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!


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


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?

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.

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.


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.


  • 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!


April 2011 Webinar: ‘A Global Perspective on Gifted Education’

I was delighted to be invited by Margaret Keane, the founder of – the website for parents and educators of gifted children in Ireland – to deliver a webinar in the series she has established in partnership with Elluminate.

For the webinar ‘A Global Perspective on Gifted Education’ I drew on the material in some of the posts I have published here over the past eleven months, concentrating particularly on:

  •  the key distinguishing features of gifted education programmes and the personal positions held by gifted educators around the world
  • the potential impact of increasing globalisation on gifted education
  •  the embryonic development of research into the economics of gifted education
  • the developing role of social media in global advocacy for gifted education and
  •  some ways in which social media can support global collaboration in support of gifted education

I am very grateful to the EU Talent Day organisers for the publicity they gave to the Webinar, which was linked to the 2011 Talent Day celebrations.

The full recording of the webinar is here and you can also find the presentation on Slideshare here.

If you would like to engage with the subject matter, please don’t hesitate to use the comments facility on this blog.


April 2011

England’s National Curriculum Review: Meeting the Needs of Gifted Learners


In Part One of this post, we looked at the background to England’s National Curriculum Review, how the current National Curriculum supports gifted learners and recent national guidance on effective curricular provision.

Part Two continues with a review of attainment and progression issues that impact on these learners and offers some basic recommendations for how the Review should respond to those, as well as the wider needs of gifted high achievers.

Current Issues with Attainment and Progression

How assessment works

A full treatment of assessment issues impacting on gifted, high-achieving learners is beyond the scope of this piece – and would require an extensive treatment of the assessment system itself, which is incredibly complex.

The essential point is that National Curriculum achievement is defined by a series of levels, which are matched against the four Key Stages. There is an ‘expected’ level of achievement for each Key Stage, and a range of levels which come into play. So

  • At Key Stage 1, pupils are ‘expected’ to achieve a Level 2 but can achieve Levels 1-3
  • At Key Stage 2, pupils are ‘expected to achieve a level 4 but can achieve up to level 5
  • At Key Stage 3, pupils are ‘expected’ to achieve a Level 5/6 (the expected achievement is the borderline between two levels) but can achieve a Level 7 (Level 8 in maths)
  • At Key Stage 4, the ‘expected’ achievement is a GCSE grade C, which equates to a Level 7

For the purposes of measuring progression, GCSE grades are allocated notional levels

GCSE grade A* A B C D E F G
Level 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3

Learners are expected to make at least two levels of progress between KS1 and KS2 (in the four years from age 7 to age 11) and at least three levels of progress between Key Stages 2 and 4 (in the five years between 11 and 16).

So a learner who achieves level 3 in maths at end KS1 should progress to level 5 at end KS2 and Grade B at the end of KS4.

In practice, the process is made more complex because of the introduction of sub-levels for the National Curriculum levels below KS3. Hence a learner with a Level 3C at KS1 who progresses to a level 5A at end KS2 has actually made two-and-two-thirds of a level progress.

Moreover, whereas the key measures at KS1-3 relate to the core subjects individually – now just English and maths – the KS4 measures are multi-subject: originally 5+ GCSEs at Grades A*-C, then that measure including English and maths, and now (in addition) the so-called English Baccalaureate.

Assessment Ceilings

The key issues for high achievers relate to ceilings on assessment at different key stages and insufficiently demanding expectations in relation to progression.

The first of these issues is particularly pertinent to the primary sector, where KS1 learners are typically unable to push beyond Level 3 and KS2 learners beyond Level 5.

Since the National Curriculum was introduced, there have been various methods available to schools to assess learners above these ceilings. Extension tests were provided until they were abandoned as too expensive given the low level of take-up (there was little effort to encourage schools to use them).

Extension tests were replaced by optional teacher assessment. QCA provided exemplar materials for schools, but never quite managed to produce the more extensive banks of assessment tasks that were originally envisaged.

