The Composition of England’s Gifted and Talented Population in Schools

This post updates a 2010 offering – ‘On the Composition of Gifted and Talented Populations’ – which reviewed the data about gifted and talented learners in state-funded schools contained in England’s January 2010 School Census.

The January 2011 Census data has just been released by the Department for Education in SFR 12 2011 (tables 6a-6c), so this is an opportunity to review the headline figures and compare them with the 2010 outcomes and those of previous years.

Although there is only a single question in the Census, we have been very fortunate to have this data, which allows us to monitor the composition of  England’s national gifted and talented population as identified by schools.

The initial guidance for the 2012 census appeared to suggest that the G&T question would be retained for at least one more year, although it and others were under threat from a Government committed to removing administrative burdens from schools. However, the July 2011 version of the guidance mentioned for the first time that the G&T indicator had been dropped and this was confirmed in the November guidance to schools.

The continued presence of the question had been an important reminder to schools that their response to G&T learners remained subject to scrutiny, especially since the Government had extended its commitment to publishing school level data to the G&T dataset.

So for one time only, we could see full details of the composition of the identified G&T population in every school. We also had the capacity – fleetingly – to match it with other material, such as school-level achievement data for example.

A Brief Data Snapshot of English Schools

Here is a very brief summary of the overall size and composition of the schools sector, to help set the G&T statistics in context.

At January 2011, there were 4.14 million learners in state-funded primary schools and 3.26 million learners in state-funded secondary schools. A further 0.576 million were attending independent schools.

There are almost 16,900 state-funded primary schools, more than 3,300 state-funded secondary schools and over 2,400 independent schools.

Some 19.2% of learners in state-funded nursery/primary schools are eligible for free school meals (our standard indicator of disadvantage); the comparable figure in state-funded secondary schools is 15.9%.

About 26.5% of learners in state-funded primary schools and 22.2% in state-funded secondary schools are from a minority ethnic background.

About one in six of all primary school pupils and approaching one in eight of all secondary school pupils has a first language other than English.

The G&T Population in January 2011 compared with January 2010 and previous years

The Census tells us that, in January 2011, there were 354,000 identified G&T learners in state-funded primary schools and 464,000 in state-funded secondary schools, giving an overall total of 818,000.

This marks a fall of 12,000 primary pupils and 17,000 secondary pupils compared with the January 2010 figures – so an overall reduction of about 3.5% in identified G&T learners, and this at a time when the total number of pupils in primary and secondary schools has very slightly increased.

The January 2011 numbers are equivalent to 8.6% of all pupils in state-funded primary schools and 14.2% of all pupils in state-funded secondary schools. The comparable percentages in 2010 were 8.9% and 14.7% respectively.

2011 is the first year in which the number of identified G&T pupils has declined, returning to a lower level than was registered the year before last.

2008 2009 2010 2011
Primary 331580 353275 365970 353865
Secondary 448380 467105 481225 464040
Total 779960 820380 847195 817905

The Composition of the G&T Population

The gender composition of the population has changed little over the years and 2011 is no exception. It continues to be the case that slightly more boys than girls are identified in primary schools (51.2% compared with 48.8%), while the reverse is true in secondary schools (52.1% of girls compared with 47.9% of boys).

In the case of socio-economic disadvantage, as measured by free school meal (FSM) eligibility, although the total number of FSM-eligible G&T pupils has fallen in the primary sector, they now represent a very slightly larger proportion of the primary school G&T population (up from 12.1% to 12.3%).

In the secondary sector the total number of FSM-eligible G&T students has increased very slightly – so bucking the overall downward trend – and their share of the overall G&T population has also increased slightly, from 7.2 to 7.3%.

However, the overall rates of eligibility for free school meals have also increased since January 2010, up 0.7% in primary and 0.5% in secondary schools, so the G&T improvements are less significant (and less positive) given this wider context.

And, since the overall rates of FSM eligibility are now 19.2% in primary and 15.9% in secondary, the G&T populations in both sectors are still some distance from being broadly representative. The secondary sector continues to be significantly worse than the primary sector in this respect.

The minority ethnic composition of the G&T population remains largely unchanged. The proportion of white pupils identified as G&T has fallen by 0.5% in both the primary and the secondary sectors, but their incidence within the G&T population remains in line with their incidence in the pupil population as a whole.

However, this continues to mask serious under-representation by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller of Irish Heritage pupils – just 435 were identified as G&T across the primary and secondary sectors, out of a total combined population approaching 17,000.

At the other extreme, although the percentage of the Chinese population identified as G&T is almost unchanged, at 21.3% in state-funded primary schools and 25.2% in state-funded secondary schools, Chinese pupils are very heavily over-represented since they comprise only 0.4% of the national pupil population.

The proportion of learners with English as an Additional Language in the overall school population stands at 16.8% in state-funded primary schools and 12.3% in state-funded secondary schools. The comparable percentages within the G&T population are 15.3% and 9.8% respectively. The G&T percentages have been increasing steadily since 2008, but the improvement is probably attributable to the overall increase in EAL numbers in the general pupil population.

