of celebration of the European Day of Talented;
  • Suggestions to the Commission to include talent support as a priority in future European strategies, such as the strategies guiding the European Research Area and the European Social Fund.’

The proposed status of this group is not discussed, so it is unclear whether it will be an expert group under the aegis of the Commission, or an independent group established with funding from Erasmus Plus or another EU programme.

If it is the latter, we will have to wait some time for it to be established; if it is the former, it does not yet feature in the Commission’s Register.

In either case, we are some nine months on from the publication of the document that brought us this news and there is still no indication of whether this group exists, when it will start work or who its membership is/will be.

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A European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) Opinion

At about the same time as a draft Written Declaration was circulated in January 2012, the Bureau of the EU’s European Economic and Social Committee was recommending that the Committee proper should undertake a fresh programme of ‘own initiative opinions’ (so the weakest category of NLA).

These included:

‘Unleashing the potential of young people with high intellectual abilities in the European Union’

Although the development process was undertaken during 2012, the final opinion was not published until January 2013.

The EESC describes itself thus:

‘The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) is a consultative body that gives representatives of Europe’s socio-occupational interest groups and others, a formal platform to express their points of views on EU issues. Its opinions are forwarded to the Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament.’

Its 353 members are nominated by member governments and belong to an employers’ group, a workers’ group or a ‘various interests’ group. There are six sections, one of which is ‘Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship’ (SOC).

EESC opinions are prepared by study groups which typically comprise 12 members including a rapporteur. Study groups may make use of up to four experts.

I cannot trace a relationship between the EESC’s opinion and the European Talent initiative.

The latter’s coverage does not mention any involvement and there is no information on the EU side about who prompted the process.

The focus of the opinion – high intellectual ability – is markedly out of kilter with the broader talent focus of the Talent Network, so it is highly likely that this activity originated elsewhere.

If that is the case then we can reasonably conclude that the European Talent initiative has not fulfilled its original commitment to an NLA.

Diligent online researchers can trace the development of this Opinion from its earliest stages through to eventual publication. There is a database of the key documents and also a list of the EESC members engaged in the process.

As far as I can establish the group relied on a single expert – one Jose Carlos Gibaja Velazquez, who is described as Subdirección General de Centros de Educación Infantil, Primaria y Especial Comunidad de Madrid’.

The link between JCBV and the EESC is explained here (translation into English here). I can find no link between Senor Gibaja and the EU Talent Network.

EESC members of the study group were:

  • Beatrice Quin France)
  • Teresa Tsizbierek (Pol)

An Early Draft of the Opinion

The earliest version of the Opinion is included an information memo dated 7 January. This also cites the significance of the Europe 2020 Strategy:

‘One of the top priorities of the Europe 2020 Strategy is to promote smart growth, so that knowledge and innovation become the two key drivers of the European economy. In order to reach this goal, it is essential that the European Union take advantage of the potential of the available human capital, particularly of young people with high intellectual capacities, who make up around 3% of the population.’

But it is clearly coming from a different perspective to the EU Talent Centre, which isn’t mentioned.

The ‘gist of the opinion’ at this early stage is as follows:

‘The EESC recommends that the European Commission and the Member States support further studies and research that would tap the potential of gifted children and young people in a wide variety of fields, aiming to facilitate employment and employability within the framework of the EU and, in a context of economic crisis, enhance specialist knowledge and prevent brain drain;

  • The Committee recommends that, in the future, greater consideration be given to each Member State’s existing models for and experience in working with highly gifted children, particularly those which benefit all of society, facilitate cohesion, reduce school failure and encourage better education in accordance with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy;
  • The Committee proposes improving educational care for children and young people with high abilities, in terms of the following aspects:

-          initial and ongoing training of teaching staff regarding the typical characteristics of highly able students, as well as the detection and educational care they need;

-          pooling of procedures for the early detection of high intellectual abilities among students in general and in particular among those from disadvantaged social backgrounds;

-          designing and implementing educational measures aimed at students with high intellectual abilities;

-          incorporating into teacher training the values of humanism, the reality of multiculturalism, the educational use of ICT and, lastly, the encouragement of creativity, innovation and initiative.’

Mount Bel Stone courtesy of Horvabe

Mount Bel Stone courtesy of Horvabe

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What the Opinion Eventually Recommended

The final version of the Opinion was discussed by the EESC at its meeting on 16 January 2013 and was adopted ‘by 131 votes in favour, none against, with 13 abstentions’.

The analysis contained in the Opinion is by no means uncontentious and a close analysis would generate a long list of reservations. But this would be oblique to the issue under discussion.

The recommendations are as follows (my emboldening):

‘The European Economic and Social Committee is aware that the issue of children and young people with high intellectual abilities has been fairly well researched, as a result of the studies conducted over the last decades and the extensive corpus of specialist scientific literature. However, given the importance of this topic, the EESC recommends that the European Commission and the Member States support further studies and research and adopt suitable measures to cater for diversity among all types of people. These should include programmes that would tap the potential of gifted children and young people in a wide variety of fields. The aims of this action would include facilitating employment and employability within the framework of the EU and, in a context of economic crisis, enhancing specialist knowledge and preventing brain drain to other parts of the world.

The Committee proposes nurturing the development and potential of children and young people with high abilities throughout the various stages and forms of their education, avoiding premature specialisation and encouraging schools to cater for diversity, and exploiting the possibilities of cooperative and non-formal learning.

The Committee recommends fostering education and lifelong learning, bearing in mind that each individual’s intellectual potential is not static but evolves differently throughout the various stages of his or her life.

The Committee recommends that, in the future, greater consideration be given to each Member State’s existing models for and experience in working with highly gifted children, particularly those which benefit all of society, facilitate cohesion, reduce school failure and encourage better education in accordance with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy.

The Committee highlights the need to detect, in the workplace, those workers (particularly young workers) who are able and willing to develop their intellectual capabilities and contribute to innovation, and to give them the opportunity to further their education in the field that best matches their ambitions and centres of interest.

The Committee proposes improving educational care for children and young people with high abilities, in terms of the following aspects:

  • initial and ongoing training of teaching staff regarding the typical characteristics of highly able students, as well as the detection and educational care they need;
  • pooling of procedures for the early detection of high intellectual abilities among students in general and in particular among those from disadvantaged social backgrounds;
  • designing and implementing educational measures aimed at students with high intellectual abilities. These measures should include actions inside and outside ordinary educational establishments;
  • incorporating into teacher training the values of humanism, the reality of multiculturalism, the educational use of ICT and, lastly, the encouragement of creativity, innovation and initiative.

Improving the care provided for highly able students should include their emotional education (which is particularly important during adolescence), the acquisition of social skills with a view to facilitating integration and inclusion in society, integration into the labour market, and fostering their teamwork skills.

Schemes and procedures for student exchanges and visits abroad should be tapped into so that gifted students can take part in them, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Opportunities for exchanging information and good practices on detecting and caring for gifted students should be harnessed across the EU Member States.

Entrepreneurship should be fostered among children and young people with high abilities, with a view to encouraging responsibility and solidarity towards society overall.

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More than One Opinion?

I have devoted significant attention to this apparently unrelated initiative because it shows that the EU lobbying effort in this field is poorly co-ordinated and pursuing substantively different objectives.

The EU Talent project failed to secure the NLA it was pursuing, but someone else has exploited the same route to influence – and for substantially different purposes.

What is worse, the EU Talent lobby seems to have failed entirely to secure any cross-reference to their efforts, despite there being two Hungarians on the study group. Did they try and fail or didn’t they try at all?

Perhaps fortunately, the Opinion seems to have been as influential as the Written Declaration. One wonders whether the enormous energy and time invested in each of these processes was ultimately worthwhile.

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What progress has been made by the European Talent Project?

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The Mission Has Changed

The website version of the Centre’s mission is subtly different from the original version discussed earlier in this post

The Centre now seeks:

  • ‘to provide talent support an emphasis commensurate with its importance in every European country [same]
  • to provide talented youngsters access to the most adequate forms of education in every Member State [same]
  • to make Europe attractive for the talented youth [same]
  • to create talent-friendly societies in every European country [same]
  • to accelerate the sharing of information on the topic [new]
  • to create a higher number of more efficient forms of talent support for the talented’ [new]
  • to make it easier for social actors interested in talent support to find each other through the European talent support network.’ [new]

The reference to voluntary experts has gone, to be replaced by a call for:

‘…partners – professionals, talents and talent supporters – willing to think and work together.’

Towards a European Talent Support Network’ offers a different version again.

The mission and role of the Centre have changed very slightly, to reflect the new orthodoxy of multiple European talent centres, describing the Budapest body as ‘the first European Talent Centre’.

Four long-term goals are outlined:

  • to give talent support a priority role in the transformation of the sector of education;
  • To reduce talent loss to the minimum in Europe,
  • To accelerate the sharing of information on the topic by integrating talent support initiatives of the Member States of the EU into a network
  • To make it easier for social actors interested in talent support to find each other through the European talent support network.’

It adds some additional short term objectives for good measure:

  • ‘As a hub of a European network, try to trigger mechanisms which bring organizations and individuals together to facilitate collaboration, share best practices and resources
  • Draw the Talent Support Map of Europe
  • Organize conferences for professionals in the region
  • Do research on the field of talent support
  • Collect and share best practices.’

We have now encountered three different versions of a mission statement for an entity that is less than two years old.

It is not clear whether this represents an evolutionary process within the organisation – which might be more understandable if it were better documented – or a certain slipperiness and opportunistic shifting of position that makes it very difficult for outsiders to get a grip on exactly what the Centre is for.

In typical fashion, the document says that:

‘the activities of the Centre fall into four large groups: advocacy, research, organisation (conferences, meetings, Talent Days), contact-keeping (meeting delegations from all over the world) and sharing information.’

Forgive me, but isn’t that five groups?

We have dealt with advocacy already and unfortunately there is negligible information available about the ‘contact-keeping’ activity undertaken – ie the various delegations that have been met by the staff and what the outcomes have been of those meetings.

That leaves research, organisation and sharing information.

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Esterhazy Castle

Esterhazy Castle

Advisory Board and Partners

Before leaving the Centre’s operations, it is important to note that a three-strong Advisory Board has bee been appointed.

All three are luminaries of ECHA, two of them serving on the current Executive Committee.

There is no explanation of the Board’s role, or how it was chosen, and no published record of its deliberations. It is not clear whether it is intended as a substitute for the advisory group that was originally envisaged, which was to have had much broader membership.

As noted above, there is also a new emphasis on ‘partners’. The full text of the reference on the website says:

‘We are looking for partners – professionals, talents and talent supporters – willing to think and work together. We sincerely hope that the success of the Hungarian example will not stop short at the frontiers of the country, but will soon make its way to European talent support co-operation.’

Four partners are currently listed – ECHA, the Global Centre for Gifted and Talented Children, IGGY and the World Council – but there is no explanation of the status conferred by partnership or the responsibilities expected of partners in return.

Are partners prospective European Talent Centres or do they have a different status? Must partners be talent points or not? We are not told.

Research

This is presumably a reference to the ‘Best Practices’ section of the Budapest Centre’s website, which currently hosts two collections of studies ‘International Horizons of Talent Support Volumes 1 and 2’ and a selection of individual studies (17 at the time of writing).

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The quality of this material can best be described as variable. This study of provision in Ireland is relatively unusual, since most of the material is currently devoted to Central and Eastern Europe, but it gives a sense of what to expect.

There has been no effort to date to collect together already-published research and data about provision in different parts of Europe and to make that material openly accessible to readers. That is a major disappointment.

There is nothing in the collection that resembles an independent evaluation of the European Talent Initiative as a whole, or even an evaluation of the Hungarian NTP.

At best one can describe the level and quality of research-related activity as embryonic.

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Event Organisation

This Table shows what the Centre has achieved to date and what is planned for 2014:

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2011 2012 2013 2014
Conference Yes (Budapest) Unofficial (Warsaw) No Yes (Budapest)
EU Talent Day Yes No No Yes

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The 2014 Conference is the first official EU-wide event since the 2011 launch conference. The same is true of the 2014 EU Talent Day.

The Polish conference was initially planned for spring 2012, but failed to materialise. By July it was confirmed that there would only be ‘an unofficial follow-up’ in October. My December 2012 post described my personal and ultimately unsuccessful efforts to attend this event and summarised the proceedings.

The 2014 Conference Website insists that it will coincide with the Third EU Talent Day but I can find barely a trace of a Second, except in Estonia, where it was celebrated on 21 March 2012.

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This is not a strikingly positive record.

The 2014 Conference website names an organising ‘international scientific committee’ that is heavily biased towards academics (eight of the eleven), ECHA luminaries (five of the eleven) and Hungarians (four of the eleven).

The programme features four academic keynotes about networks and networking.

The remainder involve Slovenia’s education minister, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (a Hungarian who was advertised to be part of the Parliamentary Hearing on the Written Declaration but, if he did attend, apparently made no contribution) and one devoted to the ‘International Talent Competiveness Index’.

I think this must be INSEAD’s Global Talent Competitiveness Index).

INSEAD’s inaugural 2013 Report ranks Hungary 40th of 103 countries on this Index. (The UK is ranked 7th and the US 9th).

There are eight ‘break-up sessions’ [sic]:

  • The role of governments and the EU in creation a European Network[sic]
  • Digital Networks for Talented Youth
     
  • Social responsibility and organisational climate
  • Practice and Ethics of Networking
  • Multiple disadvanteged children [sic]
  • Parents’ networks in Europe
  • Counselling Centers [sic]
  • Civil networks for Talent Support

The expected outcome of the event is not specified. There is no scheduled opportunity to discuss the progress made to date by the EU Talent initiative, or the policy and implementation issues flagged up in this post. And there is no information about the mediation of the Conference via social media (though there are now Skype links next to the items in the programme).