As part of the Making Good Progress pilot, single-level tests were trialled, including level 6 tests in English reading, English writing and maths. It wasn’t clear that KS2 level 6 assessment had survived the end of the pilot, until it was recently confirmed that QCDA was developing optional Level 6 tests in Maths, English reading and writing to be made available in early April 2011 and that it would:

‘work towards making level 6 tests in Mathematics, English, reading and writing to be available [sic], undertaking development work as required (pending the outcome of the Bew review [of KS2 assessment]) for 2012…undertaking a technical pre-test in spring/summer’.

Assuming the Bew review concurs, therefore, the KS2 ceiling will be raised, at least in principle.

However, whether schools make use of such tests in practice will depend on the encouragement they receive – and there will be little gifted and talented education infrastructure to provide such encouragement – and on whether the teachers administering the tests have sufficient secure subject knowledge to prepare their pupils for assessment at this level.

The KS1 ceiling will remain, presumably on the strength of the argument that Level 3A provides sufficient headroom for all but a tiny proportion of learners.

Low expectations for progression

The more significant issue is that 2/3 levels of progression are insufficiently demanding for many gifted high achievers. A widespread opportunity to undertake Level 6 assessment in English and maths would allow many more learners to achieve three levels of progression from KS1-2, but the real issue is at KS2-4.

A learner achieving level 5 (especially level 5A) at end KS2 ought to be capable of much more than a GCSE grade B five years later. A learner achieving Level 6 through the new KS2 tests would reasonably be expected to get beyond a Grade A at GCSE.

This is especially the case given that, in 2010, 22.5% of all GCSEs awarded attracted a grade A* or A, with the percentage of A*/A grades rising above 50-60% in some cases.

This 2009 publication from DFE (in its previous incarnation as DCSF) contains a wealth of information about the limited progresion achieved by pupils. We learn that:

  • Of those pupils achieving level 3+ in KS1 maths in 2006, 25% failed to make 2 levels of progress in their KS2 assessment in 2008. They were significantly less likely to make this amount of progress than those achieving at the upper and middle sublevels of level 2;
  • There is a similar pattern in English with 12% failing to make two levels of progress in writing compared with 1% and 5% at the upper and middle sub-levels of level 2 respectively, and 40% failing in writing compared with 7% and 22% respectively
  • 36% of pupils achieving an average level 3+ at KS1 across English and maths fail to achieve an average level 5+ two years later
  • Of those pupils achieving level 5+ in KS2 maths in 2003, 26% failed to make 3 levels of progress, 57% failed to make 4 levels of progress and 57% failed to achieve a GCSE A*/A grade in the end of KS4 examinations in 2008;
  • Male pupils scored significantly worse than females: 29% failed to make 3 levels of progress, 60% failed to make 4 levels of progress and 60% failed to achieve GCSE grade A*/A
  • 46% of FSM pupils in this category failed to make 3 levels of progress, 76% failed to make 4 levels of progress and 76% failed to secure a GCSE A*/A
  • Of those pupils achieving level 5+ in KS2 English in 2003, 22% failed to make 3 levels of progress, 58% failed to make 4 levels of progress and 58% failed to achieve a GCSE A*/A grade in the 2008 end of KS4 examinations;
  • Once again, male pupils performed significantly worse than females: 26% failed to make 3 levels of progress, 62% failed to make 4 levels of progress and 63% failed to achieve GCSE grade A*/A
  • 41% of FSM pupils failed to make 3 levels of progress, 75% failed to make 4 levels of progress and 76% failed to achieve a GCSE at A*/A
  • Of those pupils achieving an average level 5+ in KS2 English and maths, almost all achieved 5 GCSEs at grades A*-C (97%) and the same measure including English and maths (93%) but only 62% managed 3 or more GCSEs at A*/A;
  • The comparable figures for males only show just 57% managed 3+ GCSEs at grade A*/A
  • And the percentage of pupils (male and female) eligible for free school meals, achieving an average level 5 at KS2 and progressing to 3+ GCSEs at A*/A is just 39%, compared with 63% of non-FSM students
  • The gap between FSM and non-FSM on the 3+ A*/A measure, at 24%, is much higher than the gap for 5+ A*-C (7%) and 5+ A*-C including English and maths (11%) suggesting that the gap between the two is highest at the highest levels of attainment.
  • Over time, the proportion of pupils achieving an average level 5+ at KS2 who go on to achieve 3+ A*/A grades at GCSE has fluctuated, but 2008 marks the best ever percentage.
KS2 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
L5+ 58 61 53 59 51 59 62