There has been relatively little change and no discernible pattern over time in the percentage of identified G&T learners with Special Educational Needs (Statements, School Action Plus and School Action). Currently, 3.1% of those with a statement in state-funded primary schools and 3.2% of statemented pupils in state-funded secondary schools are identified as G&T.

School-level Data

A thorough analysis of the newly-published school-level data must wait for another day, but this very brief commentary is intended to whet your appetites.

A first pass through the data shows that about 50 secondary schools are currently failing to identify any gifted and talented learners. Interestingly, six of them are grammar schools, some of them with very selective intakes indeed (Pate’s in Gloucestershire, Queen Elizabeth GS in Cumbria, Cranbrook in Kent, Bishop Wordsworth’s in Wiltshire, Tiffin Girls’ in Kingston-upon-Thames and Henrietta Barnet in Barnet). It would be fascinating to find out how they reached this apparently illogical position.

At the other end of the distribution, several secondary schools appear to be identifying all of their pupils as gifted and talented. This might be a reasonable interpretation of the last Government’s guidance in the case of selective schools like the Latymer School in Enfield, Queen Elizabeth’s Boys’ in Barnet, Parkstone Girls’ GS in Poole and St Ambrose College in Trafford.

It may be relatively less straightforward to justify in non-selective institutions like John Cabot Academy, South Gloucestershire and Whitburn C of E in South Tyneside. But of course we do not know whether such decisions have been taken on the basis of a clear rationale backed up by evidence, or whether they are simply ideological statements.

In the primary sector, it seems that about 2,500 schools, other than nursery schools, have not identified a single G&T learner. About 75% of those provide for KS2 pupils, aged 7-11 (Infants’ schools typically find the process more difficult because of the more limited evidence base available for younger children.)

At the other extreme, a few schools like Herne Bay Infant’s School and Westmeads Community Infants’ School, both in Kent, have apparently identified 100% of their pupils as G&T.

Key points and their causation

There has been no significant change in the composition of the G&T population. It remains the case that:

  • the gender balance is relatively good;
  •  the socio-economically disadvantaged are significantly under-represented;
  • the minority ethnic balance is broadly good, though there are some imbalances and these are particularly pronounced in the case of Chinese learners (heavily over-represented) and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller of Irish Heritage learners (heavily under-represented); and
  •  the EAL G&T and SEN G&T populations remain small but significant minorities

While schools are aware of the case for gender and minority ethnic balance, they continue to seem less secure in the case of socio-economic disadvantage. It is likely that the under-representation we see in some minority ethnic populations and amongst disadvantaged pupils is largely attributable to attainment differences. Schools are finding it hard to spot high potential where evidence of high attainment is not present.

The size of the SEN G&T population, including a significant proportion with statements, demonstrates that dual exceptionality is more prevalent than we might assume – and supports the case for some overt recognition of these learners in the Government’s special needs policies.

The overall fall in the size of the G&T population is disappointing, marking the first reverse in a historically upward trend. It is hard to escape the conclusion that this is attributable, at least in part, to the declining influence of local authority G&T leads, regional G&T partnerships and national players, whether in the voluntary or public sectors.

There are fewer external influences encouraging schools to identify their G&T populations and less challenge for schools that are inclined to send in a nil return on this particular Census question.

However, the availability of the underlying school-level data provides an opportunity to draw attention to the significant number of schools that are saying they have no G&T pupils. That is perhaps easier to defend in schools that cater primarily for KS1 children (aged 5-7), but is less understandable in KS2 and especially in the secondary sector.

Conversely, few non-selective schools will be able to justify the inclusion of all their pupils on the gifted and talented register, unless they are actively ignoring or are unaware of the guidance issued under the previous Government.

The very variable decisions of grammar schools, with some clustered at either end of the distribution, is very curious. It would be interesting and instructive to compare their arguments for adopting their respective positions.

Some of those – grammar schools or otherwise – with logically questionable outcomes will undoubtedly be excellent schools, have their own better way of doing things and already secure the best possible results; others, however, may not have that defence.

The underlying question for the latter is whether their performance could be improved were they to invest more heavily in identifying hidden potential – and so potentially reduce top-end underachievement.


June 2011

2 thoughts on “The Composition of England’s Gifted and Talented Population in Schools

  1. A much appreciated analysis and update. If your hypothesis is right, we can expect a redution in the size of the national G&T cohort in English schools over the next few years, due to lack of policy pressure, and the reduction in national,regional and local G&T support. However we are in a different place compared to a decade ago. There are many more G&T professionals in schools who have developed their careers through G&T provision. They have seen the power of effective G&T provision in raising standards for all. Parents and pupils have become more informed and aware over the last decade, and have come to expect recognition and support for G&T. They will all need to make their voices heard, and those of us who care will need to help them.

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