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Talent Map and Resources

The website features a Resource Center [sic] which includes a database of ‘selected resources’. We are not told on what basis the selection has been made.

The database is built into the website and is not particularly accessible, especially if one compares it with the Hungarian equivalent. Indeed, the Talent Centre website is decidedly clunky by comparison.

The Talent Map is now better populated than it was, though inconsistently so. There are only two entries for Hungary, for example, while Romania has 11. There are only three in the UK and none in Ireland. Neither CTYI nor SNAP is mentioned.

It might have been better to pre-populate the map and then to indicate which entries had been ‘authorised’ by their owners.

From a presentational perspective the map is better than the database, though it should have a full page to itself.

Both the database and the map are still works in progress.

Overall Assessment and Key Issues Arising

In the light of this evidence, what are we to make of the progress achieved towards a European Talent Network over the last four years?

In my judgement:

  • The fundamental case for modelling a European Talent Network on the Hungarian National Talent Programme is unproven. The basic design of the NTP may reflect one tradition of consensus on effective practice, but the decision to stop at age 35 is unexplained and idiosyncratic. The full model is extremely costly to implement and relies heavily on EU funding. Even at current levels of funding, it is unlikely to be impacting on more than a relatively small minority of the target population. It is hard to see how it can become financially sustainable in the longer term. 
  • There is no detailed and convincing rationale for, or description of, how the model is being modified (into ‘Hungary-lite’) for European rollout. It is abundantly clear that this rollout will never attract commensurate funding and, compared with the NTP, it is currently being run ‘on a shoestring’. But, as currently envisaged, the rollout will require significant additional funding and the projected sources of this funding are unspecified. The more expensive the rollout becomes, the more unlikely it is to be financially sustainable. In short, the scalability to Europe of the modified Hungarian talent support model is highly questionable.
  • The shape and purpose of the overall European Talent initiative has changed substantively on several occasions during its short lifetime. There is only limited consistency between the goals being pursued now and those originally envisaged. There have been frequent changes to these goals along the way, several of them unexplained. It is not clear whether this is attributable to political opportunism and/or real confusion and disagreement within the initiative over what exactly it is seeking to achieve and how. There are frequently inconsistencies between different sources over exactly how aspects of the rollout are to be implemented. This causes confusion and calls into question the competence of those who are steering the process. Such ‘mission creep’ will radically reduce the chances of success.
  • The relationship with ECHA has always been problematic – and remains so. Fundamentally the European Talent Initiative is aiming to achieve what ECHA itself should have achieved, but failed. The suggestion that ECHA be given control over the accreditation of European Talent Centres is misguided. ECHA is a closed membership organisation rather than an open network and cannot be assumed to be representative of all those engaged in talent support throughout Europe. There is no reason why this process could not be managed by the network itself. In the longer term the continued co-existence of the Network and ECHA as separate entities becomes increasingly problematic. But any merger would demand radical reform of ECHA. Despite the injection of new blood into the ECHA Executive, the forces of conservatism within it remain strong and are unlikely to countenance such a radical step.
  • The progress achieved by the European Talent Centre during its relatively short existence has been less than impressive. That is partly attributable to the limited funding available and the fact that it is being operated on the margins of the Hungarian NTP. The funding it does attract comes with the expectation that it will be used to advertise the successes of the NTP abroad, so raising the status and profile of the domestic effort. There is a tension between this and the Centre’s principal role, which must be to drive the European rollout. 
  • The decision to move to a distributed model in which several European Talent Centres develop the network, rather than a centralised model driven by Budapest, is absolutely correct. (I was saying as much back in 2011.) However, the wider implications of this decision do not appear to have been thought through. I detect a worrying tendency to create bureaucracy for the sake of it, rather than focusing on getting things done.
  • Meanwhile, the Budapest Centre has made some headway with a Talent Map and a database of resources, but not nearly enough given the staffing and resource devoted to the task. The failure to deliver annual EU Conferences and Talent Days is conspicuous and worrying. Conversely, the effort expended on lobbying within the European Commission has clearly been considerable, though the tangible benefits secured from this exercise are, as yet, negligible.
  • For an initiative driven by networking, the quantity and quality of communication is poor. Independent evaluation studies of the Hungarian model do not seem to be available, at least not in English. There should be a fully costed draft specification for the European roll-out which is consulted upon openly and widely. Consultation seems confined currently to ECHA members which is neither inclusive nor representative. No opportunities are provided to challenge the direction of travel pursued by the initiative and its decision-making processes are not transparent. There is no evidence that it is willing to engage with critics or criticism of its preferred approach. The programme for the 2014 Conference does not suggest any marked shift in this respect.

An unkind critic might find sufficient evidence to level an accusation of talent support imperialism, albeit masked by a smokescreen of scientifically justified networkology.

I do not subscribe to that view, at least not yet. But I do conclude that the European Talent effort is faltering badly. It may limp on for several years to come, but it will never achieve its undoubted potential until the issues outlined above are properly and thoroughly addressed.

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GP

March 2014

 

What Has Become of the European Talent Network? Part One

This post discusses recent progress by the European Talent Centre towards a European Talent Network.

EU flag CaptureIt is a curtain-raiser for an imminent conference on this topic and poses the critical questions I would like to see addressed at that event.

It should serve as a briefing document for prospective delegates and other interested parties, especially those who want to dig beneath the invariably positive publicity surrounding the initiative.

It continues the narrative strand of posts I have devoted to the Network, concentrating principally on developments since my last contribution in December 2012.

 

Flag_of_HungaryThe post is organised part thematically and part chronologically and covers the following ground:

  • An updated description of the Hungarian model for talent support and its increasingly complex infrastructure.
  • The origins of the European Talent project and how its scope and objectives have changed since its inception.
  • The project’s advocacy effort within the European Commission and its impact to date.
  • Progress on the European Talent Map and promised annual European Talent Days and conferences.
  • The current scope and effectiveness of the network, its support structures and funding.
  • Key issues and obstacles that need to be addressed.

To improve readability I have divided the text into two sections of broadly equivalent length. Part One is dedicated largely to bullets one to three above, while Part Two deals with bullets three to six.

Previous posts in this series

If I am to do justice to this complex narrative, I must necessarily draw to some extent on material I have already published in earlier posts. I apologise for the repetition, which I have tried to keep to a minimum.

On re-reading those earlier posts and comparing them with this, it is clear that my overall assessment of the EU talent project has shifted markedly since 2010, becoming progressively more troubled and pessimistic.

This seems to me justified by an objective assessment of progress, based exclusively on evidence in the public domain – evidence that I have tried to draw together in these posts.

However, I feel obliged to disclose the influence of personal frustration at this slow progress, as well as an increasing sense of personal exclusion from proceedings – which seems completely at odds with the networking principles on which the project is founded.

I have done my best to control this subjective influence in the assessment below, confining myself as far as possible to an objective interpretation of the facts.

However I refer you to my earlier posts if you wish to understand how I reached this point.

  • In April 2011 I attended the inaugural conference in Budapest, publishing a report on the proceedings and an analysis of the Declaration produced, plus an assessment of the Hungarian approach to talent support as it then was and its potential scalability to Europe as a whole.
  • In December 2012 I described the initial stages of EU lobbying, an ill-fated 2012 conference in Poland, the earliest activities of the European Talent Centre and the evolving relationship between the project and ECHA, the European Council for High Ability.

I will not otherwise comment on my personal involvement, other than to say that I do not expect to attend the upcoming Conference, judging that the cost of attending will not be exceeded by the benefits of doing so.

This post conveys more thoroughly and more accurately the points I would have wanted to make during the proceedings, were suitable opportunities provided to do so.

A brief demographic aside

It is important to provide some elementary information about Hungary’s demographics, to set in context the discussion below of its talent support model and the prospects for Europe-wide scalability.

Hungary is a medium-sized central European country with an area roughly one-third of the UK’s and broadly similar to South Korea or Portugal.

It has a population of around 9.88 million (2013) about a sixth of the size of the UK population and similar in size to Portugal’s or Sweden’s.

Hungary is the 16th most populous European country, accounting for about 1.4% of the total European population and about 2% of the total population of the European Union (EU).

It is divided into 7 regions and 19 counties, plus the capital, Budapest, which has a population of 1.7 million in its own right.

RegionsHungary

Almost 84% of the population are ethnic Hungarians but there is a Roma minority estimated (some say underestimated) at 3.1% of the population.

Approximately 4 million Hungarians are aged below 35 and approximately 3.5m are aged 5-34.

The GDP (purchasing power parity) is $19,497 (source: IMF), slightly over half the comparable UK figure.

The Hungarian Talent Support Model

The Hungarian model has grown bewilderingly complex and there is an array of material describing it, often in slightly different terms.

Some of the English language material is not well translated and there are gaps that can be filled only with recourse to documents in Hungarian (which I can only access through online translation tools).

Much of this documentation is devoted to publicising the model as an example of best practice, so it can be somewhat economical with the truth.

The basic framework is helpfully illustrated by this diagram, which appeared in a presentation dating from October 2012.

EU talent funding Capture

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It shows how the overall Hungarian National Talent Programme (NTP) comprises a series of time-limited projects paid for by the EU Social Fund, but also a parallel set of activities supported by a National Talent Fund which is fed mainly by the Hungarian taxpayer.

The following sections begin by outlining the NTP, as described in a Parliamentary Resolution dating from 2008.

Secondly, they describe the supporting infrastructure for the NTP as it exists today.

Thirdly, they outline the key features of the time-limited projects: The Hungarian Genius Programme (HGP) (2009-13) and the Talent Bridges Programme (TBP) (2012-14).

Finally, they try to make sense of the incomplete and sometimes conflicting information about the funding allocated to different elements of the NTP.

Throughout this treatment my principal purpose is to show how the European Talent project fits into the overall Hungarian plan, as precursor to a closer analysis of the former in the second half of the post.

I also want to show how the direction of the NTP has shifted since its inception.

 .

The National Talent Programme (NTP) (2008-2028)

The subsections below describe the NTP as envisaged in the original 2008 Parliamentary Resolution. This remains the most thorough exposition of the broader direction of travel that I could find.

Governing principles

The framework set out in the Resolution is built on ten general principles that I can best summarise as follows:

  • Talent support covers the period from early childhood to age 35, so extends well beyond compulsory education.
  • The NTP must preserve the traditions of existing successful talent support initiatives.
  • Talent is complex and so requires a diversity of provision – standardised support is a false economy.
  • There must be equality of access to talent support by geographical area, ethnic and socio-economic background.
  • Continuity is necessary to support individual talents as they change and develop over time; special attention is required at key transition points.
  • In early childhood one must provide opportunities for talent to emerge, but selection on the basis of commitment and motivation become increasingly significant and older participants increasingly self-select.
  • Differentiated support is needed to support different levels of talent; there must be opportunities to progress and to step off the programme without loss of esteem.
  • In return for talent support, the talented individual has a social responsibility to support talent development in others.
  • Those engaged in talent support – here called talent coaches – need time and support.
  • Wider social support for talent development is essential to success and sustainability.

Hence the Hungarians are focused on a system-wide effort to promote talent development that extends well beyond compulsory education, but only up to the age of 35. As noted above, if 0-4 year-olds are excluded, this represents an eligible population of about 3.5 million people.

The choice of this age 35 cut-off seems rather arbitrary. Having decided to push beyond compulsory education into adult provision, it is not clear why the principle of lifelong learning is then set aside – or exactly what happens when participants reach their 36th birthdays.

Otherwise the principles above seem laudable and broadly reflect one tradition of effective practice in the field.

Goals

The NTP’s goals are illustrated by this diagram

NTP goals Capture

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The elements in the lower half of the diagram can be expanded thus:

  • Talent support traditions: support for existing provision; development of new provision to fill gaps; minimum standards and professional development for providers; applying models of best practice; co-operation with ethnic Hungarian programmes outside Hungary (‘cross border programmes’); and ‘systematic exploration and processing of the talent support experiences’ of EU and other countries which excel in this field. 
  • Integrated programmes: compiling and updating a map of the talent support opportunities available in Hungary as well as ‘cross border programmes’; action to support access to the talent map; a ‘detailed survey of the international talent support practice’; networking between providers with cooperation and collaboration managed through a set of talent support councils; monitoring of engagement to secure continuity and minimise drop-out. 
  • Social responsibility: promoting the self-organisation of talented youth;  developing their innovation and management skills; securing counselling; piloting  a ‘Talent Bonus – Talent Coin’ scheme to record in virtual units the monetary value of support received and provided, leading to consideration of a LETS-type scheme; support for ‘exceptionally talented youth’; improved social integration of talented youth and development of a talent-friendly society. 
  • Equal opportunities: providing targeted information about talent support opportunities; targeted programming for disadvantaged, Roma and disabled people and wider emphasis on integration; supporting the development of Roma talent coaches; and action to secure ‘the desirable gender distribution’. 
  • Enhanced recognition: improving financial support for talent coaches; reducing workload and providing counselling for coaches; improving recognition and celebrating the success of coaches and others engaged in talent support. 
  • Talent-friendly society: awareness-raising activity for parents, family and friends of talented youth; periodic talent days to mobilise support and ‘promote the local utilisation of talent’; promoting talent in the media, as well as international communication about the programme and ‘introduction in both the EU and other countries by exploiting the opportunities provided by Hungary’s EU Presidency in 2011’; ‘preparation for the foreign adaptation of the successful talent support initiatives’ and organisation of EU talent days. 

Hence the goals incorporate a process of learning from European and other international experience, but also one of feeding back to the international community information about the Hungarian talent support effort and extending the model into other European countries.

There is an obvious tension in these goals between preserving the traditions of existing successful initiatives and imposing a framework with minimum standards and built-in quality criteria. This applies equally to the European project discussed below.