In the light of this, it would be reasonable to expect schools to have much higher expectations of their gifted high achievers in terms of progression, and to plan for progression across all four key stages, charting the termly trajectory that will deliver A* outcomes further down the line.

There is clearly a bigger problem with boys and with pupils eligible for free school meals, implying that schools tend to have lower expectations of their male and their disadvantaged pupils (and especially of their disadvantaged male pupils). I haven’t included ethnicity-based data, but one would expect white working class boys to be a particular priority for attention.

The trajectory would need to be flexible to allow for the fact that progression is not linear, but if learners tend to be above trajectory in the earlier Key Stages, they might expect to continue to be above it in the later Key Stages as well.

At the very least, they should secure an A* at age 16, at the end of KS4, but they might also have the opportunity to take GCSE examinations a year or more early provided they were predicted to achieve an A*.

What Should the National Curriculum Review Recommend?

Assuming that the Review accepts the arguments in favour of attainment and progression, what else might it reasonably recommend to ensure appropriate provision for gifted high achievers?

Programmes of study organised by year group?

At first sight, the promised shift to a less-detailed, more flexible approach will be beneficial to high achievers, provided that schools are confident enough about the nature of effective gifted education provision to make good use of the flexibility.

But the reference to the possibility of organising National Curriculum content on a year-by-year basis threatens to compromise that flexibility, potentially making it more difficult for schools to accommodate an accelerative approach that enables learners to progress in line with their ability rather than their age.

So if the National Curriculum is to be tied down by year, there must also be clear and explicit provision for schools to depart from the age-locked process to facilitate appropriate progression for high achievers.

It will not be sufficient simply to offer this permission without modelling the approach, especially if accelerative action in one subject area has implications for progression in others.

Downward differentiation

The curriculum should be designed first and foremost as a ‘gifted curriculum’, ie to specify what the most able learners should know, understand and do, and encourage teachers to deploy their pedagogical skills to encourage as many learners as possible to achieve those outcomes.

If teachers differentiate down in this way, they will be more likely to have the highest possible expectations of their learners than if they differentiate up from a minimum requirement, or across from what the ‘average’ learner is capable of, in line with the ‘expected level’ for his key stage.

This would help to eradicate much ‘deficit model’ thinking, ensuring that teachers have consistently high expectations of all learners. It would reinforce efforts to remove perverse incentives in the school performance tables that invite them to focus disproportionately on pushing as many learners as possible over ‘standard’ benchmarks such as Level 4 in English and maths at KS2 or the requisite number and range of C grades in GCSE at KS4.

A tripartite approach to Differentiation

The revised National Curriculum should continue to include a clear statement that effective top-end differentiation should be built around the tripartite approach discussed above, combining:

  • subject-based acceleration, enabling learners to move through the curriculum at a faster pace, including through compacting the curriculum to remove unnecessary repetition and reinforcement;
  • extension opportunities, allowing gifted learners to study material found in the National Curriculum in greater depth, including through real-life problem-solving activities, and to make cross-curricular connections with other elements of their learning;
  • enrichment activities, providing gifted learners with the opportunity to access subjects and elements of subjects that are not normally encountered in the relevant Key Stage.

It may be desirable for some learners to access all three simultaneously, whereas others will benefit from two or only one. The combination will depend on the needs of the learner at any particular time – and to what extent those needs are not being met.

A coherent holistic programme including appropriate online learning

As the proportion of time taken up by the National Curriculum is reduced, the consequential requirement on the school to co-ordinate all learning into a coherent programme becomes more complicated.

