This post is an in-depth review of IGGY, a service for gifted learners hosted by the University of Warwick in England.
I met IGGY’s Academic Principal at the 2012 ECHA Conference in Munster, Germany and undertook to feature the new set-up in an upcoming post. This is the product of that commitment.
An earlier post, from July 2010, included some detail about IGGY’s activities in Africa, but it has radically changed is character since then.
This post traces the transformation of IGGY from, first and foremost, an international summer and winter school provider into an education social network. It attempts a balanced scrutiny of current provision, identifying weaknesses as well as strengths.
The IGGY logo is reproduced here with permission. I stipulated the blue version, for the pink is not at all to my taste. (I expect it goes down well with 13-19 year-olds but it’s far too vivid for me.)
IGGY’s Origins and Early Development
From 2002 until 2007, Warwick University held a contract with England’s education ministry to run the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth, but chose not to compete for the subsequent contract to run Young, Gifted and Talented (YG&T), which was won by CfBT and ran until March 2010.
This new contract was to support all learners aged 4-19 identified as gifted and talented by their schools and colleges, whereas NAGTY targeted the top 5% of 11-19 year-olds (an estimated population of 200,000).
NAGTY itself evolved from summer school provider towards a blended learning model which relied increasingly on online provision, driven by the demands of scalablity within a limited resource envelope. YG&T also faced the same imperative, compounded by the fact that it served a target group five times the size of NAGTY’s.
Both experienced major challenges in combining effective brokerage of third party learning opportunities with a vibrant online learning community. The comparative advantages of a social network model were already becoming apparent towards the end of the NAGTY contract and in the initial stages of YG&T, but the idea seemed ahead of its time.
Decision makers found it hard to grasp the opportunities presented by this model, but understood only too well the not inconsiderable threats it posed. The balance was not attractive to inherently risk-averse organisations. Some major risks were exposed which IGGY will also have to manage and, if necessary, overcome.
Back in August 2007, Warwick hosted the biennial World Council Conference with financial support from the Government. This was, in effect, NAGTY’s swansong.
But the University chose this opportunity to announce the creation of IGGY, a new international organisation ‘targeted at the top 5% of 11-19 year-olds from around the world’.
The implication was that Warwick would capitalise on the expertise it had developed in the NAGTY years, with the University itself as the primary beneficiary.
The press release said that a pilot programme for up to 1,000 students would begin in spring 2008, followed by a full launch in the UK and an unspecified Asian country the following autumn. Subsequent rollout would extend the programme into two or three additional countries by autumn 2009.
It promised an inaugural summer school for 150 participants in summer 2009, and an intention to offer similar events in more than one country in subsequent years.
These signature events were to become part of a blended learning offer:
‘At the heart of the “IGGY” experience will be a developing personalized online learning network: a community-led site where leading national and international Higher Education institutions, educators, companies and others will deliver content, provide expertise and offer students learning activities and development opportunities (both online and through events) to enhance their learning and social development and to both contribute to and support their mainstream educational progress.’
Contemporary materials still preserved on Warwick’s website throw more light on the original plans and how they developed over time.
A presentation from June 2008 defines IGGY’s bipartite offer:
- A ‘collaborative online learning space’ backed up by an archive of material created by and for its members;
- Face-to-face activities provided through international partners with a ‘summer university’ as the centrepiece. The first of these – a two week event – is scheduled to take place in Warwick in August 2008 with four courses on offer for about 100 participants. There will also be a ‘winter university’ probably hosted abroad.
The presentation notes that ‘IGGY is a key project within the university strategy’ citing multiple benefits for Warwick’s international profile and branding, its student recruitment and wider reputation.
However ‘initial University investment will be limited’ while fees will be deferred initially and subsequently kept low. This means the rate of expansion will be heavily dependent on income generated from partners. It was this equation which initially drove IGGY in a philanthropic direction (though always with an eye towards international recruitment in developing markets).
Progress from 2010
A second presentation from April 2010 says that membership has reached around 2,500, drawn from 40 different countries.
Four ‘IGGY universities’ have been held since 2008, two more are planned for August 2010 and there are initial plans for an event in either Australia or South Africa in 2011.
An imminent event located in Botswana is described as ‘the main focus’ in the short term. The parallel Warwick event is expected to cater for 125 students and will host a delegation from Brunei’s Ministry of Education.
A 2010 University Corporate Planning Statement states categorically that:
‘An IGGY U[niversity] will be run in partnership with Monash [University], Australia in 2011’
but I can find no record of it having taken place, probably because the IGGY vision was undergoing radical transformation by this point. (IGGY is not mentioned explicitly in a university partnership recently concluded between Warwick and Monash.)
Other initiatives have been pursued alongside these summer and winter schools, including a series of Junior Commissions – based on an existing Warwick Commission model. These support ten members to work collaboratively on a year-long research project. IGGY has also administered a Litro Short Story competition with prize money provided by a Warwick alumnus.
Although not mentioned in the presentation, a separate entity called IGGY Juniors had also evolved by this stage, targeted mainly at younger children.