The reference to a LETS-type scheme is intriguing but I could trace nothing about its subsequent development.

 .

Planned Infrastructure

In 2008 the infrastructure proposed to undertake the NTP comprised:

  • A National Talent Co-ordination Board, chaired at Ministerial level, to oversee the programme and to allocate a National Talent Fund (see below).
  • A National Talent Support Circle [I’m not sure whether this should be ‘Council’] consisting of individuals from Hungary and abroad who would promote talent support through professional opportunities, financial contribution or ‘social capital opportunities’.
  • A National Talent Fund comprising a Government contribution and voluntary contributions from elsewhere. The former would include the proceeds of a 1% voluntary income tax levy (being one of the good causes towards which Hungarian taxpayers could direct this contribution). Additional financial support would come from ‘the talent support-related programmes of the New Hungary Development Plan’.
  • A system of Talent Support Councils to co-ordinate activity at regional and local level.
  • A national network of Talent Points – providers of talent support activity.
  • A biennial review of the programme presented to Parliament, the first being in 2011.

Presumably there have been two of these biennial reviews to date. They would make interesting reading, but I could find no material in English that describes the outcomes.

The NTP Infrastructure Today

The supporting infrastructure as described today has grown considerably more complex and bureaucratic than the basic model above.

  • The National Talent Co-ordination Board continues to oversee the programme as a whole. Its membership is set out here.
  • The National Talent Support Council was established in 2006 and devised the NTP as set out above. Its functions are more substantial than originally described (assuming this is the ‘Circle’ mentioned in the Resolution), although it now seems to be devolving some of these. Until recently at least, the Council: oversaw the national database of talent support initiatives and monitored coverage, matching demand – via an electronic mailing list – with the supply of opportunities; initiated and promoted regional talent days; supported the network of talent points and promoted the development of new ones; invited tenders for niche programmes of various kinds; collected and analysed evidence of best practice and the research literature; and promoted international links paying ‘special attention to the reinforcement of the EU contacts’. The Council has a Chair and six Vice Presidents as well as a Secretary and Secretariat. It operates nine committees: Higher Education, Support for Socially Disadvantaged Gifted People, Innovations, Public Education, Foreign Relations, Public and Media Relations, Theory of Giftedness, Training and Education and Giftedness Network.
  • The National Talent Point has only recently been identified as an entity in its own right, distinct from the National Council. Its role is to maintain the Talent Map and manage the underpinning database. Essentially it seems to have acquired the Council’s responsibilities for delivery, leaving the Council to concentrate on policy. It recently acquired a new website.
  • The Association of Hungarian Talent Support Organizations (MATEHETZ) is also a new addition. Described as ‘a non-profit umbrella organization that legally represents its members and the National Talent Support Council’, it is funded by the National Council and through membership fees. The Articles of Association date from February 2010 and list 10 founding organisations. The Association provides ‘representation’ for the National Council’ (which I take to mean the membership). It manages the time-limited programmes (see below) as well asthe National Talent Point and the European Talent Centre.
  • Talent Support Councils: Different numbers of these are reported. One source says 76; another 65, of which some 25% were newly-established through the programme. Their role seems broadly unchanged, involving local and regional co-ordination, support for professionals, assistance to develop new activities, helping match supply with demand and supporting the tracking of those with talent.
  • Talent Point Network: there were over 1,000 talent points by the end of 2013. (Assuming 3.5 million potential participants, that is a talent point for every 3,500 people.) Talent points are providers of talent support services – whether identification, provision or counselling. They are operated by education providers, the church and a range of other organisations and may have a local, regional or national reach. They join the network voluntarily but are accredited. In 2011 there were reportedly 400 talent points and 200 related initiatives, so there has been strong growth over the past two years.
  • Ambassadors of Talent: Another new addition, introduced by the National Talent Support Council in 2011. There is a separate Ambassador Electing Council which appoints three new ambassadors per year. The current list has thirteen entries and is markedly eclectic.
  • Friends of Talent Club: described in 2011 as ‘a voluntary organisation that holds together those, who are able and willing to support talents voluntarily and serve the issue of talent support…Among them, there are mentors, counsellors and educators, who voluntarily help talented people develop in their professional life. The members of the club can be patrons and/or supporters. “Patrons” are those, who voluntarily support talents with a considerable amount of service. “Supporters” are those, who voluntarily support the movement of talent support with a lesser amount of voluntary work, by mobilizing their contacts or in any other way.’ This sounds similar to the originally envisioned ‘National Talent Support Circle’ [sic]. I could find little more about the activities of this branch of the structure.
  • The European Talent Centre: The National Talent Point says that this:

‘…supports and coordinates European actions in the field of talent support in order to find gifted people and develop their talent in the interest of Europe as a whole and the member states.’

Altogether this is a substantial endeavour requiring large numbers of staff and volunteers and demanding a significant budgetary topslice.

I could find no reliable estimate of the ratio of the running cost to the direct investment in talent support, but there must be cause to question the overall efficiency of the system.

My hunch is that this level of bureaucracy must consume a significant proportion of the overall budget.

Clearly the Hungarian talent support network is a long, long way from being financially self-sustaining, if indeed it ever could be.

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Hungary Parliament Building Budapest

Hungarian Parliament Building

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The Hungarian Genius Programme (HGP) (2009-13)

Launched in June 2009, the HGP had two principal phases lasting from 2009 to 2011 and from 2011 to 2013. The fundamental purpose was to establish the framework and infrastructure set out in the National Talent Plan.

This English language brochure was published in 2011. It explains that the initial focus is on adults who support talents, establishing a professional network and training experts, as well as creating the network and map of providers.

It mentions that training courses lasting 10 to 30 hours have been developed and accredited in over 80 subjects to:

‘…bring concepts and methods of gifted and talented education into the mainstream and reinforce the professional talent support work… These involve the exchange of experience and knowledge expansion training, as well as programs for those who deal with talented people in developing communities, and awareness-raising courses aimed at the families and environment of young pupils, on the educational, emotional and social needs of children showing special interest and aptitude in one or more subject(s). The aims of the courses are not only the exchange of information but to produce and develop the professional methodology required for teaching talents.’

The brochure also describes an extensive talent survey undertaken in 2010, the publication of several good practice studies and the development of a Talent Loan modeled on the Hungarian student loan scheme.

It lists a seven-strong strategic management group including an expert adviser, project manager, programme co-ordinator and a finance manager. There are also five operational teams, each led by a named manager, one of which focused on ‘international relations: collecting and disseminating international best practices; international networking’.

A subsequent list of programme outputs says:

  • 24,000 new talents were identified
  • The Talent Map was drawn and the Talent Network created (including 867 talent points and 76 talent councils).
  • 23,500 young people took part in ‘subsidised talent support programmes’
  • 118 new ‘local educational talent programmes’ were established
  • 25 professional development publications were written and made freely available
  • 13,987 teachers (about 10% of the total in Hungary) took part in professional development.

Evidence in English of rigorous independent evaluation is, however, limited:

‘The efficiency of the Programme has been confirmed by public opinion polls (increased social acceptance of talent support) and impact assessments (training events: expansion of specialised knowledge and of the methodological tool kit).’

 .

The Talent Bridges Project (TBP) (2012-2014)

TBP began in November 2012 and is scheduled to last until ‘mid-2014’.

The initially parallel TBP is mentioned in the 2011 brochure referenced above:

‘In the strategic plan of the Talent Bridges Program to begin in 2012, we have identified three key areas for action: bridging the gaps in the Talent Point network, encouraging talents in taking part in social responsibility issues and increasing media reach. In order to become sustainable, much attention should be payed [sic] to maintaining and expanding the support structure of this system, but the focus will significantly shift towards direct talent care work with the youth.’

Later on it says:

‘Within the framework of the Talent Bridges Program the main objectives are: to further improve the contact system between the different levels of talent support organisations; to develop talent peer communities based on the initiatives coming from young people themselves; to engage talents in taking an active role in social responsibility; to increase media reach in order to enhance the recognition and social support for both high achievers and talent support; and last, but not least, to arrange the preliminary steps of setting up an EU Institute of Talent Support in Budapest.’

A list of objectives published subsequently contains the following items:

  • Creating a national talent registration and tracking system
  • Developing programmes for 3,000 talented young people from  disadvantaged backgrounds and with special educational needs
  • Supporting the development of ‘outstanding talents’ in 500 young people
  • Supporting 500 enrichment programmes
  • Supporting ‘the peer age groups of talented young people’
  • Introducing programmes to strengthen interaction between parents, teachers and  talented youth benefiting  5,000 young people
  • Introducing ‘a Talent Marketplace’ to support ‘the direct social utilisation of talent’ involving ‘150 controlled co-operations’
  • Engaging 2,000 mentors in supporting talented young people and training 5,000 talent support facilitators and mentors
  • Launching a communication campaign to reach 100,000 young people and
  • Realise European-Union-wide communication (in addition to the current 10, to involve 10 more EU Member States into the Hungarian initiatives, in co-operation with the European Talent Centre in Budapest established in the summer of 2012).

Various sources describe how the TBP is carved up into a series of sub-projects. The 2013 Brochure ‘Towards a European Talent Support Network’ lists 14 of these, but none mention the European work.

However, what appears to be the bid for TBP (in Hungarian) calls the final sub-project ‘an EU Communications Programme’ (p29), which appears to involve:

  • Raising international awareness of Hungary’s talent support activities
  • Strengthening Hungary’s position in the EU talent network
  • Providing a foreign exchange experience for talented young Hungarians
  • Influencing policy makers.

Later on (p52) this document refers to an international campaign, undertaken with support from the European Talent Centre, targeting international organisations and the majority of EU states.

Work to be covered includes the preparation of promotional publications in foreign languages, the operation of a ‘multilingual online platform’, participation in international conferences (such as those of ECHA, the World Council, IRATDE and ICIE); and ‘establishing new professional collaborations with at least 10 new EU countries or international organisations’.

Funding

It is not a straightforward matter to reconcile the diverse and sometimes conflicting sources of information about the budgets allocated to the National Talent Fund, HGP and the TBP, but this is my best effort, with all figures converted into pounds sterling.

 .

2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Total
NTF x £2.34m.or £4.1m  £2.34m.or £4.1m £8.27m tbc tbc tbc
Of which ETC x x x £80,000 £37,500 £21,350 £138,850
HGP £8.0m £4.6m x £12.6m
TBP x x x £5.3m £5.3m
Of which EU comms x x x £182,000 £182,000

Several sources say that the Talent Fund is set to increase in size over the period.

‘This fund has an annual 5 million EUR support from the national budget and an additional amount from tax donations of the citizens of a total sum of 1.5 million EUR in the first year doubled to 3 million EUR and 6 million EUR in the second and third years respectively.’ (Csermely 2012)

That would translate into a budget of £5.4m/£6.7m/£9.2m over the three years in question, but it is not quite clear which three years are included.

Even if we assume that the NTF budget remains the same in 2013 and 2014 as in 2012, the total investment over the period 2009-2014 amounts to approximately £60m.

That works out at about £17 per eligible Hungarian. Unfortunately I could find no reliable estimate of the total number of Hungarians that have benefited directly from the initiative to date.

On the basis of the figures I have seen, my guesstimate is that the total will be below 10% of the total eligible population – so under 350,000. But I must stress that there is no evidence to support this.

Whether or not the intention is to reach 100% of the population, or whether there is an in-built assumption that only a proportion of the population are amenable to talent development, is a moot point. I found occasional references to a 25% assumption, but it was never clear whether this was official policy.

Even if this applies, there is clearly a significant scalability challenge even within Hungary’s national programme.

It is also evident that the Hungarians have received some £18m from the European Social Fund over the past five years and have invested at least twice as much of their own money. That is a very significant budget indeed for a country of this size.

Hungary’s heavy reliance on EU funding is such that they will find it very difficult to sustain the current effort if that largesse disappears.

One imagines that they will be seeking continued support from EU sources over the period 2014-2020. But, equally, one would expect the EU to demand robust evidence that continued heavy dependency on EU funding will not be required.

And of course a budget of this size also begs questions about scalability to Europe in the conspicuous absence of a commensurate figure. There is zero prospect of equivalent funding being available to extend the model across Europe. The total bill would run into billions of pounds!

A ‘Hungarian-lite’ model would not be as expensive, but it would require a considerable budget.

However, it is clear from the table that the present level of expenditure on the European network has been tiny by comparison with the domestic investment – probably not much more than £100,000 per year.

Initially this came from the National Talent Fund budget but it seems as though the bulk is now provided through the ESF, until mid-2014 at least.

This shift seems to have removed a necessity for the European Talent Centre to receive its funding in biannual tranches through a perpetual retendering process.

For the sums expended from the NTF budget are apparently tied to periods of six months or less.

The European Talent Centre website currently bears the legend:

‘Operation of the European Talent Centre – Budapest between 15th December 2012 and 30th June 2013 is realised with the support of Grant Scheme No. NTP-EUT-M-12 announced by the Institute for Educational Research and Development and the Human Resources Support Manager on commission of the Ministry of Human Resources “To support international experience exchange serving the objectives of the National Talent Programme, and to promote the operation and strategic further development of the European Talent Centre – Budapest”.’

But when I wrote my 2012 review it said:

‘The operation of the European Talent Centre — Budapest is supported from 1 July 2012 through 30 November 2012 by the grant of the National Talent Fund. The grant is realised under Grant Scheme No. NTP-EU-M-12 announced by the Hungarian Institute for Educational Research and Development and the SándorWekerle Fund Manager of the Ministry of Administration and Justice on commission of the Ministry of Human Resources, from the Training Fund Segment of the Labour Market Fund.’

A press release confirmed the funding for this period as HUF 30m.