  • At the first level, there must be a clear relationship between the National Curriculum and the wider school curriculum;
  • At the second level there should be a clear relationship between the school curriculum and the range of extended day out-of-school activities provided by the school itself
  • At the third level, the school needs to incorporate into the learning programme the range of other learning activities undertaken by the learner, whether they are out-of-school activities offered by other providers, or online learning undertaken at home.

As online learning opportunities increase – and social media provides the capacity for gifted students to work collaboratively with other gifted learners globally – this dimension of learning will become increasingly important. It will also become more customary to access it within the school, at either the second or the first level outlined above.

It is essential therefore that schools have a clear picture of what is available online, so that they can recommend suitable opportunities to learners, and that there is a record – a ‘learning portfolio’ – which captures what the learner has accessed.

More Real-Life Problem-Solving

The increased curricular flexibility should permit schools to increase the incidence of real-life problem-solving activities, whether undertaken online or face-to-face with other pupils in their own schools

Such provision complements and supports the Government’s emphasis on ‘big society’ activities, ensuring that gifted learners have an opportunity to give something back to the community.

It may also allow them to develop research and employment skills through attachments to universities and companies, perhaps by applying the Post-16 ‘extended project’ concept, which could potentially be introduced at every Key Stage

An Integrated Curriculum Pilot

An Integrated Curriculum, modelled on Singapore’s approach, could certainly be introduced following careful piloting and subject to evaluation to assess the impact relative a control group.

As I observed in my previous post, such a pilot could focus in particular on the benefits of an integrated approach to students from disadvantaged backgrounds with the capacity to secure entry to a competitive university.

As such, it would be a potentially significant contributor to the Government’s new social mobility strategy and eligible for support from the Education Endowment Fund, which will shortly open for business.

I have already signalled my intention to work within a consortium to prepare and submit a bid of this nature – and look forward to hearing from prospective partners who are interested in becoming involved.


April 2011

England’s National Curriculum Review: Meeting the Needs of Gifted Learners



A review of England’s National Curriculum began in January 2011. We are currently at the beginning of the process and an initial ‘call for evidence’ has been launched with a mid-April deadline.

This post is a response to that call. It offers recommendations for how the revised National Curriculum should be designed to meet the needs of high-attaining gifted learners.

The review documentation refers briefly to this issue. The remit says that the review will provide advice on:

‘….what is needed to provide expectations for progression to support the least able and stretch the most able’

and one of the principle objectives of the review is to:

‘develop a National Curriculum that acts as a benchmark for all schools and provides young people with the knowledge they need to move confidently and successfully through their education, taking into account the needs of different groups including the most able and pupils with special educational needs and disabilities’.

An Expert Panel is responsible for offering advice and making recommendations on this point, amongst others. The Panel is chaired by Tim Oates of Cambridge Assessment.

Oates also has a seat on a National Curriculum Review Advisory Committee, chaired by a Department for Education official, that will:

‘support the Department in the conduct of the review by helping to frame recommendations, offering a wider perspective on the proposals from the Expert Panel and providing advice on strategic and cross-cutting issues that may arise from the review.’

Oates has already undertaken some preparatory work in support of the Department’s commitment to international curriculum benchmarking, publishing ‘Could do better: Using international comparisons to refine the National Curriculum in England’

We know from a report in the education press quoting ‘sources close to Ministers’ that they are already considering the Singapore-inspired idea of offering gifted students an integrated secondary programme, allowing them to bypass GCSE qualifications at age 16 and progress straight to A levels.

I covered that in some detail in this previous post and will avoid repeating the material again here.

It is probable that this idea originated with Oates, or elsewhere within his expert group, given that it has been looking at international comparisons evidence in the core subjects, and presumably pooling and sifting its evidence base of practice in the countries that lead international benchmarking studies.