The precise relationship between IGGY and IGGY Juniors remains unclear. The new IGGY website doesn’t mention IGGY Juniors, even as a partner, though there is a page on the University website.
This refers to the ‘Da Vinci Group’ as the supporting ‘online intellectual membership community’ for IGGY Juniors, with a membership fee of £35 per month.
But the self-same Da Vinci Group is advertised as a service provided through another body called OLP. Their website seems largely dormant, though some 2012 courses are advertised.
The University publicised some of these developments in a 2010 press notice selecting February 12 2010 as the date of its announcement:
‘The national (English) Young Gifted & Talented website currently says “The Young Gifted & Talented website will be closing at the end of Friday 12 February 2010”. However on that very same day that gifted programme’s original home at the University of Warwick will announce a range of new opportunities for its global membership of gifted young people in its thriving International Gateway for Gifted Youth (IGGY).
The University of Warwick was host to the original “National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth” for five years. Warwick moved beyond a focus on England alone and is now home to IGGY – a network of the world’s brightest and most creative young people aged 11-19.’
It is easy to suspect an element of schadenfreude in this statement, for the closure of the YG&T website marked the imminent end of its contract – and of Government-led investment in the education of gifted learners. This left the way open for IGGY to expand its domestic operation in an open market with negligible UK-based competition.
Whether IGGY could be described as ‘thriving’ at this point is a moot point. Membership of 2,500 after three years is arguably a relatively poor return on the University’s investment. There are obvious problems of scalability with the face-to-face events.
Within the presentation, the online dimension is described as dependent on an ‘interim website’ which is old-fashioned and not designed on social media principles. Online presence is recognised as key to scalability and described as a priority over the coming year, but there are clear (if undeclared) tensions with the philanthropic direction of travel, because of the limited reach of sophisticated broadband-reliant social multimedia in sub-Saharan Africa.
There have been software trials involving Cisco and a project officer has been appointed but development appears to have been slow, perhaps because the University was not able to reconcile these competing ‘high-tech’ and ‘philanthropic’ aims.
While social networking is perceived as key to the future vision, the cost is prohibitive, so Warwick is exploring prospective partnerships. There are plans for a ‘rolling programme of themed online provision’ but partnership funding will still be necessary to achieve ‘a sustainable funding position’.
The points made in 2008 about limited scope for income generation from fees and a low ceiling on University subsidy are repeated verbatim. The accompanying notes read:
‘real progress made but still haven’t had that one big donation that would allow a step-change’.
This is perhaps understandable, because the benefit stream to prospective sponsors is not entirely clear. Moreover, they are being asked to subsidise an endeavour that places Warwick in a privileged position in the race to recruit potentially lucrative international students. One can imagine that several potential sponsors might prefer a model that distributes the benefits more widely.
IGGY Changes its Delivery Model
The Director of IGGY at this time was Warwick’s Deputy Registrar and former NAGTY Operations Director. The re-invigoration of IGGY can be linked to his return to Warwick as Registrar in February 2012.
Though IGGY’s new direction was already established by summer 2011, its former Director retained a role in its development while employed elsewhere.
An article on Warwick’s intranet from June 2011 confirms that IGGY has been working towards a predominantly online delivery model through partnership with IBM and CISCO.
Pre-testing began with existing members in May 2011 focused on computer programming, creative writing and global leadership. This was intended to pave the way for a more ambitious summer pilot, with the aim of launching the full service in September 2011.
A University strategic presentation dating from September 2011reveals (in the associated speaking notes) that Warwick is sticking with its existing IT partners. Cisco has sponsored IGGY’s graphic designer while IBM has provided ‘Lotus Live software plus expertise’.
Promotion activities are scheduled to begin in autumn 2011, and declared targets at this stage are for IGGY to recruit:
- 6,000 members by 2012, so more than doubling its membership in 2010;
- 50,000 members by 2014, implying rapid eight-fold expansion over the two succeeding years; and
- 40% of members from ‘low income homes internationally’ (this presumably applies domestically as well).
There may be the possibility of cross-subsidising members from poor backgrounds by charging the relatively wealthy a premium fee.
IGGY will also be a ‘key component’ in Warwick’s campaign to raise £50m (though it is noteworthy that it isn’t mentioned as such on the campaign pages).
But, by November 2011, there has been a significant change of tone. Warwick announces the appointment of a new Director who is to begin work the following month.
The aims are highly ambitious. The new Director:
‘served for almost 5 years as Channel 4’s Head of Education where she led a major strategic shift in Channel 4 Education from TV programmes to digital projects, successfully targeting teen audiences with innovative digital content. That experience will greatly assist her to realise IGGY’s next stage: a new online network offering significant, high quality content to over 100,000 gifted young people across the globe.’
No timetable is applied to the fulfilment of this latter ambition, which doubles the declared 2015 target.
Progress during the first half of 2012 was mostly low-key.
By April, IGGY membership had increased by 500 or so to ‘over 3,000’ but curiously the number of countries supplying members has reduced from 40 to ‘over 30’. Maybe some of the summer and winter school beneficiaries were less attracted by predominantly online provision.