Presumably it will now need to be amended to reflect the arrival of £21.3K under Grant Scheme No. NTP-EU-M-13 – and possibly to reflect income from the ESF-supported TBP too.

A comparison between the Hungarian http://tehetseg.hu/ website and the European Talent Centre website is illustrative of the huge funding imbalance in favour of the former.

Danube Bend at Visegrad courtesy of Phillipp Weigell

Danube Bend at Visegrad courtesy of Phillipp Weigell

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Origins of the European Talent Project: Evolution to December 2012

Initial plans

Hungary identified talent support as a focus during its EU Presidency, in the first half of 2011, citing four objectives:

  • A talent support conference scheduled for April 2011
  • A first European Talent Day to coincide with the conference, initially ‘a Hungarian state initiative…expanding it into a public initiative by 2014’.
  • Talent support to feature in EU strategies and documents, as well as a Non-Legislative Act (NLA). It is not specified whether this should be a regulation, decision, recommendation or opinion. (Under EU legislation the two latter categories have no binding force.)
  • An OMCexpert group on talent support – ie an international group run under the aegis of the Commission.

The Budapest Declaration

The Conference duly took place, producing a Budapest Declaration on Talent Support in which conference participants:

  • ‘Call the European Commission and the European Parliament to make every effort to officially declare the 25th of March the European Day of the Talented and Gifted.’
  • ‘Stress the importance of…benefits and best practices appearing in documents of the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament.’
  • ‘Propose to establish a European Talent Resource and Support Centre in Budapest’ to ‘coordinate joint European actions in the field’.
  • ‘Agree to invite stakeholders from every country of the European Union to convene annually to discuss the developments and current questions in talent support. Upon the invitation of the Government of Poland the next conference will take place in Warsaw.’

The possibility of siting a European Centre anywhere other than Budapest was not seriously debated.

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Evolution of a Written Declaration to the EU

Following the Conference an outline Draft Resolution of the European Parliament was circulated for comment.

This proposed that:

 ‘A Europe-wide talent support network should be formed and supported with an on-line and physical presence to support information-sharing, partnership and collaborations. This network should be open for co-operation with all European talent support efforts, use the expertise and networking experiences of existing multinational bodies such as the European Council of High Ability and support both national and multinational efforts to help talents not duplicating existing efforts but providing an added European value.’

Moreover, ‘A European Talent Support Centre should be established…in Budapest’. This:

‘…should have an Advisory Board having the representatives of interested EU member states, all-European talent support-related institutions as well as key figures of European talent support.’

The Centre’s functions are five-fold:

‘Using the minimum bureaucracy and maximising its use of online solutions the European Talent Support Centre should:

  • facilitate the development and dissemination of best curricular and extra-curricular talent support practices;
  • coordinate the trans-national cooperation of Talent Points forming an EU Talent Point network;
  • help  the spread of the know-how of successful organization of Talent Days;
  • organize annual EU talent support conferences in different EU member states overseeing the progress of cooperation in European talent support;
  • provide a continuously updated easy Internet access for all the above information.’

Note the references on the one hand to an inclusive approach, a substantial advisory group (though without the status of an EU-hosted OMC expert group) and a facilitating/co-ordinating role, but also – on the other hand – the direct organisation of annual EU-wide conferences and provision of a sophisticated supporting online environment.

MEPs were lined up to submit the Resolution in Autumn 2011 but, for whatever reason, this did not happen.

Instead a new draft Written Declaration was circulated in January 2012. This called on:

  •  Member States to consider measures helping curricular and extracurricular forms of talent support including the training of educational professionals to recognize and help talent;
  • The Commission to consider talent support as a priority of future European strategies, such as the European Research Area and the European Social Fund;
  • Member States and the Commission to support the development of a Europe-wide talent support network, formed by talent support communities, Talent Points and European Talent Centres facilitating cooperation, development and dissemination of best talent support practices;
  • Member States and the Commission to celebrate the European Day of the Talented and Gifted.’

The focus has shifted from the Budapest-centric network to EU-led activity amongst member states collectively. Indeed, no specific role for Hungary is mentioned.

There is a new emphasis on professional development and – critically – a reference to ‘European talent centres’. All mention of NLAs and OMC expert groups has disappeared.

There followed an unexplained 11-month delay before a Final Written Declaration was submitted by four MEPs in November 2012.

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The 2012 Written Declaration 

There are some subtle adjustments in the final version of WD 0034/2012. The second bullet point has become:

  • ‘The Commission to consider talent support as part of ‘non-formal learning’ and a priority in future European strategies, such as the strategies guiding the European Research Area and the European Social Fund’.

While the third now says:

  • ‘Member States and the Commission to support the development of a Europe-wide talent support network bringing together talent support communities, Talent Points and European Talent Centres in order to facilitate cooperation and the development and dissemination of the best talent support practices.’

And the fourth is revised to:

  • ‘Member States and the Commission to celebrate the European Day of Highly Able People.’

The introduction of a phrase that distinguishes between education and talent support is curious.

CEDEFOP – which operates a European Inventory on Validation of Non-formal and Informal Learning – defines the latter as:

‘…learning resulting from daily work-related, family or leisure activities. It is not organised or structured (in terms of objectives, time or learning support). Informal learning is in most cases unintentional from the learner’s perspective. It typically does not lead to certification.’

One assumes that a distinction is being attempted between learning organised by a school or other formal education setting and that which takes place elsewhere – presumably because EU member states are so fiercely protective of their independence when it comes to compulsory education.

But surely talent support encompasses formal and informal learning alike?

Moreover, the adoption of this terminology appears to rule out any provision that is ‘organised or structured’, excluding huge swathes of activity (including much of that featured in the Hungarian programme). Surely this cannot have been intentional.

Such a distinction is increasingly anachronistic, especially in the case of gifted learners, who might be expected to access their learning from a far richer blend of sources than simply in-school classroom teaching.

Their schools are no longer the sole providers of gifted education, but facilitators and co-ordinators of diverse learning streams.

The ‘gifted and talented’ terminology has also disappeared, presumably on the grounds that it would risk frightening the EU horses.

Both of these adjustments seem to have been a temporary aberration. One wonders who exactly they were designed to accommodate and whether they were really necessary.

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Establishment and early activity of the EU Talent Centre in Budapest

The Budapest centre was initially scheduled to launch in February 2012, but funding issues delayed this, first until May and then the end of June.

The press release marking the launch described the long-term goal of the Centre as:

‘…to contribute on the basis of the success of the Hungarian co-operation model to organising the European talent support actors into an open and flexible network overarching the countries of Europe.’

Its mission is to:

‘…offer the organisations and individuals active in an isolated, latent form or in a minor network a framework structure and an opportunity to work together to achieve the following:

  • to provide talent support an emphasis commensurate with its importance in every European country
  • to reduce talent loss to the minimum in Europe,
  • to give talent support a priority role in the transformation of the sector of education; to provide talented young persons access to the most adequate forms of education in every Member State,
  • to make Europe attractive for the talented youth,
  • to create talent-friendly societies in every European country.’

The text continues:

‘It is particularly important that network hubs setting targets similar to those of the European Talent Centre in Budapest should proliferate in the longer term.

The first six months represent the first phase of the work: we shall lay the bases [sic] for establishing the European Talent Support Network. The expected key result is to set up a team of voluntary experts from all over Europe who will contribute to that work and help draw the European talent map.

But what exactly are these so-called network hubs? We had to wait some time for an explanation.

There was relatively little material on the website at this stage and this was also slow to change.

My December 2012 post summarised progress thus:

‘The Talent Map includes only a handful of links, none in the UK.

The page of useful links is extensive but basically just a very long list, hard to navigate and not very user-friendly. Conversely, ‘best practices’ contains only three resources, all of them produced in house.

The whole design is rather complex and cluttered, several of the pages are too text-heavy and occasionally the English leaves something to be desired.’

 

Here ends the first part of this post. Part Twoexplains the subsequent development of the ‘network hubs’ concept, charts the continuation of the advocacy effort  and reviews progress in delivering the services for which the Budapest Centre is  responsible.

It concludes with an overall assessment of the initiative highlighting some of its key weaknesses.

GP

March 2014

Working Towards Stronger European Collaboration in Gifted Education

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This post reviews recent progress towards pan-European collaboration in gifted education via the emerging European Talent Network and the establishment of a European Talent Centre in Budapest, Hungary.

EU talent centre Capture

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It continues a narrative thread that has permeated this Blog since its earliest days. Following a brief review of the history of this initiative, the post examines:

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  • Recent EU lobbying activity;
  • The 2012 Conference in Warsaw, Poland;
  • The European Talent Centre, its activities and website; and
  • The evolving relationship with the European Council for High Ability (ECHA).

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The History

In June 2010 I wrote about Hungary’s Plans to Strengthen G&T Education across the EU.

Those plans were fourfold:

  • An international conference on talent development and its contribution to EU competitiveness scheduled for April 2011 in Budapest.
  • A series of annual national Talent Days, unified into a single pan-EU Talent Day by 2014.
  • Inclusion of talent support references in key EU policies and documents, including the EU Education and Training Strategy 2012-2014 and a non-legislative act (NLA) on talent support.

In April 2011 I published a two-part blog post about the Conference and inaugural EU Talent Day which had just taken place as planned in Budapest.

Part One reported the conference proceedings. Part Two reflected on the Declaration generated at the Conference and on whether the Hungarian talent support model was scalable to Europe.

The Declaration proposed that:

  • National representatives should seek broad consensus around an inclusive talent development concept that incorporates a broad range of talents and people of all ages.
  • Talent development benefits individuals and society, countries and the EU as a whole, contributing to EU strategic goals for innovation and sustainable growth. It is a shared responsibility of governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), businesses and local communities.
  • Talent support can strengthen social cohesion and social mobility. Programmes should balance excellence for all and support for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • The Hungarian talent support movement may provide the basis of an EU-wide network. The EU is called upon to make the annual day of talent an official ‘European Day of the Talented and Gifted’.
  • Talent support should be reflected in key European Commission, Council and Parliament documentation. There should be joint effort to ensure it receives due attention in all member states. A Budapest-based Talent Resource and Support Centre might co-ordinate and monitor progress.
  • Stakeholders would convene annually to discuss talent support issues, starting in Warsaw, Poland in 2012 (Poland had the EU Presidency following Hungary.).

The post raised some difficult questions about the sources of long-term funding to realise an EU-wide model on the Hungarian pattern. I expressed reservations about a Budapest centre:

‘I am not yet convinced that the idea of establishing a European Centre in Budapest is necessary, or entirely in keeping with a distributed pan-EU network. Ideally, such a network should be capable of thriving with the smallest possible central hub which exists almost entirely online. The notion of a Centre smacks somewhat of the centralised top-down solutions that the network is intended to render unnecessary. It is not clear what responsibilities it would undertake and how it would add value to the overall endeavour. It could very easily become a ‘white elephant’.’

I also drew attention to potential difficulties in the relationship with the European Council for High Ability (ECHA):

‘The Hungarians seem to have gone out of their way to court ECHA to date, but their aspiration for a pan-European network rather calls into question ECHA’s raison d’etre. Put bluntly, if ECHA had succeeded in achieving its objectives, the current Hungarian initiative would not be necessary. Similarly, if the Hungarian initiative succeeds, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that ECHA would be redundant. This issue needs to be addressed head-on from the outset, not swept under the carpet.’

Finally, I argued that other nationalities should be actively engaged in the early planning process via the proposed OMC Expert Group.

So much for the history up to April 2011, but what has happened (and what has not happened) in the 19 months between then and now?

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EU Lobbying Activity

Immediately after the Conference, Peter Csermely circulated an outline Draft Resolution of the European Parliament on Talent Development.

My comments included a reminder that the text should reflect the original commitments to a Non-Legislative Act (NLA) and an Expert Group.

By September there was a revised text incorporating an outline 2011 NLA and an outline resolution. Several MEPs were reporting to be planning to submit the latter during Autumn 2011.

The draft proposed that:

‘A Europe-wide talent support network should be formed and supported with an on-line and physical presence to support information-sharing, partnership and collaborations. This network should be open for co-operation with all European talent support efforts, use the expertise and networking experiences of existing multinational bodies such as the European Council of High Ability and support both national and multinational efforts to help talents not duplicating existing efforts but providing an added European value.’

Apropos the proposed Centre it said:

‘To support the networking activities as a hub of the EU-wide network from 2012 a European Talent Support Centre should be established. The European Parliament accepts the offer of the Hungarian Government to host such a Centre in Budapest. The European Talent Support Centre should have an Advisory Board having the representatives of interested EU member states, all-European talent support-related institutions as well as key figures of European talent support. Using the minimum bureaucracy and maximising its use of online solutions the European Talent Support Centre should:

  • facilitate the development and dissemination of best curricular and extra-curricular talent support practices;
  • coordinate the trans-national cooperation of Talent Points forming an EU Talent Point network;
  • help  the spread of the know-how of successful organization of Talent Days;
  • organize  annual EU talent support conferences in different EU member states overseeing the progress of cooperation in European talent support;
  • provide a continuously updated easy Internet access for all the above information.’

It is noteworthy that the proposed Expert Group has now become an Advisory Group for the Centre, and that the Centre will be responsible for organising the annual conferences.

But, by January 2012, this document had morphed into a draft Written Declaration on the Support of Talents in the European Union which calls on:

  • Member States to consider measures helping curricular and extracurricular forms of talent support including the training of educational professionals to recognize and help talent;
  • The Commission to consider talent support as a priority of future European strategies, such as the European Research Area and the European Social Fund;
  • Member States and the Commission to support the development of a Europe-wide talent support network, formed by talent support communities, Talent Points and European Talent Centres facilitating cooperation, development and dissemination of best talent support practices;
  • Member States and the Commission to celebrate the European Day of the Talented and Gifted.