General Background to the National Curriculum Review

The Review was heralded in Chapter 4 of the 2010 Schools White Paper: ‘The Importance of Teaching’, which opens with the following statement of intent:

‘It is our ambition to reduce unnecessary prescription, bureaucracy and central control throughout our education system. That means taking a new approach towards the curriculum. At over 200 pages, the guidance on the National Curriculum is weighing teachers down and squeezing out room for innovation, creativity, deep learning and intellectual exploration. The National Curriculum should set out only the essential knowledge and understanding that all children should acquire and leave teachers to decide how to teach this most effectively

….We want the National Curriculum to be a benchmark not a straitjacket, a body of knowledge against which achievement can be measured…’

But academies will continue to be exempted from National Curriculum requirements:

‘Academies and Free Schools will retain the freedom they have at the moment to depart from aspects of the National Curriculum where they consider it appropriate. But they will be required by law, like all schools, to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. And all state schools will be held accountable for their performance in tests and exams which reflect the National Curriculum.’

(Elsewhere the White Paper acknowledges a longer term aspiration that most schools will become academies).


‘…there will still be a need for a national benchmark, to provide parents with an understanding of what progress they should expect, to inform the content of the core qualifications and to ensure that schools which neither wish, nor have the capacity, to pursue Academy status have a core curriculum to draw on which is clear, robust and internationally respected.’

Oversight of the National Curriculum – and indeed responsibility for previous National Curriculum Reviews – has been the responsibility of an ‘arm’s length body’ or quango, the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA) – which is being abolished with most of its responsibilities handed back to the Department for Education.

Although legislation abolishing QCDA is not expected to be passed until early 2012, it has no role whatsoever in the Review. Its website directs all enquiries about the development of the National Curriculum to DFE.

Objectives and Remit for the Review

The Review documentation begins by making clear the distinction between the National Curriculum and the wider school curriculum, arguing that the former was originally intended as ‘a guide to study in key subjects’ to reassure parents and teachers that pupils were ‘acquiring the knowledge necessary at every level of study to make appropriate progress’.

It will specifically exclude Religious Education, which lies outside the current National Curriculum, and Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) which is the subject of a separate internal review.

But all existing National Curriculum subjects will be included, namely: art and design, citizenship, design and technology, English, geography, history, information and communication technology (ICT), mathematics, modern foreign languages (MFL), music, physical education (PE) and science.

The Government intends to slim down the current National Curriculum so that it:

‘properly reflects the body of essential knowledge which all children should learn and does not absorb the overwhelming majority of teaching time in schools. Individual schools should have greater freedom to construct their own programmes of study in subjects outside the National Curriculum and develop approaches to learning and study which complement it.’

Three core aims of the National Curriculum are defined:

  • to embody rigour and high standards and create coherence in what is taught in schools;
  • to ensure that all children have the opportunity to acquire a core of essential knowledge in the key subject disciplines; and
  • beyond that core, to allow teachers the freedom to use their professionalism and expertise in order to help all children realise their potential.

And then five principal objectives, which overlap somewhat with the aims and are to:

  • give teachers greater professional freedom over how they organise and teach the curriculum;
  • develop a National Curriculum that acts as a benchmark for all schools and provides young people with the knowledge they need to move confidently and successfully through their education, taking into account the needs of different groups including the most able and pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND);
  • ensure that the content of our National Curriculum compares favourably with the most successful international curricula in the highest performing jurisdictions, reflecting the best collective wisdom we have about how children learn and what they should know;
  • set rigorous requirements for pupil attainment, which measure up to those in the highest performing jurisdictions in the world;
  • enable parents to understand what their children should be learning throughout their school career and therefore to support their education.


Non-negotiables, Timetable and Relationship with Assessment

We are told that English, maths and science:

‘will remain subjects within the National Curriculum, with statutory Programmes of Study from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 4’ (ie between the ages of 5 and 16 – for more on National Curriculum terminology see below).

A first phase of the review will focus on these core subjects and on PE – which will also remain compulsory at all 4 Key Stages – so that new programmes of study are taught from September 2013.

The first phase will also determine which of the other subjects listed above should remain part of the National Curriculum, with legally-defined programmes of study, and whether or not at all key stages.

The remit makes clear that one option would be to make any or all of them subject to non-statutory programmes of study for some or all key stages; another would be to specify some aspects of subjects as compulsory, but permit local discretion over exactly what is taught.