It is interesting to speculate whether an increase of 500 members in two years – even though it could be seen in a positive light as 20% growth – was viewed by Warwick as relatively underwhelming, especially since the distribution between countries has fallen by up to 25%.
It leaves Warwick needing to recruit 3,000 more members in eight months to satisfy its target of 6,000 members by the end of 2012.
A June 2012 feature on Merlin John’s Blog provides some interesting insights into how thinking is developing:
‘Students take up subscriptions with IGGY through the website, authorised by their teachers who are an important key to the service. IGGY will be a subscription service but will offer up to half of the memberships free to disadvantaged students. The subscription price is still to be confirmed but will be in the region of £120 a year with substantial discounts for schools,’
We will look at the final arrangements in more detail below.
The new Director undertook a series of meetings with UK gifted education interests, to update them on plans and lay the groundwork for mutually beneficial partnerships. I met her myself in April 2012 when plans were mentioned to run a ‘Global and Gifted Conference’. This duly took place on 4 July at Warwick, but no invitation arrived.
The Storify record says there were over 100 people present. Though billed as having ‘a focus on new international research and developments in gifted education’ there were just three presenters: Joan Freeman, Jonathan Hare (a freelance research scientist) and, IGGY’s newly-appointed Academic Principal.
The presentations were initially published but are no longer available online. There was relatively limited coverage of the topic specified. The fundamental purpose of the event is rather unclear, but it will not have positioned IGGY at the heart of contemporary debate about global gifted and talented education.
Two other announcements of note were made during the summer of 2012:
- In June 2012 IGGY offered free membership to all 1,470 Year 9 students nominated for the education ministry’s Dux Award Scheme. The Ministry makes no reference to this in its own materials, so it is not officially endorsed. It would have been impossible to pass on student details to Warwick because of data protection restrictions, but maybe the list of participating schools was shared. We do not know how many Dux participants have taken up the offer, or to what extent this has contributed towards the achievement of IGGY’s membership targets.
- In August 2012 IGGY and Warwick’s Institute of Education jointly offered support for two part-time PhD research scholarships in gifted education, with funding to cover full fees (£2,340 in the current year) plus £500 per student for expenses. Doctoral supervision is to be shared between IGGY’s Academic Principal and a WIE lecturer. Those eligible are required to:
‘keep abreast of the latest research developments in gifted education; produce a 2,500 word report each quarter detailing their findings; contribute to IGGY’s annual conference; publish papers in academic journals and present at relevant conferences’.
This sounds like a cunning plan to strengthen IGGY’s gifted education expertise, so giving it the wherewithal to contribute to developing thinking in the field. It may also help to provide some evaluative capacity (the Academic Director’s job description requires him to develop systems to assess the impact of IGGY’s activities). It is similar in many respects to arrangements made during the NAGTY era, when an in-house research capability was evolved. While it may enable IGGY to develop a ‘thought leadership’ capability, there is a risk that these students may be perceived to have too close and reliant a relationship with IGGY to be entirely objective, especially if they are to be utilised as evaluators.
The IGGY Relaunch
The new-style IGGY opened for business in September 2012 as planned.
Warwick’s internal news service reports that initial priority is being given to English, maths, science and history. Ten postgraduate mentors have been recruited and partnerships established with Severn Trent Water and the National Grid to ‘involve students in real-life projects and issues’.
We are not told whether these two organisations have provided financial support or if the relationship is confined to ‘in kind’ support.
Not only will IGGY offer free membership to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, it will also extend this to all eligible students at Warwickshire and Coventry schools (a sure-fire way of increasing numbers, though not entirely equitable). An earlier offer of free places for all until early 2013 seems to have fallen by the wayside.
There is provision for pilot schools, another mechanism allowing IGGY to recruit members en masse. The first is located in Leamington Spa, on Warwick’s doorstep. It is evident that the University is pulling out all the stops: expensive banner advertisements for IGGY appear in at least one national newspaper for several weeks.
The September 2012 announcement confirms that the likes of Cisco and IBM have been set aside in favour of ‘local games company Fishinabottle’. It is not clear whether this work was procured competitively.
Strangely, the Company fails to list IGGY amongst its clients, though it has released a press notice announcing the launch of the new website:
‘IGGY.net features full social profile building functionality, forums for discussion and debate and a “Knowledge” section, in which members can tackle challenges and take part in activities either collaboratively or as individuals. The site offers deeply rooted ‘gamification’ in its social aspects; members gain experience, earn awards and prizes and are attributed statuses as they progress in the world of IGGY. This ‘gamification’ drives engagement and encourages exploration, two of the most important factors in creating digital materials for the educational space.
The biggest challenge in creating IGGY was ensuring a safe and secure environment for our members. To that end, we developed an enrolment process whereby members are confirmed by both their parents and their school in order to gain access to the community. This provides accountability as well as strengthening the authenticity of IGGY’s membership.’
A second phase of website development was launched in October 2012:
‘Members can now create their own profiles including a public or private blog, comment on articles and debates, build an activity page, earn points and achievements for the things they accomplish on the site, make friends and collaborate with other gifted students around the world.’