And which: ‘instructs its President to forward this declaration, together with the names of the signatories, to the Council, the Commission and the Governments of the Member States’

Note the reference to ‘European talent centres’ in the plural. All references to the Budapest Centre and a group – whether advisory or expert – have been dropped.

This may have been because of funding difficulties over the Centre and its activities, or it may have been impossible to include these details given the restriction on the length of Written Declarations to 200 words.

Alternatively, these references may have been removed to ensure that MEPs weren’t dissuaded from supporting the declaration on grounds of bureaucracy (the group) or advantage to one member state (the Centre).

Conceivably, all three reasons may have been in play.

It is not clear why the Final Written Declaration was not submitted until 19 November 2012, some ten months after the initial draft had been circulated.

On this date it was presented by four MEPs:

The wording is only very slightly different.

The first point is unchanged.

The second calls on:

‘The Commission to consider talent support as part of ‘non-formal learning’ and a priority in future European strategies, such as the strategies guiding the European Research Area and the European Social Fund.’

The third has been very slightly altered, calling on:

‘Member States and the Commission to support the development of a Europewide talent support network bringing together talent support communities, Talent Points and European Talent Centres in order to facilitate cooperation and the development and dissemination of the best talent support practices’

The fourth has lost its ‘gifted and talented’ terminology – presumably because that might also alienate some potential signatories – calling instead on

‘Member States and the Commission to celebrate the European Day of Highly Able People’

The final instruction is unchanged.

The purpose of such Written Declarations is to stimulate a debate on any issue within the EU’s remit. Declarations are submitted by a group of up to five MEPs, printed in all the official languages and entered into a register.

Those that are signed by a majority of MEPs are announced by the President in a plenary session of the European Parliament and forwarded for consideration to the institutions named in the text. Declarations lapse if they have not been signed by a majority of MEPs within three months of their entry into the register.

The register of written declarations is available online. At the time of writing it shows that 84 MEPs had signed by 22 November, still a long way short of the requisite number (there are 753 MEPs in total). The lapse date is 19 February 2013.

Peter Csermely has used Facebook to encourage the gifted education community to lobby their MEPs and I have also used Twitter for the same purpose.

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EU lobbying poster Capture

There is even a poster to promote the Declaration..

The impact of this activity – whether or not the Declaration is endorsed by the majority of MEPs – remains to be seen.

It is not clear why the Declaration procedure has been adopted over the original plan for a Non-Legislative Act, but presumably the advice of EU constitutional experts has been sought and heeded.

It may, at best, provide a platform on which to build further lobbying activity. It seems unlikely that it will lead to anything more tangible in the short-to-medium term.

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The Polish Conference

 

Organisation and Planning

 It is with some trepidation that I turn to the Warsaw Conference, for I understand the difficulties involved in organising a successful event of this kind.

There are always problems and inevitably compromises have to be made. Those with an interest in attending are willing to forgive much, as long as it’s clear that the organisers have tried their best and they are kept informed. But in this case there is some cause to question whether those two criteria were satisfied.

I first enquired about the Conference in January and, despite pursuing the matter throughout the intervening period,  did not manage to obtain an invitation until 11 October, exactly eight days before the event, when it was already too late to shift my prior commitments.

Rather than clog up the post with the sorry details, I have appended them as a separate page. Readers of a nervous disposition may prefer to avoid this full chronology.

Such shortcomings are particularly unfortunate (and ironic) given that the very purpose of the EU Talent initiative is to support networking between countries, linking partners together and so enabling them to interact for mutual benefit.

It is noteworthy that – according to the September drafts at least – the European Talent Centre plans to take control of this task in future, presumably regardless of the conference location. That is potentially problematic however and may not be possible to achieve in practice, other than through some kind of sub-contracting arrangement.

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Proceedings

The linked chronology records my efforts to persuade the Conference organisers and participants to share real-time information about the proceedings. That did not happen. Given the limited information in the public domain, I published the Programme I received with my belated invitation and shared it via Twitter.

The programme carries the logo of the European Social Fund, implying that funding from that source was used to defray at least part of the cost. This is confirmed by the legend on some of the presentations subsequently forwarded to me:

‘Conference co-financed by the European Union within the European Social Fund’.

Some of these papers also bear the Conference byline:

‘Systemic strategies in teaching gifted students – a way to the future of education’.

That then is the declared theme, but to what extent did the proceedings stick to this agenda?

There was a significant Polish input.

Keynotes were given by: Michael Piechowski, an expatriate psychologist long resident in the USA; Wieslawa Limont, a Polish psychologist; Maria Ledzinska, a third Polish psychologist; and Csilla Fuszek, Hungarian Director of the Budapest Talent Centre.

Given the provenance of the Conference, Csilla Fuszek’s presentation was essential and important. She focused on the core topic, speaking about ‘Building a cooperation network in Europe regarding systemic solutions in the education of gifted students’. I will return to the content of her presentation below.

I am not sure the same could be said of the triumvirate of Polish professors:

  • Piechowski discussed ‘Talent Development and Personal Growth’. His presentation is foregrounded in contemporary US debate about whether talent development or personal growth should be paramount in gifted education, with Piechowski firmly in the second camp.
  • Limont covered the ‘Education of Gifted Students in Poland – selected examples’, basically providing a description of the current state of Polish gifted education. This input would have fitted better in the plenary session on ‘presentation of good practices in selected countries’ on day two (see below).
  • Ledzinska spoke about ‘Understanding Gifted Students as the Fundament [sic] of Teachers’ Work’. This seems to have been a plea for educators to review their unsubstantiated and inaccurate beliefs about gifted learners.

But much of the time was dedicated to panel discussions with overlapping themes. The first tranche included:

  • The newest conceptions of giftedness and their verification in research (Beate Dyrda, a Polish lecturer who specialises in the pedagogy of gifted education and the ‘psychopedagogy of creativity’).
  • Education policy in different European countries – model solutions for the legislation, organisation, funding and education of gifted students (Leo Pakhin, project manager of a gifted and talented project employed by the Finnish National Board of Education).
  • How to systematically support the development of various talents? – exchange of experience and good practice (Ludmila Popova, a Russian professor of psychology).
  • Strategies to assist schools and teachers in gifted education (Margaret Sutherland, lecturer at the University of Glasgow and Director of the Scottish Network for Able Pupils).
  • Organisation of gifted education – examples of effective solutions from selected countries (Seiglinde Weyringer, a lecturer from the University of Salzburg in Austria).

The five panel sessions on the second day were:

  • Systemic solutions in the organisation of gifted education – development of skills and talents (Lianne Hoogeveen, a psychologist from the Centre for the Study of Giftedness (CBO) at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands).
  • Determinants of the process of gifted education in the context of systemic solutions (Christian Fischer from the University of Munster, Germany).
  • Possible solutions for the future – perspectives of gifted education in 2012-2030 (Eva Vondrakova, another psychologist, from the Czech Republic);
  • Examples of good practices in gifted education – selected aspects (Oleksandr Burov, Deputy Director of Institute for Gifted Child in Ukraine)and
  • Creating co-operation networks in Europe to improve the quality of gifted education (Franz Monks, also from the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands).

The Poles forwarded me a copy of a paper presented by Monks, presumably during this latter session. I have no hesitation in sharing it because a substantial proportion is my own drafting, dating from 2007 or thereabouts (though there is no attribution), at the time of the last ill-fated effort to secure European collaboration. I recorded these events at the beginning of my June 2010 post.

There is otherwise no substantive record yet available of these discussions, which formed the core of the Conference proceedings. One hopes that this is soon rectified and that they are of some benefit to the wider initiative.

What must have been a stamina-sapping two-hour slot was set aside for eight successive ‘presentations of good practice from selected countries’, featuring each of the moderators (excepting Monks and Dyrda, the latter being replaced by Kosiarek from ORE, the Conference organisers).

Contrary to the billing in the Programme, Margaret Sutherland spoke only about Scotland, not the UK as a whole. The organisers were aware that this would be the case but failed to change the agenda.

I wouldn’t wish to belittle Scotland’s significance, but the fact is that it is home to perhaps five million of the UK’s population of around 60 million people, England being some ten times larger. It is always a mistake to omit Scotland from the UK, but it is a much bigger mistake, quantitatively speaking, to omit England, let alone Wales and Northern Ireland.

Fischer’s address on Germany seems to have been supported by a document about self-regulated learning strategies. Hoogeveen’s paper is a concise summary of provision in the Netherlands. Despite requests and commitments from ORE, I have not received the other presentations or associated materials.

The details so far published are confined to this in English on the European Talent Centre site and this in Polish on ORE’s site. The Polish version promises the uploading of conference proceedings shortly here. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for them to appear.

In the meantime, the published summaries tell us very little of significance, though the photographs attached to the Polish report give an insight into the nature of the proceedings  that is perhaps more eloquent than mere words.

The Hungarian summary comments:

‘Most participating countries have already introduced some good  examples of gifted education, however these initiatives do dot [sic] constitute a nationwide network, do not form an integrated system at the national level – explained Teresa Kosiarek who was responsible for the organization of the conference at ORE. This was the reason why they have chosen systemic solutions in gifted education as the main topic of the conference.’

It is disappointing that England, the sixth largest country by population in Europe (when the populations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are discounted) with its rich recent history of gifted education, including a national programme serving around one million learners, was left entirely out of consideration.

One is left wondering just how the moderators for the event were selected – and by whom. (Here you may detect a hint of sour grapes for which I apologise.) Apart from the preponderance of academic psychologists, what do they have in common? Why did this prospective moderator not qualify for consideration?

Perhaps it is significant that the vast majority are active ECHA members while I am not. I flatter myself that the criterion could not have been personal commitment to the wider EU Talent initiative…but probably we will never know. And, anyway, as I remarked to the organisers ‘there’s no use crying over spilt milk’…

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The EuropeanTalent Centre in Budapest 

While the Poles were struggling to set up their Conference, progress towards the establishment of the Budapest Talent Centre was also proving somewhat slow and difficult.

Communications in January suggested that the Centre would be launched the following month with Csilla Fuszek installed as Director.

By February the Ministry of Education had given its approval in principle to these arrangements and even assigned a budget for the year ahead, but no money had changed hands. The opening was delayed until the end of May.

A plan to write to a range of stakeholders across Europe to request their support was put on ice. When no funding had been received by mid-April, opening was again put back, this time until the end of June. Meanwhile a skeleton staff developed the project in anticipation of future remuneration.

Money was finally paid at the start of July permitting the Centre to begin work in earnest. However, the website carries a prominent statement that:

The operation of the European Talent Centre — Budapest is supported from 1 July 2012 through 30 November 2012 by the grant of the National Talent Fund. The grant is realised under Grant Scheme No. NTP-EU-M-12 announced by the Hungarian Institute for Educational Research and Development and the SándorWekerle Fund Manager of the Ministry of Administration and Justice on commission of the Ministry of Human Resources, from the Training Fund Segment of the Labour Market Fund.’

A 30 September press release confirms that the sum payable for this period is HUF 30 million (almost £87,000). The bulk of this has presumably been used to pay the staff of nine.

It is not stated whether resources are forthcoming for the period after 30 November, though this may feature in an imminent press release about the Centre’s achievements over its first six months. One suspects that donations from sponsors will be necessary for it to continue in business much beyond mid-2013.

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The Centre’s Activities

Back in July, expectations for 2012 were scaled back to collecting ideas and expressions of support while also launching the website.

The site describes the Centre’s mission thus:

‘The long-term objective of European Talent Centre – Budapest established in Summer 2012 is to contribute – based on the success of the Hungarian co-operation model – to organising the European organisations and professionals proclaiming the above values into an open, flexible network overarching the countries of Europe. Its mission is to offer organisations and individuals, active so far in an isolated, latent or maybe already in a network-based form or framework structure, an opportunity to work together to achieve the following:

  • to provide talent support an emphasis commensurate with its importance in every European country
  • to reduce talent loss to the minimum in Europe,
  • to give talent support a priority role in the transformation of the sector of education; to provide talented youngsters access to the most adequate forms of education in every Member State,
  • to make Europe attractive for the talented youth,
  • to create talent-friendly societies in every European country’.

The threefold goal of the Centre is:

  • ‘to accelerate the sharing of information on the topic,
  • to create a higher number of more efficient forms of talent support for the talented,
  • to make it easier for social actors interested in talent support to find each other through the European talent support network.’

Fuszek’s presentation to the Polish conference puts a little more flesh on these bones, noting that the Centre will:

  • Form the hub of a European network that will ‘trigger mechanisms which bring organisations and individuals together to facilitate collaboration, share best practices and resources’. The ambition is that ‘over time’ this and other centres will be ‘directly sponsored by the EU’.
  • Develop an online ‘Talent Map of Europe’. This will incorporate existing networks, organisations and institutions focused mainly on talent support, (including schools, universities and research centres), NGOs, policy makers, businesses with talent management programmes and organisations for parents of gifted children.
  • Share best practice, including through the imminent publication of International Horizons in Talent Development Volume 2 (which was due on 28 November). This is said to include coverage of USA, Saudi Arabia, Finland, and Israel. There will be a separate publication covering the Carpathian Basin countries of Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia and Serbia.
  • Lobby the European Parliament via the Written Declaration.

There is reference to use of social media but it is not quite clear what is intended:

‘will have a webpage so via social media will help to turn tacit networks into explicit networks…’

The Talent Map is clearly the top priority. There is no reference to annual conferences or even Talent Days.

The website  carries an interview with Fuszek in which she mentions plans to ‘set up a team of voluntary experts from all over Europe who wish to actively contribute to the development of the European talent network and help draw the European talent map’.

It appears that the Expert Group cum Advisory Group now has a third incarnation.