The second phase will produce all further statutory and non-statutory programmes of study with a view to them being introduced from September 2014.

It is explicit that the Review will consider to what extent content:

should be set out on a year-by-year basis [ie rather than by Key Stage] in order to ensure that knowledge is built systematically and consistently;


what, if anything, should replace existing attainment targets and level descriptors to define better the standards of attainment children should reach, and be assessed against, at various points through their education’.

Regardless of whether Key Stages are abandoned, we are told that the National Curriculum will continue to ‘inform the design and content of assessment’ at the end of Key Stage 2 (normally at age 11 and marking the end of the period pupils spend in primary schools).

Recommendations on KS2 assessment will emerge from another parallel review in June 2011.

The National Curriculum will also ‘continue to inform the design and content of GCSEs’ (public examinations taken at the end of KS4, which currently marks the end of compulsory education.

Post-16 education, sometimes known as Key Stage 5, is presumably outside the scope of the review, since there is no specific reference to it. This despite the fact that it is Government policy to raise the participation age to 17 by 2013 and to 18 from 2015.

Moreover, an Integrated Curriculum would extend across Key Stages 3-5 (11-19), or at least Key Stages 4-5 (14-19), so any recommendations to that end would presumably go beyond the terms of reference of the Review.

The Current National Curriculum and how it supports Gifted Learners

This is the current English National Curriculum. It incorporates:

  • the Primary Curriculum, which consists of Key Stages 1 and 2 (Key Stage 1 for ages 5-7 and Key Stage 2 for ages 7-11); and
  • the Secondary Curriculum, which includes Key Stages 3 and 4 (Key Stage 3 for ages 11-14 and Key Stage 4 for ages 14-16).

The primary and secondary sections of the National Curriculum online site follow the same format, setting out:

  • the aims, values and purposes underpinning the National Curriculum
  • the general teaching requirements that apply across the curriculum
  • the programmes of study and associated attainment targets for each national curriculum subject and
  • annotated examples of pupils work to help with assessment at different levels

although the secondary section has an additional section on skills.

The general teaching requirements section has an identical statement for both primary and secondary curricula about ‘including all learners’. Each incorporates the same reference to high achievers:

‘For pupils whose attainments significantly exceed the expected levels, teachers will need to plan suitably challenging work. As well as drawing on work from later stages, teachers may plan further differentiation by extending the breadth and depth of study.’

This is the briefest possible statement of the standard general policy on curricular provision for gifted students in England, which is that it should comprise elements of any or all of:

  • faster pace (acceleration, compacting);
  • greater breadth (enrichment); and
  • more depth (extension)

with decisions on the balance between these three broad strategies – which are of course overlapping rather than distinct concepts – reflecting the particular needs of each gifted learner at the relevant point of their school career.

The primary purpose is to emphasise that these three elements can be utilised in different proportions and different combinations to frame a personalised response to the learning needs of all gifted pupils.

The secondary purpose was originally to encourage schools to consider an accelerative dimension for a relatively wide range of gifted learners – not only the highly gifted – and to discourage an over-readiness to rule this out on ideological grounds, or because it creates organisational difficulties for institutions that typically educate pupils within an age-defined year group.

In practice, secondary schools are increasingly inclined to embrace subject-based acceleration, especially for entry to GCSE examinations, but not always for the right reasons.

Existing Guidance on Curricular Provision for Gifted Learners

QCA guidance

QCDA’s precursor, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), produced extensive subject-specific guidance on curriculum and wider support for gifted learners but, as is evident from the link, this was archived long ago and did not survive the cull that took place when the organisation was reconstituted.

The QCA guidance includes generic material on:

  • the way the terms ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’ were then used in England’s national G&T programme and how such learners might be identified
  • developing a school-wide policy
  • the role and responsibilities of school governing bodies
  • developing a holistic approach to provision
  • securing an effective learning environment and matching teaching to learners’ needs
  • transfer and transition between schools

There is also subject-specific guidance for each National Curriculum subject plus religious education which covers inclusion issues, general teaching guidance, examples of units of work, ideas for activities beyond the classroom, suggested resources and advice on monitoring and evaluation.