A further release is scheduled for late December 2012.
During October the IGGY Office moved to Senate House at the centre of Warwick’s campus. One might read into that an intention to make it more central to the University’s wider business, or possibly a determination on the part of Warwick’s senior management to keep a closer watch on proceedings – perhaps both simultaneously.
The University hosted a launch event at this time, captured by this podcast. Clearly a profile-raising opportunity, there was negligible press coverage. No invitation reached Gifted Phoenix Towers.
At this point, the appointed Director is still in place, at the head of a staff of twelve. But some three weeks later she has been replaced.
Warwick announced that:
‘IGGY, the University’s online network for gifted students, is expanding and has appointed Adrian Hall as its Managing Director. Janey Walker becomes Director of Partnerships and will focus on building new relationships with funders and content partners… Adrian has been working with IGGY as Content and e-Learning Advisor since May 2012’
It is difficult to know what to make of this, though it cannot be a vote of confidence, nor can it mark complete satisfaction with the progress made during the preceding year.
The logo received a makeover at around this time and the change at the top also coincides with a big increase in complement: the staff now numbers 18, a 50% increase within a month.
Warwick stocks most of the job details on its website, so it is possible to estimate the approximate expenditure on salaries. Unfortunately, the posts advertised do not correspond exactly with the current organisational structure.
However, it seems likely that total salary expenditure is somewhere between £600,000 and £700,000 a year, implying annual expenditure on salary and on-costs of around £1m. That is a big investment for a single university, especially if sponsorship remains thin on the ground.
In early November it was reported that IGGY would organise a third Junior Commission in 2013. The supportive quote is supplied for the first time by Hall rather than Walker.
IGGY merits a brief reference in Warwick’s Access Agreement for 2012/13, setting out how it plans to support fair access to the University for those from disadvantaged backgrounds:
‘The International Gateway for Gifted and Talented Youth (IGGY) will offer free membership and access to its resources for eligible students from low participation neighbourhoods helping to raise their aspirations through on-line resources and networking events.’
The 2013/4 Agreement repeats this verbatim, but also mentions a relationship with Warwick’s Goal Programme, the university’s principal fair access initiative:
‘The programme recruits a new cohort of 100-200 disadvantaged students each year, giving them access over four years to a programme of bespoke activities and free access to the wider YG&T provision… All members of Goal automatically become part of IGGY’.
So more grist to the recruitment mill.
Membership targets have been adjusted but also front-loaded:
‘IGGY aims to reach 15,000 gifted students in its first year and 50,000 after 3 years. Applicants will have to be endorsed as gifted by their schools. As well as UK students, IGGY is already recruiting new members as far afield as South Africa, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.’
One must assume that the ‘first year’ is now academic year 2012/13. If IGGY is to achieve 15,000 members by August 2013, that will require a five-fold increase in 16 months.
The use of the word ‘reach’ may hide a multitude of sins. Whether it is a looser construct than membership remains unclear, but making it so would arguably be statistical sleight of hand.
The 50,000 figure for 2015 has been scaled back by 100% compared with a figure of 100,000 mentioned in the Academic Principal’s job description dating from early 2012. So the autumn 2011 target has been doubled and then halved again, indicating some tempering of the University’s ambitions by realism.
Another job description indicates that half of the 50,000 target for 2015 – ie 25,000 – must be international members. Obviously then, 25,000 must be drawn from the home countries.
There is no further reference to the original 40% target for learners – national and international – to come from low income households (‘up to half’ in the John blog post), although I have taken the latter figure into account as a continuing assumption when considering the implications for income generation below.
The volatility of these targets suggests they have been plucked from the air rather than based on any projection or realistic assessment of what is achievable.
The overall size of the global pool in which IGGY is fishing is almost impossible to calculate, but it is much easier to analyse the domestic market.
If we leave aside post-compulsory education (including around one million 16-19 year-olds) the total number of 13-19 year-olds in UK schools – maintained and independent – is around 3.55m.
Assuming 5% are eligible for IGGY membership that gives a potential pool of 177,500 school-based students. (There is no reference to further education on the website so I am assuming this is not currently a target.)
If we assume that 50% of IGGY members are to be drawn from the UK, this means that:
- By September 2013, the target is to enrol 4.22% of all eligible students, or roughly one in every 24;
- By September 2015, the target is to enrol 14.08% of students, or roughly one in every seven.
But, as we shall see below, the 5% assumption is not really reflected in the eligibility criteria.
IGGY was originally intended for 11-19 year-olds, as was NAGTY before it, but the lower age limit has now been raised to 13. Why this step was taken is not explained, though it probably rests on the assumption that a social networking environment is relatively less suitable for 11-13 year-olds, while the associated risks are that much greater.
Prospective members need to demonstrate:
‘The potential to perform in the top 5% of their peers worldwide in at least one curriculum area’
But this is inherently unmeasurable, so a degree of subjectivity is inevitable.