The news items on the website include a feature on a regional meeting, held shortly after the Polish Conference, with representatives from Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia (the Poles were invited but could not attend). Very helpfully – and as if to point up the contrast with the Polish event – all the presentations given at the event are attached.

One sets out an idea from Austria for a ‘European knowledge map’ for gifted and talented education which bears a strong resemblance to the observatory I have proposed regularly on this blog, most recently in this post on the contribution of social media to gifted education. It is not clear whether this idea can or will be brought within scope of the Talent Centre initiative.

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The Website

The website went live in September as planned, around the time of the ECHA Conference. I offered feedback as requested:

‘…You have a lot of written information in several different places. It would be a good idea to edit some of the text so there is less to read on the web pages, with detailed documents linked as PDF attachments. Some of the English could also be simplified so it has more immediate impact.

The site is also hard to navigate because there are three different sets of menus – two are available from the home page and two from the content pages, one being common to both. I think you may need to simplify the structure a bit, so it’s not so easy to get lost

…I would personally prefer the website to serve as a hub that supports interaction between different bodies and individuals featured on the map – so people can actively discuss partnership and collaboration in the same space, rather than moving elsewhere to do that.

That means the site is more like a virtual agency where prospective partners can meet and explore possible relationships, either openly or in private discussions as they prefer’.

Little has changed since I made these statements. The homepage carries a scrolling set of links to five pages on the site and four brief news items beneath. Clicking on ‘sitemap’ takes one to the homepage.

The main pages are selected from a horizontal menu with six options. Most of these include an additional vertical menu and also a series of links to the same set of ‘news and events’ (so the latter form the right-hand column on the majority of pages).

The Talent Map includes only a handful of links, none in the UK.

The page of useful links is extensive but basically just a very long list, hard to navigate and not very user-friendly. Conversely, ‘best practices’ contains only three resources, all of them produced in house.

The whole design is rather complex and cluttered, several of the pages are too text-heavy and occasionally the English leaves something to be desired.

I’ve made no secret of my conviction that the Talent Centre should embrace social media, developing a website built on social media principles, by which I mean that it should serve as an online hub rather than a central repository, and actively support multimedia online interaction rather than providing a more traditional ‘information store’. The current version is some way from that vision.

I’ve also offered feedback on an ‘EU Talent Points Plan’, a copy of which was circulated at the ECHA Conference. This:

  • Urged a more flexible, inclusive approach to the selection of points on the talent map.
  • Suggested an online consultation seeking views from stakeholders about what they want from the map and how they think it should be developed.
  • Proposed ‘an Amazon-style rating scale’ enabling users to publish reviews of the services they have experienced.

It would be helpful if the Centre could publish a synthesis of the ideas and suggestions it has received, as well as a statement of how it proposes to develop the map and the timescale for that. If it is to rely on an international team of volunteers they will need to be recruited rather urgently.

Because of its function, it is imperative that the Centre is as open and transparent as possible over such matters, otherwise it risks being viewed with a degree of suspicion by some potential allies.

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The Relationship with ECHA

A major risk associated with the EU Talent initiative is the potential for conflict with ECHA. As I have said before, if ECHA had been effective there would have been no need to establish a parallel network.

There is therefore an implicit criticism of ECHA’s performance, especially since the network is being set up as a separate entity rather than within ECHA.

So from ECHA’s point of view, it would be all too easy to regard the EU Talent project as a deliberate effort to undermine it, even to supplant it. This helps to explain the intensive courting of ECHA by the Hungarian team during the development phase.

Future progress will have been smoothed by the choice by ECHA members of Peter Csermely as their new President, an event reported on the Talent Centre’s website in suitably diplomatic terms (the emphasis is mine):

‘According to Prof Péter Csermely, newly elected president of ECHA, the Budapest Centre will play a supportive role in ECHA’s network-building efforts by creating a Talent Map of European talent support institutions and best practices. The idea of sharing experiences and networking was welcomed by numerous members of ECHA at the Münster conference.’

One can reasonably predict that the two organisations will draw more closely together following Peter Csermely’s election. It seems doubtful that ECHA will swallow the EU Talent Centre, though there is a possibility that the reverse could happen. Some sort of merger or federation may be on the cards, especially if both entities are short of cash.

Economies of scale and greater efficiency could be realised through merger, though it is open to question whether the politics would permit even that relationship, despite the fact that Csermely, the master diplomat, sits at the head of both organisations.

In the short term, the new ECHA Executive is focused on improving ECHA’s own infrastructure, with plans to reform its rather clunky website by early 2013.

In an equally refreshing move, the Slovenian organisers of the ECHA 2014 conference have selected ‘giftedness in a digital age’ as their theme and have established an open forum to gather ideas about the content and organisation of the event.

I am grateful that they have read my post about the 2012 Conference and expressed their willingness to receive further ideas from this quarter. What a contrast between Slovenia and Poland!

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An Overall Verdict on Progress to Date

After a slow start, the Budapest Centre has made some significant progress, particularly over the past four months. The Polish conference will have caused some reputational damage but, in the grand scheme of things, should have only a marginal impact on the wider initiative.

It remains to be seen whether there will be a 2013 Conference, as envisaged in the 2011 Declaration and, if so, where it will be held. (The 2013 EU Presidency falls first to Ireland and then to Lithuania.) A decision soon on the timing – as well as the location – is devoutly to be wished for.

Despite the progress in Budapest, there are several warning signs which cannot be ignored:

  • Given the size of the staff, the overall level of activity seems relatively low when judged in terms of the quality and quantity of published material;
  • So it seems probable that much of this human resource is disproportionately allocated to relatively marginal but labour-intensive activity, such as the promised publication of a second volume of International Horizons of Talent Support, a review of gifted education activity elsewhere in the world. (Even though I say so myself, there are others in that territory providing a more flexible service entirely free of charge!)
  • The website needs fairly urgent attention if it is to adopt a design and approach consistent with the networking principles upon which the initiative as a whole is based. The talent map is still embryonic, though it was launched well over two months ago now.
  • As far as I can tell, nothing has been done to establish the International Expert/Advisory Group which formed part of the original vision. This seems essential to wider international ownership of the initiative. It would be unfortunate in my view if the group was limited to populating the talent map.
  • There are unexplained omissions and delays. There was no EU Talent Day in 2012, despite initial rumours that it would be celebrated during the ECHA Conference in September. The website mentions plans for an event on 28 November marking the first six months of the Centre’s activities and publication of International Horizons Volume Two. But at the time of writing, there is still no report on proceedings and the new volume has yet to be uploaded.
  • The future funding of the Centre seems relatively precarious and unclear. The website is explicit that initial support from the National Talent Fund runs out on 30 November. Some sources suggest there may be money available to support the Centre’s activities for a further six to nine months, but longer term support will almost certainly depend on sponsorship. Sponsors may well want some influence over the direction of the project and its priorities. It will be telling (and rather worrying) if the press release marking the first six months of activity – when it is eventually published – makes no reference to future funding arrangements.

It remains to be seen whether the EU lobbying effort will bear fruit. It may set back progress if too few MEPs are willing to sign the EU Declaration. Even if the Declaration is supported, it is not entirely clear what benefits this will bring.

And overall I remain concerned at the Budapest-centric nature of the operation. There is no published plan for how the current model will shift to a more distributed approach where responsibility and control is shared across Europe. As I have several times suggested, an EU funding bid under the Lifelong Learning Programme would provide the wherewithal to begin that process.

The next twelve months will be critical, almost certainly determining whether or not this laudable initiative is destined to succeed. We will return to the subject this time next year to find out whether the EU Talent project is a resounding success or a glorious failure.

.

GP

November 2012

EU Talent Day Conference – April 7-9 2011: Part Two

The first part of this post provided a report on the proceedings at the recent EU Talent Day Conference in Budapest, Hungary.

In this second part, I take a closer look at the declaration produced by the Conference and ask whether the Hungarian talent support model is straightforwardly scalable to the rest of the EU.

The Budapest Declaration on Talent Support

The full text of the Declaration covers the following main points. The sections in bold below are those which reflect comments I made on the draft:

  • Although it is acknowledged that there are terminological and definitional differences in the field, broad consensus is sought around an inclusive concept, embracing a wide range of talents and people of all ages;
  •  The identification and development of talent benefits individuals and society, whether in member countries or in Europe as a whole. It helps to realise the EU’s strategic goals for innovation and sustainable growth and so should be integral to the Europe 2020 Strategy. It is the shared responsibility of governments, non-governmental organisations, businesses and local communities;
  • Talent support programmes can strengthen social cohesion and social mobility. They should balance the pursuit of excellence for all and support for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who will be a differently constituted group in each country. They help disadvantaged communities, such as the Roma, to progress;
  •  The Hungarian network model may provide the basis and pattern for an EU-wide network supporting partnership and collaboration. An annual Talent Day, around 25 March, will continue to provide a focus for this effort and the EU is called upon to make this the official European Day of the Talented and Gifted.
  • The significance of talent support should be reflected in key documents of the Commission, Council and Parliament and there should be a joint effort to ensure that it receives due attention in all member states. To monitor activity and co-ordinate progress, the participants propose to establish a European Talent Resource and Support Centre in Budapest.
  •  Stakeholders will be invited to convene annually to discuss talent support issues, the next occasion being in Warsaw, Poland in 2012.

As I have indicated above, there was no formal opportunity for conference delegates to discuss the whole of the draft resolution and to discuss possible amendments, and no consultative opportunity after the event.

To some extent, therefore, the Declaration is a ‘rubber-stamped’ version of the draft presented by the Hungarian organisers at the outset of the conference. The changes introduced are marginal amendments rather than a wholesale redraft.

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, there is the argument that it is always a mistake to attempt to draft by committee. Moreover, the divergences in the gifted education world are so pronounced that, had we been given the chance to discuss the draft openly, we might never have agreed the substance.

On the other hand, although I personally had a chance to influence the text, as did a few others, I felt that the same opportunity may not have been afforded to all the delegates.

Some of the broad statements in the declaration are ‘motherhood and apple pie’ – it would be hard to disagree with them. But there are places where it might have been helpful to acknowledge a broader range of opinion, or at least to offer a slightly more nuanced text.

That said, I think most delegates were satisfied that the resolution was broadly ‘fit for purpose’. Whether the same applies for those who read it without having had the benefit of attendance at the Conference – including those who receive it on behalf of the EU – remains to be seen.

The Hungarian Approach to Talent Support

All delegates received in their packs an updated version of a brochure ‘Hungarian Genius Integrated Talent Support Programme’ which is similar to the material on the English section of the Hungarian Genius Portal. What follows is a summary which synthesises material from the Portal and the updated brochure.

Aims and Objectives            

The Hungarian approach starts from the premiss that everyone may be talented in something, while also recognising that some are more talented than others.

The descriptive material switches regularly between the terminology of ‘talent development and support’ and of ‘gifted and talented education’ treating them as effectively synonymous

The National Talent Programme (NTP) aims to help:

  • young people discover the talent in themselves
  • adults recognise talent in young people, providing training, motivation and network support
  • ensure that people’s potential can be realised through performance and achievement
  • challenge social myths around concepts such as ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’
  • improve the quality and accessibility of talent support to children in all regions and from all backgrounds

so creating:

‘a talent-friendly social environment in which people are encouraged and supported to identify and develop their capabilities, and can realise themselves for their own happiness and for the benefit of the public’.

To achieve these aims, action is needed to:

  • develop a strategic and systematic vision of talent support
  • provide the right training and network support for experts, professionals and volunteer helpers, so mainstreaming the basic concepts of gifted and talented education
  • involve educational institutions in the developing network, especially in parts of the country where awareness of gifted and talented education is limited.

As indicated in the first part of this post, although talent development in adults of all ages was regularly mentioned as an aim during the Conference, it is much less prevalent in the background material, which strongly emphasises support for talented youth.

It is also worth noting that the focus is heavily on out-of-school activities, even where schools are involved, despite the strong European tradition – articulated by Palinkas at the Conference – of stressing the contribution made to effective talent support (in some fields at least) by teachers working with learners in the regular classroom.

I wonder whether these tensions are evident and recognised by the organisers. It is possible of course that they reflect differing views amongst those developing and running the programme as to the priorities that should be addressed.

Pragmatically speaking, it is probably necessary to play different cards for different audiences, especially when funding depends on it!

Structures

The Hungarian Talent Support Council (HTSC) was established as a non-profit organisation in 2006 by the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the field. There are currently 30 member organisations.

It aims to promote talent support, acting as a co-ordinating and representative body. It collects international evidence of best practice, organises professional development and conferences and identifies resources that be utilised for talent support purposes.

The HTSC devised the 20-year National Talent Programme (NTP), which was ratified by the Hungarian Parliament in 2008. The NTP is supported by a National Talent Fund (NTF) of 5 million Euros per year

The Hungarian Genius Integrated Talent Support Programme (HGITSP) is a three-year EU-funded programme lasting from 2009 to 2011 and marks the first phase of the NTP.

The HTSC is assisted by a Programme Unit comprising a Professional Manager and five thematic support teams responsible for:

  • network development and co-ordination;
  • theory and methodology;
  • international relations;
  • training and professional development; and
  • supporting talent amongst those from disadvantaged backgrounds and with special needs.

There is also a 14-strong project support team.

This network currently consists of over 400 Talent Points (TPs) – providers that have been accredited within the HGITSP framework – and over 200 talent support initiatives which have been developed within the framework.

TPs are the nodes in the network. They join it voluntarily and are responsible for talent identification and development, counselling and sharing information and best practice through the network. More mature TPs provide support to newer ones.

The network extends beyond the national borders to include talented young people amongst Hungarian minorities in the neighbouring countries of Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and the Ukraine. It is expected to reach some 20,000 young people by autumn 2011.

In its initial phase, the HGITSP is prioritising the training of adults who support talents.