Quality Standards

More recently, the starting point for developing effective curriculum practice for gifted learners has been the relevant sections of the whole-school or Institutional Quality Standards as amplified by the teaching and learning-focused Classroom Quality Standards.

Both sets of Standards have three levels, Entry, Developing and Exemplary, the relevant level for any particular school or classroom depending on the outcomes of an audit it undertakes of the progress it has made to date.

There are 14 elements to the Standards, one of which is ‘Enabling curriculum entitlement and choice’.

Entry Developing Exemplary
The curriculum is adequately matched to the needs, interests and aspirations of gifted and talented pupils. There are some opportunities for enrichment and cross-curricular provision. A broad and appropriate curriculum is adjusted effectively to meet the needs of gifted and talented pupils, e.g. to enable pupils to work beyond their age and/or phase, and across subjects or topics, according to their aptitudes and interests. The curriculum is highly tailored to meet the individual needs of gifted and talented pupils.
Pupils are provided with support and advice in making curriculum choices. The curriculum facilitates access to future ambitious learning pathways. There are innovative and flexible pathways which extend well beyond test/examination requirements and these result in sustained impact on pupil outcomes.

As suggested by their title, the Classroom Standards take a classroom level, pedagogical view of effective provision for gifted learners, rather than the whole-school improvement perspective of the Institutional Standards, although they can be applied to any learning environment, not just the classroom.

They provide generic statements for each of the three levels against a series of prompts addressing:

  • Conditions for Learning
  • Development of learning
  • Knowledge of subjects and themes
  • Understanding learners’ needs
  • Planning
  • Engagement with learning and learners
  • Links beyond the classroom

These generic standards are then given a subject-specific focus in English, maths, science, ICT and PE. All five are available here.

Primary and Secondary Guidance

There are also two generic publications, each of which provides are more substantive treatment of the different elements of the Institutional Quality Standards:

Effective Provision for Gifted and Talented Learners in Secondary Education and

Effective Provision for Gifted and Talented Learners in Primary Education

The secondary document usefully amplifies the ‘breadth, depth, pace’ distinction:

‘Breadth (sometimes called ‘enrichment’) involves the introduction of additional material beyond the core curriculum, enabling students to compare and contrast, to locate their learning in a wider context and to make connections between different areas of learning; it can result in a more complete understanding of the focus area. In adding breadth to the curriculum however, there is inevitably a risk of overload; be guided by students’ interest and curiosity and don’t expect them to work harder and longer than others.

Depth (sometimes called ‘extension’) is achieved by asking students to delve deeper into a given subject or topic and may come as a result of working closely on one text/problem/artefact or by introducing additional knowledge/concepts/skills. For example, one group of students in Year 9 investigated how a particular product was made in different countries. They found out about the different materials used, why they were used and how they led to differences in design, development and use of the product. This knowledge was used to create a design and production process for a ‘superior’ version of the product. Another way of introducing depth is to bring experts into the classroom; this will be of interest to the whole class, but perhaps some time could be spent with gifted and talented young people, developing high level skills or exploring more advanced concepts.

Pace refers to speed in covering the curriculum and can result in achievement at a level exceptional for the age range. This is sometimes termed ‘acceleration’ and involves students moving ahead of their peers in the formal curriculum, often in one specific area, and often taking relevant exams earlier than their peers. This course of action requires careful planning, with due consideration for a student’s social and emotional needs.

As well as building breadth into the curriculum, schools and colleges should offer a range of enrichment opportunities outside the normal classroom, which enable young people to widen their experience and develop specific skills. Some of these opportunities will be linked to the curriculum, whilst others will be ‘one-off’ events and visits; in the second situation, the objectives of any activity, and why it is being offered should be made clear.’

In Part Two we will examine problems with attainment and progression under the current arrangements before considering ways in which the new National Curriculum might respond to the needs of gifted high achievers.


April 2011