Emphasis is seemingly placed on:
- Ability rather than achievement and
- Ability in one or more school curriculum subjects, as opposed to all-round ability, or talent in practical fields such as art, music, sport or leadership.
Within the UK, however, this translates into one more specific criterion:
‘The potential to achieve level 8 grades in SATs at the end of Key Stage 3 (year 9) and A*/A grades at GCSE and A level.’
These are of course attainment measures. Presumably students who have already achieved at least one Level 8 or one GCSE A grade automatically become eligible.
Only students not yet at the end of Year 9 and those with a string of Bs at GCSE must necessarily rely on showing potential, as opposed to achievement. There is scope to accommodate students who have underachieved in KS3 and/or KS4 assessments, provided they can supply evidence that they are expected to do better in future.
It is instructive to compare these measures with the 5% threshold.
- In 2012, just 1% of pupils achieved level 8 in KS3 teacher assessment in English and science, but 8% did so in mathematics. As far as I am aware, national teacher assessment data is no longer collected for non-core subjects, but it will continue to be available in schools and so would qualify under these eligibility criteria;
- In 2012, the percentage of entrants achieving a full course GCSE grade A/A* across the UK varies from 4.7% (Other Technology) to 61.4% (Classical Subjects). The average percentage across all subjects is 22.4%.
This suggests that the IGGY entry threshold is pitched extremely low, especially at KS4, and when one reflects that it requires only (typically higher) predicted rather than actual grades.
Of course that significantly improves the probability of recruiting members but, conversely, it threatens to dilute the academic experience of many joining in expectation of a challenging experience amongst their intellectual peers.
The reference to SATs, GCSEs and A levels is also rather Anglo-centric, suggesting that the other home countries are not a priority (or at least some neglect of their sensibilities).
For those outside the UK eligibility depends on ‘the potential to achieve top grades for their particular mode of assessment’, which is largely a subjective measure.
Four other less specific evidential measures are mentioned (the criteria aren’t specific on the point but presumably only one criterion needs to be satisfied by each applicant):
- ‘in the top one or two students in the average class of 30 students in an averagely-performing school’;
- ‘regularly outperforming their peers in assessments’;
- ‘on the schools [sic] ‘gifted and talented register’;
- ‘have been accelerated in school (eg moved up a year or started higher qualifications earlier than their peers)’.
Some of these are rather vague and variable. Some schools even manage to include all their pupils on a gifted and talented register, and not only selective schools either! The final criterion leaves open the possibility that some under 13s will after all be admitted.
Eligible students must have applications endorsed by their school and approved by their parents (or presumably their carers, though IGGY uses ‘parents’ as its standard terminology).
No evidence of ability is required:
‘We do not ask for written evidence that a student is gifted but we do require an email…to confirm they are gifted and would benefit from membership’.
Schools are encouraged to sign up groups of students and are incentivised to do so by receiving discounts on fees.
The registration process is kept as light-touch as possible:
‘If you want to register your students for IGGY membership contact us at info@IGGY.net. We will contact you to discuss how many students you want to enrol and whether any are eligible for free membership, and agree the overall cost. Your school will then be given the appropriate number of codes and you will allocate these to the individual students.
Your students have to register themselves online. An email will be sent to their parents asking them to confirm the student’s details and explaining they are joining IGGY. Once the parents have confirmed these details the student’s account will be activated.’
As far as I can establish, this is a once-only process so students, once admitted, remain members until they exceed the upper age limit. Those who move from one school to another, or who transfer at age 14 or 16, do not seem to require additional endorsement from their new institutions.
It follows that many institutions will not know, unless they check, that some of their students are IGGY members (unless IGGY approaches them for payment of the annual fee, having been refused by the student’s former school).
While this is no doubt attractive to schools – apart from the last detail above – it rather leaves open to question whether IGGY genuinely caters for the top 5%.
Pragmatically of course, IGGY has everything to gain from a liberal set of eligibility criteria, especially while it is striving to build up numbers. There is an associated risk though that membership becomes less attractive simply because it is less exclusive.
Since 15 October 2012, IGGY has been charging members an annual subscription which it says is highly subsidised by the University. The current subscription is £120 per year for members resident within the UK and £200 per year for those resident elsewhere. These rates are not necessarily fixed.
This differential is justified on the grounds that:
‘It is more expensive for us to deliver student mentoring, arrange and deliver face to face events and generate content partnerships with organisations outside our UK base, and we do need to ensure that these additional costs are covered.’
This seems a little unfair since most overseas members are likely to access the online environment rather than face-to-face experiences. It is unlikely that such events will be offered free at the point of delivery: if there are additional costs, those would be recouped in the additional charges levied.
The FAQ written by the Academic Principal contain a section: ‘Why is IGGY only offered online’ which tends to contradict the rationale given above.
In effect the price differential means that overseas members are cross-subsidising those resident in the UK. Such an arrangement could be open to challenge.
What IGGY calls ‘sponsored memberships’ are available for UK disadvantaged students if they are:
- Eligible for free school meals
- Children in care
- Live ‘in an area that has low participation in higher education’.
The latter provision can be applied wholesale where school-level applications are made. Other extenuating circumstances may be considered for individual applicants.