This is achieved through an overarching network of regional, cross-regional and thematic Talent Support Councils (TSCs) each comprising representatives of business, education and local government.

To date, 24 TSCs have been established and this may increase to as many as 75 by the end of 2011.

Their role is to organise forums for talent support activists, conferences and talent days and networking between TPs. They have delegated responsibility for decision-making.

An organisation called ‘Friends of Talent Club’ has also been established for those undertaking talent support activity in a voluntary capacity. The membership includes mentors, counsellors and educators

Activities

The Programme Team has accredited 10-30 hour training courses in almost 80 subjects available throughout the network. These are to support professionals and also to raise parental awareness.

In the period of approximately a year, from Spring 2010 to early March 2011, over 9,500 teachers and other professionals undertook training in 526 different groups throughout the country. By the end of February 2011, over 12,000 had applied for training since the beginning of the scheme.

There is a strong emphasis on monitoring and evaluation. A summer 2010 survey reveals that the Hungarian system experiences the same problem we have encountered in other countries – and, indeed, in Europe as a whole:

one of the greatest challenges we face is to decrease the competitiveness, lack of trust and parallel work in between organisations of the network in order to strengthen the bonds and facilitate cooperation among network members.

This challenge points out the necessity to help individual organisations to reframe the narratives they tell to themselves, and leaving a competitive approach behind, help them realise and value the interconnectedness with other talent care initiatives that they share long-term ambitions with.’

A set of professional development publications have also been produced, available free in hard copy and online. Topics covered include assessment, mentoring, development of critical and reflective thinking, guidance on talent care in specialist fields and development of entrepreneurial and project management skills.

The network promotes and supports Talent Days to celebrate talent and raise the profile of talent support activity. The first Talent Days took place in 2006. They are partly professional networking events and partly opportunities for talented young people to meet each other.

They provide an opportunity for the local community to thank their talent supporters and renew the community’s collective efforts to continue with the process.

The Programme Team is developing a Talent Credit Scheme (TCS) or talent loan with the help of a working group chaired by the CEO of Volksbank, Hungary.

This is planned to support talent development in those from disadvantaged backgrounds and will operate in a similar way to the Hungarian student loan scheme. The loans may be used for a variety of purposes related to talent support.

The planned continuation of the HGP from 2012 to 2014 is called the Talent Bridges Programme (TBP). There are two different sets of objectives in the materials but, combining these together, the priorities include:

  • filling gaps in TP network
  • improving the relationships between the different levels in the system
  • developing ‘talent peer communities’ amongst the young people themselves
  • supporting the engagement of talent with social responsibility
  • raising the media profile of talent support and
  • arranging ‘the preliminary steps of setting up an EU Institute of Talent Support in Budapest’.

The broad focus will swing away from professional development of adults towards direct support for talent in young people, while also securing the longer-term sustainability of the network.

The Hungarian Genius Portal is an online platform supporting communication and information-sharing across the entire network. In a very real sense, the online environment is the ‘nervous system’ of the whole operation.

At its heart there is an Interactive Talent Map which identifies the geographical location and core activities of all the TPs. Most of the content is uploaded by network members rather than buy the central team, emphasising the distributed nature of the endeavour.

However, the project team claims to publish all relevant documents to ensure that the operation of the programme is transparent. (Although my translation tools may be at fault, my reading of the site suggests that some material is nevertheless withheld.)

In sum…

Overall then, the Programme represents an ambitious and well-resources effort to establish a fully comprehensive talent support network. This is still in a state of relatively rapid expansion, but momentum is being sustained through significant effort and support from the centre.

The big question is whether the model can achieve sustainability. Will it develop the capacity to run itself with only minimal central co-ordination and is it capable of becoming self-funding, or will it forever be reliant on a considerable injection of Government and EU support?

These questions apply in the first instance to the Hungarian programme, but they are equally relevant to plans to extend the model across the EU.

Is this Model Scalable Across Europe?
Funding

I am not 100% clear on the exact size of the current funding agreements, but as far as I can establish:

  • The NTP is supported through the National Talent Fund supported by an annual grant from the Hungarian Government and an annual contribution from the EU. The EU contribution since 2008 is 8.3m Euros, paid through the European Social Fund, and total annual sum available is 5m Euros, suggesting that at least 50% of the funding comes from the ESF;
  • The HGITSP receives a further 3.1m Euros from 2009-2011 (though this sum is sometimes said to be 2.4m Euros). Although there are plans for continuation and expansion through Talent Bridges, the current funding runs out in December 2011. It will therefore be necessary to make a fresh bid to the EU, unless the slack is to be taken up by the Hungarian Government. The sum required will be considerable if the budget is to meet the cost of establishing a EU Institute of Talent Support.

During the Conference, we heard arguments about the relevance of talent support to a wide range of EU activity, including the 2020 Programme, Innovation, Science, Research and Education.

It is unclear to me, under current arrangements at least, how a sufficiently large flow of funding can be secured and distributed to enable all EU members to develop an extended network on the Hungarian model.

Some small initial steps might be undertaken through the Comenius Network category in the EU’s Lifelong Learning Programme. But the maximum amount available from that source (at least for 2011) is a mere 150,000 Euros per year over a total of three years. And there is also a requirement for at least 25% of the funding to come from sources other than the EU.

That will not take us very far. But maybe the EU will develop new mechanisms that will enable it to divert sufficient funding towards pan-European efforts to feed the talent pipeline required to make the 2020 Strategy successful.

If so, it needs to do so quickly, otherwise the time-lags involved will mean it is already too late: the graduates of 2020 are already starting their secondary education.
Design

The basic distributed network model seems to me powerful and resilient. Similar approaches are already being adopted in several other countries including England, where GT Voice is based on similar principles (though without the funding to support implementation).

I do have some reservations however:

  • I am not yet convinced that the idea of establishing a European Centre in Budapest is necessary, or entirely in keeping with a distributed pan-EU network. Ideally, such a network should be capable of thriving with the smallest possible central hub which exists almost entirely online. The notion of a Centre smacks somewhat of the centralised top-down solutions that the network is intended to render unnecessary. It is not clear what responsibilities it would undertake and how it would add value to the overall endeavour. It could very easily become a ‘white elephant’.
  • The Hungarian network model has been designed with Hungary and its expatriate community in mind. While the basic principles are exportable to any context, the detailed operational structures should be a matter for determination by each participating country, so achieving the right balance between prescription and autonomy. It would be wrong in my view to try to force every country to follow the exact design developed by the Hungarians; there should however be sufficient similarity to secure effective partnership and collaboration across national borders, subject only to resolving the linguistic difficulties that this presents.
  • Given the size of the task and the level of resourcing likely to be necessary, it is essential that there is shared prioritisation. A lifelong learning approach, encompassing talent development at all ages, may simply be too big a challenge to take on. If talent support for young people is the priority, to what extent is the effort biased towards equity (supporting those from disadvantaged backgrounds) as opposed to excellence (supporting everyone regardless of background)? From an economic perspective, it may be argued that the latter includes a significant element of ‘deadweight cost’ – in that much of this talent would have been recognised and realised without additional support – while the former yields proportionately greater benefits. If disadvantaged communities are to be a top priority, the acknowledgement in the declaration that the target group will be very different in different countries becomes increasingly significant.
  • There is a political issue lurking in the relationship with ECHA. The Hungarians seem to have gone out of their way to court ECHA to date, but their aspiration for a pan-European network rather calls into question ECHA’s raison d’etre. Put bluntly, if ECHA had succeeded in achieving its objectives, the current Hungarian initiative would not be necessary. Similarly, if the Hungarian initiative succeeds, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that ECHA would be redundant. This issue needs to be addressed head-on from the outset, not swept under the carpet.
  • Finally, there is a pressing need to engage representatives of other nationalities in the early stages of planning towards the achievement of a European Network. The original proposals from the Hungarians spoke of plans to establish an Open Method of Co-ordination (OMC) Expert Group on Talent Support to provide a basis for ongoing EU-wide discussion of talent support issues, for agreeing common objectives, establishing benchmarks and monitoring progress. The meeting in Budapest was a start, but an ongoing pan-EU planning process now needs to be introduced, building on the momentum created in Budapest.

All that said, the basic approach is sound and every EU member stands to gain significantly from taking part. I will do my best to encourage colleagues in England to continue to support this endeavour – and hope I can be of some service in helping to realise the wider ambition.

For, even if we fail to secure from the EU sufficient funding to roll out the Hungarian approach across Europe, we can make very significant progress towards much-improved pan-European collaboration with real commitment to a common purpose and much smaller sums.

GP

April 2011

EU Talent Day Conference – April 7-9 2011: Part One

This is a 2-part post about the recent EU Talent Day Conference in Budapest Hungary and its potential implications for European gifted education.

Part 1 is about the Conference itself; Part 2 considers the declaration that emerged from the Conference and whether the Hungarian approach to talent support is scalable to the rest of Europe.

I had hoped to offer a live blog from the conference but there was too little free time in which to write the entries and I only began sketching out this post in the Departures Hall of Budapest’s Ferenc Liszt International Airportand on the plane back to London.

I had arrived four days beforehand, in the early evening of 6 April, in the company of Joan Freeman and Margaret Sutherland. We were kindly met by Csilla Fuszek, who works as the International Co-ordinator for the Hungarian Genius Programme.

She escorted us to our excellent Hotel, on the Buda Bank of the Danube where, later that evening, there was a reception and introductory session for conference speakers hosted by Peter Csermely, Chairman of the Hungarian National Talent Support Council.

Csilla and I also spent some time planning the session that we would jointly chair the following day.

The Conference took place in Budapest’s History Museum. For those who know Budapest, this is part of Buda Castle on the Hill overlooking the plain on the Pest side of the Danube. One can either climb the stairs or take the Castle’s impressive Funicular Railway up from the River bank.

The plenary sessions took place in the Museum’s Baroque Hall, which has a glass roof. The first day of the Conference coincided with a Budapest heatwave and the delegates grew progressively warmer as the morning proceeded, especially those – like me – who had packed for a temperate climate!

The full programme is here. As you can see, there was much to listen to, but not too much opportunity to discuss, at least not during the formal proceedings. The listening was via dual translation in English and Hungarian, which made it more demanding.

Those of us used to the participative events more common in Western Europe had to call on all our reserves of mental stamina.

Day 1 of the Conference: Morning

The opening session was chaired by the Deputy State Minister for Compulsory Education, Zoltan Gloviczki and the President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Jozsef Palinkas.

Amongst the points he made in an informed contribution:

  • The real work of talent development has to be undertaken by schools: it is an integral part of schools’ responsibilities to put gifted learners on the right path;
  •  Teachers’ personal attention is crucial to the business of talent development – every teacher everywhere in Europe needs support to undertake the task;
  • It is important to ‘identify each and every talent in the smallest school in the smallest village’.

Following a short musical interlude (the presentations were interspersed with excellent performances by talented young Hungarian musicians) the Minister of State for Education, Rozsa Hoffmann made what I thought was an impressive speech.

She:

  • acknowledged the variety of different – and sometimes conflicting – approaches to gifted education, while emphasising from her own perspective the value of effort and commitment in the realisation of talent;
  • suggested that developing the talents and remedying the relative weaknesses of every learner in a class of 30 or more pupils was perhaps the greatest challenge faced by teachers;
  • recognised that it is not always easy for teachers to embrace and celebrate talents in their pupils: high ability can sometimes stimulate jealousy and other negative feelings in the teacher. (‘Mediocracy likes to throttle talent’ was the neat way our translator expressed her remark.)
  • argued that a true indicator of teaching success is whether pupils end up knowing and understanding more than their teachers; and
  •  applauded the fact that Hungary had agreed a 20-year Talent Development Strategy and had committed significant funding towards it during a period of recession.

She concluded by recalling the Parable of the Talents. We have to manage our talents well, she said, and by ‘polishing and chiselling diamonds of talent’ we can help to enrich and strengthen Europe.

Our third speaker was Peter Csermely who stressed the lifelong learning dimension of talent development:

‘Everyone may hide a form of talent: until someone dies there is always a hope that a talent is hidden in that person’.

This emphasis on talent development in adults was something of a leitmotif during the conference and seems a recent addition to the Hungarians’ objectives given the predominantly youth-focused nature of the Strategy’s presentation online.

Csermely asserted the strength of a networked approach to talent development, saying that ‘well-developed systems allow all members to be at their centre’. (Csermely, a Professor of Biochemistry, is an expert in the topology and dynamics of complex networks.)

He described Hungary’s evolving talent support network and spoke of pan-European support for the inaugural Talent Day, making special reference to the declaration of a National Talent Day by Ruairi Quinn, the Irish Minister for Education.

He remarked the apparent belief underpinning the EU’s Europe 2020 Strategy that talent grows and develops naturally, but this is a false assumption: the aim of the Conference was to build the case for the EU to invest in the support and nurture of talent.

The next speaker was Stefaan Hermans, from the EU’s Directorate General for Research and Innovation who talked about the need for a major increase in the number of researchers across the EU and a current consultation on the future of EU research and innovation funding, noting in passing that the new European Institute of Innovation and Technology has its HQ in Budapest.

The final speaker in the morning session was Miroslaw Sielatycki an Undersecretary of State from Poland’s Ministry of National Education, who described talent development in his country. (The Poles have the EU Presidency after Hungary and have agreed to continue to support the talent development initiative during their six months in the lead.)

Sielatycki anchored his presentation in data from PISA 2009 about the relatively low proportion of high achievers in Poland relative to some other countries. Poland at least is paying attention to this data as well as mean levels of achievement.

While several Polish NGOs are engaged in gifted education projects and there is active participation in international competitions, the distribution of gifted learners is uneven between districts.

‘Is it the seed [the student] the soil [the environment] or the gardener [the teacher]‘ that explains this state of affairs’, he asked? In an attempt to discover the answer, Poland has named 2011 its ‘Year of Discovering and Exploring Talents’.

One Polish initiative is an online environment co-ordinating the talent discovery process. This includes interactive maps showing the location of over 400 Talent Discovery Schools and a further 500 Talent Discovery Places. The Poles have also appointed Talent Development Ambassadors and confirmed a number of Partners in the endeavour.

Polish schools celebrated EU Talent Day on 21 March, by cancelling normal classes and undertaking a variety of talent development activities instead.

This is very similar to the Hungarian approach, as we shall see below. As is the case with Hungary, Poland is embarked upon a three-year strategy (2010-13) supported by EU funding.

Day 1 of the Conference: Afternoon and Evening

We walked next door to the National Széchényi Library where our lunch was served before reconvening in the Baroque Hall to hear from Laszlo Andor, the (Hungarian) European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.

He spoke of the potential role of the European Social Fund in talent development, arguing that the current recession reinforces the case for EU investment in human capital as a route to economic growth. Investment in the development of talented people from disadvantaged backgrounds helped to strengthen social cohesion, he said.

He went on to identify three key challenges:

  • avoiding the waste of talent, with begins in the earliest stage of life. Every sixth young person in Europe leaves school without completing secondary qualifications, while national education systems tend to ‘tolerate’ creativity rather than actively developing it. Many young people gather irrelevant knowledge and skills in their schools and are not properly prepared for lifelong learning;
  • securing labour mobility – the EU faces skills shortages in some sectors and forecasts a particularly acute shortage of 700,000 skilled IT communications workers by 2015;
  •  supporting social innovation – some 10% of EU businesses are ‘social businesses’ established by people ‘on the periphery of society’ who need support to succeed.

He was followed to the lectern by Leo Pahkin from the Finnish National Board of Education, who told us something of LEO, a national development programme for gifted education in Finland.

The implicit message was presumably that even Finland – whose education system enjoys an enviable reputation owing to its top position in PISA and other international benchmarking studies – needs to invest in talent development.

The attention being given to gifted education in Finland receives little publicity – and never features in the OECD’s own analyses of the way the Finnish system is responding to PISA and other data about its performance.

Pahkin’s presentation is here. He explained that LEO – coincidentally also his christian name – is one of 30 or more voluntary national development activities currently under way in Finland and involves around 30 schools. There is also an outline of the initial phase of the programme in English here.

The final speaker in the plenary session was Johanna Raffan, Secretary of the European Council for High Ability (ECHA) who advertised ECHA’s services. The Hungarian conference organisers did not address directly the relationship between their initiative and the work of ECHA and there was no explicit endorsement of it in Johanna’s presentation.

During the second part of the afternoon, we broke into three parallel sessions:

  • Social Cohesion though Talent Support, focusing on support for gifted young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, which featured contributions from Csilla Fuszek, me and Kata Kerenyi from the Zold Kakas Liceum in Budapest;
  • Talent Creativity, Innovation – the relationship between talented young people and mobility, considering the application of talent in a European context, including pan-European co-operation between young talents and ways in which member states have protected themselves against ‘brain drain’. This featured Gabor Szabo of the Hungarian Association for Innovation and Erika Landau of Tel Aviv University Israel;
  • Decision Makers – Science – Professional Realisation, looking at the development of national policies and legislation, which featured Janos Gyori of Eotvos Lorund University Budapest (who, according to his biographies, actually seems to work elsewhere currently) and Taapio Saavala from the EU’s Directorate General for Education and Training.

Our session – and so presumably the others – proved quite difficult to plan for given the competing needs of the domestic audience, who wanted to explore Hungarian practice, and those of us with an international perspective, who wanted to concentrate on developing the draft resolution to the EU to be agreed by the end of the Conference (of which more below).

I decided to focus my brief contribution on the big picture: the case for supporting the identification and development of disadvantaged gifted learners as part of a wider European talent development initiative. You can find my slides here.

All this was rather abstract for my native Hungarian audience, but it seemed to me important to ground their more parochial concerns – notably about talent development amongst the Roma – in the wider European context.

In the evening many of us attended the Conference Gala Dinner, a welcome opportunity to network with the other delegates.

Day 2 of the Conference: Morning

We were welcomed by a speech from the representative of the Mayor of Budapest (who did not turn up in person) and then Joan Freeman gave a presentation based on the Tower Group Report ‘Worldwide Provision to Develop Gifts and Talents’

(I was responsible for quality assurance of this publication and, although not listed as an author, Section 4 draws heavily on material that I prepared while undertaking this role.)

Then we heard three short presentations on talent support in Germany (Christian Fischer), Poland (Wieslawa Limont) and Scotland (Margaret Sutherland) respectively.

Fischer provided a round-up of the key activities under way and organisations active across the various Lande, as well as the role played by the federal Ministry of Education including the publication of this survey.

Limont spoke mainly about the Academic Secondary School of Nicholas Copernicus University in Torun while Sutherland described the role of the Scottish Network for Able Pupils (SNAP).

At this point, we were introduced by Janos Gyori (mentioned above) to a publication we had received in our delegates’ packs. It is unclear whether this will also be published online: I can’t find it there at present, either in Hungarian or English.

Called ‘International Horizons of Talent Support, 1: Best Practices Within and Without the European Union, 1′, this has been compiled by an 11-strong Foreign Relations Research Team within the Hungarian Genius Programme.

They visited Austria, England, Finland Germany, Israel, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain and the USA, interviewing some ’50 foreign talent support experts’ and used this raw material to compile the report. Gyori is the editor.

As Csilla Fuszek’s Foreword explains, this is not intended to be a complete guide to talent development practice:

‘…each chapter provides an overview of the society and talent support activity of the country under scrutiny, but the main focus is always on presenting one (sometimes two) example(s) of good practice in talent support’.

I have as yet only read the text about England, so this critique may not apply to the volume in general, but the treatment does seem rather idiosyncratic.

There is a long, curious commentary on the wider English political and educational context that would have benefited from scrutiny by a native of the country. The section on talent development is rather lacking in detail, and draws insufficiently in my view on the extensive background material I provided through interview.

Consequentially, the attention given to NACE is not properly contextualised, giving the impression that it has relatively greater significance within the wider gifted education ‘scene’ here in England than it enjoys in reality.

I fear the publication bears the hallmarks of rushed preparation and relatively poor quality assurance. The draft text should really have been shared with ‘national correspondents’ so they had an opportunity to correct any errors prior to publication.

Although I commend the Hungarian Genius Programme for the ambitious nature of the exercise, I think it should have been handled differently. If this material is to be used domestically in Hungary for professional development purposes, I would urge that a strong ‘health warning’ is attached.

The next presentation, from Zoltan Gloviczki provided information about the Arany Janos Hungarian Talent Support Programme which supports gifted and disadvantaged young people from predominantly rural areas.

The Programme is managed top-down by the Hungarian Education Ministry and now serves 3,000 students who undertake a 5-year programme in one of 12 secondary schools and 24 boarding schools. Since the budget is 8.7m Euros per year, this gives a generous unit cost of 2,900 Euros per student per year and 14,500 Euros per student for the entire programme. About 80% of participants are admitted to higher education (preparation for HE is one of the core aims).

Finally in the morning session we heard from a panel of business leaders who were asked to give their thoughts about their role in talent support and about the potential for corporate social responsibility activity in the field. As one would expect, they concluded broadly that talent development and support is an important priority, but that too few businesses have yet realised this!

Day 2 of the Conference: Afternoon and Evening

Following lunch in the Library we again divided into three parallel sessions:

  • Social Responsibility – European Responsibility, which picked up the pre-lunchtime discussion by examining the role of the business and private sectors in talent support. The session was chaired by Gabor Varjasi of MOL Group, which sponsored parts of the Conference, and Roland Persson of Jonkoping University in Sweden;
  • Research results and decision-making, considering the scope for evidence-based decision-making, chaired by Laszlo Balogh of Debrecen University and Franz Monks of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands;
  •  The role of networking in the practice of talent support, chaired by Monika Reti of the Hungarian Institute for Educational Research and Doris Jorde of the University of Oslo, Norway.

I had planned to attend the third of these, but missed a significant proportion owing to an interview with Hungarian Radio and then a session in which I was able to offer my personal feedback on the draft resolution of the Conference (see part 2 of this post).

I had hoped that the resolution would be placed online as a draft text, allowing for a short consultation period, to enable those not able to attend the conference to comment upon it. Unfortunately, this seemed to be impossible, so a few immediate ‘drafting suggestions’ were called for.

The conference ended with brief reports back from the chairs of each parallel session – which were of variable quality and did not really add much of significance to the proceedings – and a warm closing speech from Rozsa Hoffmann, who also read out the resolution.

In the evening the speakers attended a further celebratory dinner close to the next bridge along the River – an opportunity to relax after the hard work over the two previous days, and to congratulate the organisers on the success of the conference.

For the few critical remarks above should be kept in proportion. I am a notoriously harsh judge of conferences and even I was impressed by the smooth organisation and overall positive atmosphere of the event.

The Talent Daily

During the three-day event, the Press Office attached to the Conference and Talent Day produced two editions of a newspaper ‘The Talent Daily’ as a supplement to the Budapest Times, providing news and information related to the event.

The first edition includes a mixture of features an interviews including one with Joan Freeman and another with Sandor Csanyi, founder of the Csanyi Foundation programme for gifted disadvantaged children.

The second edition includes a summary of the resolution, titled The Budapest Declaration on Talent Support, as well as a picture of an avatar you might recognise and a short article about my recent presentation in Second Life as part of a series organised by Roya Klingner of the Bavarian Centre for Gifted Children.


Day 3: Talent Support Day

The Talent Day celebration was end-on to the Conference. It took place at the Hungarian Culture Foundation and was opened by the indefatigable Rozsa Hoffmann. As at the conference, the presentations were interspersed with great performances by talented Hungarian musicians and dancers.

The keynote presentation was given by Francoys Gagne who set out his model of giftedness and talent . Gagne seemed a strange choice since his rather conservative, narrow concept of gifted education does not sit entirely comfortably with the much more inclusive approach apparently favoured by the Hungarians. However, Francoys carried off the event with his customary charm and elan.

This was followed by a series of brief presentations by different Talent Points, including:

A talent fair provided the opportunity for representatives of different countries to display materials and resources. Then the more energetic and extrovert delegates joined in a mass Csardas while the rest watched on with the obligatory expressions of bemused amusement.

Finally, we broke for lunch, said our goodbyes and made our way back to our hotels prior to departure to the Airport. After a brief but vain attempt to find novel yet reasonably-priced souvenirs for my family, I walked back down the steps to the Hotel and, shortly afterwards, caught an airport shuttlebus with Franz Monks, who was on his way back via Dusseldorf.

I reached home at about 10.30pm UK time, after what seemed an interminable journey by tube and train. It should not be necessary to wait for half an hour on a Saturday evening for a Piccadilly Line train to serve Heathrow Terminal 5!

GP

April 2011

Hungary’s Plans to Strengthen G&T Education Across The EU

Back in November 2007, a group of leading European gifted educators met in Brussels, Belgium – under the aegis of COST – to discuss progress towards a European roadmap for meeting the needs of gifted learners.

A full record of the proceedings can be found here, including details of participants and the resolution agreed by the group.

In 2008, a few of the original participants met with EU officials in Brussels to discuss the scope for an EU funding bid, to establish the European G&T network originally proposed in the 2007 resolution.

The officials we spoke to were very encouraging but, as I began to co-ordinate a bid on behalf of the partners, some of the German speakers argued that they could short-cut this process by writing to the MEP who had inspired the original COST workshop.

Needless to say, this did not succeed – and it effectively scuppered the partnership upon which the intended bid was to be based.

Now there is a great opportunity to revisit this idea.

During the first half of 2011 – from 1 January until 30 June – Hungary will assume the Presidency of the European Union, sandwiched between the Presidencies of Belgium and Poland.

Hungary intends to focus on talent support as one of the major themes of its Presidency, highlighting the economic and social benefits, including greater competitiveness, stronger social mobility and better social cohesion. This will position talent support as one key to unlocking European economic growth following the current recession.

You can find more details of Hungary’s plans here. They are overseen by the wonderful Dr Peter Csermely, President of the Hungarian National Talent Support Council, ably assisted by a team including the equally wonderful Csilla Fuszek, who works for the Csanyi Foundation.

Hungary has identified four main outcomes from its talent development theme:

  • An international conference on the role of talent development in the 21st century school and the contribution it can make to EU competitiveness. The conference is scheduled for 8-9 April 2011 in Budapest.
  • A first European Talent Day, building on the successful national talent days held in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Serbia. The idea is to hold a series of national talent days, starting in Spring 2011, which will eventually be unified into a single European Talent Day by 2014.
  • The inclusion of references to talent support in key EU policies and documents, including the next iteration of the EU Education and Training Strategy, covering the period 2012-2014. Hungary plans to promote a non-legislative act (NLA) on talent support.
  • An Open Method of Co-ordination (OMC) Expert Group on Talent Support to provide a basis for ongoing EU-wide discussion of talent support issues. This will provide a basis for agreeing common objectives, establishing benchmarks and monitoring progress.

All EU countries are invited to express support for the European Talent Day. An international organising committee will be established which will meet for the first time in October 2010. In the meantime, G&T interests are invited to offer support by emailing info@tehetsegpont.hu

I have asked the English Department for Education (DfE) to consider this request on behalf of the Government. In the meantime, I am canvassing support from other UK G&T interests with a view to submitting a co-ordinated response.

This is a great opportunity to advance European collaboration in gifted education – one that we must seize with both hands. I commend the Hungarians for their wisdom and foresight in taking this lead.

Do please use the comments facility to ask any questions. I will, if necessary, get back to you offline.

GP

June 2010