It is curious that this entitlement is not extended to all otherwise eligible learners aged under 16 in England who qualify for the Pupil Premium since that would be much simpler administratively for schools.
The inclusion of an area-based low HE participation criterion – both at individual and school level – will extend eligibility to relatively advantaged students who live in relatively disadvantaged areas, so generating significant deadweight.
Presumably the POLAR classification is applied, though it is open to question whether schools are always aware of their POLAR classification.
For members outside the UK, the definition of disadvantage is:
‘Based on whether students already receive educational financial support or if they are living in an area that has low participation in higher education.’
Quite what that means in practice is unclear, though overseas applicants faced with the higher basic fee are quite likely to find some evidence to back up a claim of disadvantage.
Schools that take advantage of the opportunity to register groups of students with IGGY can qualify for additional discounts.
A three month trial for up to 10 students attracts a one-off fee of £450. Otherwise discounts are on a sliding scale, depending on the number of students admitted.
- £1,200 to register up to ten students, then £100 per additional student;
- £2,500 to register up to 25 students, then £80 per additional student;
- £4,000 to register up to 50 students, then £60 per additional student;
- £6,000 to register up to 100 students, then £40 per additional student.
So there is clearly an incentive to schools to maximise enrolments rather than limiting recruitment to students who genuinely fall within the top 5% by ability.
This provision also favours selective schools and those in the most advantaged areas with a heavy concentration of high attaining students.
The online guidance makes clear that some schools pass on membership fees to parents, whereas others pay subscriptions themselves or share the cost. Since schools qualify for discounts even when parents pay, there is scope here for institutions to play the system, passing on full fees to parents while only paying the discounted fees to IGGY.
If we ignore the impact of discounts, assume that 50% of places are free and 50% of the remaining 25,000 are recruited from abroad, the maximum annual fee income from 50,000 members is:
(12,500 x £120) + (12,500 x £200) = £4.0m or £80 per student.
The maximum fee from 15,000 students is:
(3,750 x £120) + (3,750 x £200) = £1.2m or £80 per student.
Given the salary and on-costs outlined above above, plus other development and running costs, it is likely that IGGY will not break even for some time.
The Relationship with Schools and Partners
Schools are advised that they will receive ‘a content plan’ and ‘usage statistics’ though it is not quite clear whether these are generic or specific to each learner.
There is also an option to register as ‘IGGY Pilot Schools’. The financial basis of this arrangement is unspecified, as are the specific benefits for the schools concerned. Ten English pilot locations are currently named on the website, the majority located close to Warwick.
Trinity Lismore Catholic College in New South Wales, Australia is also mentioned, as are ‘Al-Hussan National Schools’ – three English-medium day schools in Saudi Arabia. Neither website seems to mention their relationship with IGGY. The Australian school does however feature its gifted and talented provision.
There is a revealing section of the IGGY website headed ‘How much work will this mean for teachers?’
The answer supplied is:
‘Apart from the initial conversations with IGGY to decide how many students to enrol, you won’t have to do much at all.’
But this is surely disingenuous, since the onus clearly rests on schools to ensure complementarity between members’ in-school experience and what IGGY provides.
The comparative inattention given to this crucial connect was a significant weakness of the NAGTY approach and there is a risk of repetition. IGGY would be much better served by an explanation that this is both necessary and critical. Services should be available to schools to make it easier for them – above and beyond usage statistics and a generic content plan showing what provision is available.
At the very least, there should be a portfolio service enabling students and their schools to build and access records of engagement with IGGY. This may be under development, however.
From January 2013, members will be able to undertake:
‘The University of Warwick approved IGGY Award accreditation at Bronze, Silver and Gold Level.’
It may be that this will include a portfolio service, since accreditation will require details of students’ online engagement with IGGY to be stored and verified.
No further details are available, including whether additional fees will be charged for the privilege. The idea is a good one in principle but the devil is in the detail. Quite what value the accreditation will have remains open to question. Warwick would no doubt like to see it feature on future university applications, but whether it will gain any significant currency remains to be seen.
IGGY claims ‘the support of top academics and businesses’ but there are only two declared business ‘content partners’ to date and the vast majority of the content emanates from Warwick. The internal arrangements – and funding – necessary to support this activity are not made public. It would be interesting to know whether the costs are passed on to IGGY or expected to be swallowed by the faculties that generate them.
The two ‘content partners’ – Severn Trent Water and the National Grid – are not particularly forthcoming about the benefits they foresee, though presumably they might expect some business advantage from IGGY’s ‘junior think tank’ capability.
Four ‘gifted and talented partners’ have recently been added to the website – CTY Ireland, NACE, NAGC and Villiers Park – but only in the first and last cases do we get any real insight into the nature of the partnership.
CTYI will share ‘good practice and research’ while Villiers Park will provide content in return for sponsored membership for those undertaking its Scholars’ Programme. (The site does carry a second Q and A supplied by NAGC comprising ‘the top ten questions they are asked by parents’. This might imply the future development of parental services in conjunction with NAGC and parallel professional services in collaboration with NACE.)
IGGY says ‘it is always looking for new partners’ but it seems to have a relatively narrow conceptualisation of what it is seeking. The benefits of partnership, other than reputational value, are far from clear, especially for those working outside the educational sector.
What Kind of Service Does IGGY Provide?
The website provides access to a range of open-access material which prospective members, their parents and schools can use to judge the nature and quality of what lies behind the subscription paywall. Another section carries an index of materials that members can access.
As we have seen from the Fishinabottle press release, IGGY has nailed its colours firmly to the ‘gamification’ mast. That will help to give it a more contemporary feel for users, but may also attract criticism from those who believe this approach has its own significant shortcomings.
I offer no assessment of the quality and educational relevance of the materials, or the ‘gamified’ structure – that is for others to judge – but much can be gleaned from other parts of its website about the nature of the service IGGY seeks to provide.
IGGY markets itself as providing the extra ‘challenge’ and ‘stimulation’ that learners might not receive through their mainstream education. It provides a supportive global network and community that boosts learning and self-esteem.
It promises to provide a weekly diet of new interactive content, challenges, debates and competitions. There will be a mixture of short puzzles and longer-term research projects. Students can opt to work alone or collaboratively. According to the Beta Website, the initial subject offer has been extended to include creative writing, maths, science, history and politics. There is as yet no timetable for extension beyond those fields.
I cannot find any substantive treatment of the different ways in which schools might utilise the service – whether exclusively for independent learning outside school hours, or integrated into lesson time, or within extended day activities. That is a missed opportunity from the marketing perspective.
An upcoming highlights page is published frequently – it is not clear whether this is the same content plan promised to teachers, or if they get a more developed service.
Other parts of the service include:
‘A support network that includes University of Warwick academics and student mentors…Events, conferences and gatherings for members across the world…Support and advice for gifted students and university applicants.’
But the detail of what exactly is and will be provided under these heads is still rather sketchy, so members cannot see exactly what they will get for their money.
A series of ‘FAQs for Students Parents and Teachers’ authored by the Academic Principal admit that IGGY is ‘primarily an online initiative’:
‘The financial argument is simple. Face-to-face events are relatively expensive compared with online communities of the same scale, yet they only benefit a fraction of the number of people. In order to keep our membership fees as low as possible, to create the best content with the best academics, to allow students to connect with other international students and to make IGGY a sustainable community, we have decided to use an online model. However we do plan to offer some face to face events and will be asking the IGGY community what developments and events they want to see over the next year.’
The FAQs also describe the’ intended learning outcomes’:
‘IGGY aims to encourage independent learning and critical thinking as well as getting students to work collaboratively…encourages students to have an international perspective and understand the impact of globalization… stimulates students to utilize social media and tools to advance their education… each IGGY member can tailor their involvement to match their own areas of interest and personalise their learning experience.’
‘The aim is to develop appropriate 21st century skills for IGGY members, including critical and creative thinking, communication, research and independent learning skills…IGGY’s learning principles are broadly aligned with Vygotsky’s social constructivist approach, which is based on learning through discovery and social interaction’.
Later on the Q and A describes IGGY’s service as fundamentally enrichment-based rather than accelerative, though with some degree of ‘content-based acceleration’. Both these dimensions need to be planned into schools’ understanding of their learners’ experience, to ensure the right fit between their IGGY and school experiences.
Members are expected to take primary responsibility for their own learning. They score points for their involvement in activities and can record what they’ve undertaken via their profile page. (Whether this yet amounts to formal tracking of progress and achievements as claimed is open to question.)
Student mentors also provide feedback but it is not yet clear whether they will play any role in supporting accreditation for the upcoming Bronze, Silver and Gold awards.
In answer to a question about the quality assurance measures that apply in lieu of a test for IGGY membership, the Principal argues that ‘the research literature is currently showing a paradigm shift towards giftedness as a developmental concept’ hence the admissions criteria are deliberately flexible.
This is fair up to a point, but no actual quality assurance measures are cited. One presumes that the only real measure is the freedom for learners to leave IGGY (or, more accurately, become inactive) if they feel that it is not for them.
Some degree of selectivity is implied by a reference to the possibility that applications can be rejected, in which case candidates can re-apply after a period of twelve months. In reality, it seems unlikely that few if any applications will be rejected given the generosity of the eligibility criteria.
Some of the terms and conditions for IGGY members appear rather draconian:
- IGGY can’t be held accountable if the site is unavailable, regardless of the duration of the gap in service;
- If usernames or passwords are made public, they can be disabled;
- Users can print off only single copies of material on the site for personal use, though reproducing content for ‘non-commercial educational use’ also seems to be permitted. (The terms don’t say explicitly whether this allows a school to use the material with other pupils who are not members but, if so, such materials must not be altered in any way.)
IGGY even seeks to control links to and from third party sites. Authors must:
‘Make sure you do it [ie link] in a way that is fair (and legal!) and doesn’t damage or take advantage of our reputation’.
They ‘can withdraw permission to link to IGGY whenever we like’, though that begs the question whether permission is required in the first place.
One sincerely hopes that an honest, balanced and constructive review which highlights shortcomings as well as good points doesn’t amount to reputational damage…and that the hyperlinks in this post are unexceptionable.
Overall Assessment and Prospects for Success
Some of the commentary above may appear to have accentuated the negative, but I have been stress-testing deliberately some of the more vulnerable aspects of IGGY’s delivery model.
It is early days, at least for the relaunch, and several issues should be ironed out as they emerge through careful monitoring.
The overall concept is sound and I strongly support the broad social networking model which IGGY has adopted:
‘Because social media can address so many of the problems faced by gifted learners, while also capitalising on their familiarity with the online environment, it is tempting to regard the relationship between gifted education (in this narrow sense) and social media as ‘a marriage made in heaven’.
But it is too early to speculate whether or not IGGY will be successful. The final judgment will need to take account of several factors, including:
- Whether the social network is attractive and addictive enough to pull gifted learners away from Facebook and Playstation for worthwhile periods. Is it a viable alternative, or is it doomed to be a poor second-best, scorned by the majority because of its worthiness and endorsement by parents and teachers?
- Assuming that IGGY is attractive enough to secure and maintain a substantial audience of 13-19 year-olds, what level of engagement it will engender in its users. Some members may treat IGGY like any other social network, dipping in and out as the mood takes them and valuing the experience primarily for the social interaction. Others may be more engaged with the learning activities, possibly even undertaking them on a systematic basis, so achieving the planned accredited awards. Like its precursors, IGGY’s success must be judged on the number of genuinely and consistently active members (rather than the number of members per se).
- Whether a methodology is established to secure genuine and system-wide integration with learning in schools. Bolt-on enrichment has very limited value in itself – the added value is only derived when the enrichment activities become a fully integral part of the learners’ educational experience. But that requires significant input on the part of schools, with obvious implications for teacher time. IGGY will need to adjust its position on this and evolve effective tools to support school staff with this process.
- Whether the educational benefits are confirmed through robust evaluation. This must be able to isolate convincingly the impact of IGGY from all other factors and quantify the benefits, not least the impact on individual and collective educational achievement and on fair access to competitive higher education. Good evaluation is expensive and one dimension must necessarily be longitudinal. (Like all gifted and talented education interventions, there is a potential contribution to excellence and another to equity. Both are important and must be kept in balance.)
- Whether IGGY can balance income and expenditure and so achieve longer term financial sustainability. Upfront and running costs are significant and IGGY is unlikely to reach financial equilibrium for some time. It would be interesting to see an evaluation of the monetary benefits likely to accrue to Warwick from this investment, and the probability of those being realised. Ultimately income has to depend on membership rather than sponsorship. There are several more established competitors worldwide, especially those located in the United States. It will be hard for IGGY to attract business away from them, so the alternative is to become established in new markets. The international business brings obvious benefits for Warwick and for learners, but there is a risk that it could deflect the organisation from an initial priority to secure its domestic audience.
There are several other conspicuous risks, not least the following four:
- IGGY is ‘high maintenance’ in that it relies on the availability of a never-ending flow of high-quality content, much of which has a cost attached. Should that stream ever falter – even when IGGY has built up a sizeable repository of old material – the value to members will decline significantly.
- Online security is similarly ‘high maintenance’, carrying with it a huge reputational risk if there is ever a serious breach. IGGY has evolved a relatively light touch procedure which – while it does not inhibit recruitment – could potentially be compromised.
- The domestic and global markets might evolve in a way that is unhelpful to IGGY. It is vulnerable to bigger generic players choosing to extend their services to gifted learners. Competition here in the UK is currently negligible. While it is open to question whether a continuing IGGY monopoly would be in the best interests of UK gifted learners, the evolving market for HE-driven MOOCs may pull demand away from IGGY if they are deliberately marketed towards younger students. (It is noteworthy that Warwick is a partner in Futurelearn, the new endeavour led by the Open University. The evolving relationship between IGGY and Futurelearn will be interesting to chart.)
- IGGY is leaving no stone unturned to secure a critical mass of members in line with its targets, but this may compromise the value of the service to learners who are genuinely within the top 5% by ability. There are conspicuous advantages to open access on one hand and strict eligibility criteria on the other – and there may be some cause to suggest that IGGY has fallen between these two stools.
The acid test will be whether IGGY can successfully reconcile its twin imperatives – to improve significantly and measurably the education of a critical mass of gifted learners and, simultaneously, to generate the flow of benefits that will give Warwick University a competitive advantage over its peers.
The UK gifted education community is fragmented, competitive and highly suspicious. There is precious little effective collaboration. IGGY might usefully position itself to change that but, to be successful, it must be fully open and transparent in its proceedings and prepared to learn from the mistakes of the past, not least by opening itself up to constructive criticism emanating within and outside the gifted education community.
I said it was too early to speculate on IGGY’s chances of success but, if pressed (and setting aside my innate pessimism), I would put them close to 50/50 as things stand. We should have a much clearer picture in twelve months’ time.