Gifted Phoenix 2012 Review and Retrospective

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I thought it might be neat – as well as useful – to round out this year’s blogging with a mildly self-congratulatory review, looking back at the various posts I’ve written about giftedness and gifted education.

New Year Fireworks courtesy of RobW_

New Year Fireworks courtesy of RobW_

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I have embedded links to every post, so this is also an index of sorts. If you missed anything first time round, now’s your chance to catch up before next year’s programme kicks off.

This is my 40th post of 2012. There were none in August (holidays) or in October (heavy research and some privately commissioned work). I published between three and six posts in each of the remaining ten months. I haven’t attempted an accurate word count, but my best guess is roughly 200,000.

Crikey.

 

National Studies

I’ve published four ‘signature’ features on national systems of gifted education:

  • South Korea – Parts One and Two;
  • Singapore – Parts One and Two;
  • New Zealand’s Excellence Gap – Parts One and Two; and

The first two were studies of ‘Asian Tigers’, intended to showcase the particular significance of gifted education to a select group of jurisdictions that are so often held up as educational paragons for us to emulate as best we can. They complement an earlier series about gifted education in Hong Kong.

The New Zealand post was this year’s contribution to the NZ Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour. It attracted a lot less attention (and, consequently, much less vituperation) than I had anticipated. The substance of my argument is that New Zealanders are over-focused on ethnic achievement gaps, including at the top end, rather than socio-economic achievement gaps (which will of course have a significant ethnic dimension).

The post on Israel was a huge task, given the immense range of background material available online. I knew that Israel had a long pedigree in the field, but hadn’t appreciated that it was quite so extensive. Much of this activity deserves to be better known and better understood – and I hope my post has made some small contribution to that end.

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The Directory of Gifted Education Centres

Four more of my posts during 2012 are contributions to an ongoing series about important centres for the delivery and support of gifted education:

  • Back in January I produced a postscript to my earlier work on the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education (HKAGE) analysing recently published data about the Academy’s effectiveness;

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Theoretical Posts

A third group of posts can perhaps best be regarded as contributions to the theoretical underpinnings of gifted education.

  • At the beginning of the year I offered a piece called ‘Are All Children Gifted?’ – Parts One and Two – which was prompted by an initial discussion on Twitter. The first part set out my personal position, together with a frame for the consideration of statements of this kind. The second part analysed three different examples of the genre.
  • Later that spring I published ‘A Bold Step in Broadly the Right Direction…But There’s a Big But!’ This is my contribution to the vociferous and sometimes violent debate prompted by the publication of ‘Taking a Bold Step’ an article by Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, President of the US National Association for Gifted Children. Fundamentally, I argue for an inclusive, consensual position that can be supported by advocates of trait-based giftedness on one hand and gifted education as talent development on the other. But I place myself firmly in the latter camp, subject only to profound reservations over the idea that gifted education must be devoted to the nurturing of adult eminence.

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Social Media

In the summer several posts were dedicated to consideration of the contribution that social media might make to gifted education.

I chaired a Symposium on this topic at the ECHA 29012 Conference in Munster, Germany. Two preparatory posts, published in July and September respectively, were concerned with the Symposium itself, including arrangements for a linked #gtchat on Twitter, designed to embody in practice some of the Symposium’s key messages.

There was also a substantive post ‘Can Social Media Help Overcome the Problems We Face in Gifted Education – Part One and Two. This considered how social media might be harnessed to support advocacy, learning, policy-making, professional development and research, offering several suggestions for worthwhile collaborative projects.

Finally, in October, I published a full review of the Conference as a whole, including reflections on the Symposium. This offered some potential learning points for the next conference in Ljubliana in two years’ time.

It is gratifying that the organisers have already been in touch expressing their willingness to act on such feedback. The Conference itself is called ‘Rethinking Giftedness: Giftedness in the Digital Age’, so this is perhaps the perfect opportunity to address some of these issues directly. I hope I can play an active part in that.

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Posts Pertaining to English Gifted Education

Six of my posts dealt with the impact of English education policy on gifted learners, including high attainers.

  • In February I published a Policy Statement on the English School Performance Tables for GT Voice. This was drafted on behalf of the Board and revised in the light of comments received from other members. Later in the year, in early October, I resigned from the Board in protest at the very limited progress made since GT Voice was first established. I am still a member and – despite continuing forebodings – I very much hope that GT Voice can develop some real momentum in 2013.
  • The GT Voice Policy Statement was produced in response to the 2011 Performance Tables. In December I produced an analysis of the performance of High Attaining Pupils in the 2012 Primary Tables. There was evidence of real improvement between 2011 and 2012, though changes to statutory tests were a complicating factor and there is still considerable scope for further improvement in 2013 and beyond
  • Three posts dating from the early summer consider issues arising from the emerging outcomes of England’s National Curriculum Review. The first considered The Removal of National Curriculum Levels and the Implications for Able Pupils’ Progression. This was supplemented by a proposed Basic Framework for National Curriculum Assessment. A final post traced the clarification of Government policy over the secondary National Curriculum and replacement of existing GCSE qualifications taken at age 16. Initial media statements presaging full abolition of the secondary National Curriculum were succeeded by plans for a ‘skeleton’ comprising:

‘very, very short programmes of study that will give teachers “extreme” and “almost total” freedom over what is taught’.

  .Six months on, these are still to be published.

  • Two posts were dedicated to dissecting reports published by the Sutton Trust. The first considering its proposals for an Open Access Scheme; the second analysing a Report on ‘Educating the Highly Able’. I’m afraid I found them equally unconvincing. The first depends on a substantial taxpayer investment in independent (private sector) schools at a time when budgets are stretched as never before, quite apart from the fact that it would also denude state schools of all their most able learners. The second fails entirely to acknowledge the proposals in the first. By defining high ability almost exclusively in terms of high attainment, its proposed course of action would serve only to increase the ‘excellence gap’ between disadvantaged gifted learners and their peers.

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Twitter Round-ups

I provided eight comprehensive listings of Gifted Phoenix Tweets during 2012. The first seven were monthly reviews, but the eighth and last marked a shift to quarterly/termly round-ups:

Gifted Phoenix on Twitter provides comprehensive coverage of global gifted education news, as well as links to useful research, commentary and resources made freely available online.

My Twitter feed also offers balanced analysis of wider education policy here in England, while specialising in unearthing and sharing newsworthy educational material from public sector sources. This supports the cause of greater transparency, espoused by the Government and opposition parties alike. It also helps ‘proper’ educational journalists keep up to speed.

Gifted Phoenix published around 6,500 Tweets during 2012. It has over 3,000 followers including several very influential politicians and educationalists.

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Key Documents

Finally, I published a brief post drawing readers’ attention to an evolving Key Documents section of this Blog.

My plan is to build incrementally a global library of freely available documents, wherever possible (ie where copyright provisions appear not to stand in the way) by storing a PDF on the site.

When future posts need to reference the documents in question, I can link to the copy on this Blog rather than relying on external URLs. This should significantly reduce the incidence of dead links.

Phase One of this project is now almost complete, in that the ‘Gifted Education in the United Kingdom’ section is fully stocked with uploadable PDFs. I shall begin to stock the ‘Gifted Education in the Rest of the World’ and ‘Research’ sections during the coming year.

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Analytics

It is never wise to place too much faith in Blog analytics, but WordPress suggests my readership almost doubled in 2012 compared with the previous year.

There have been visits from 151 countries since 1 April. Some 48.5% of those visitors are resident in the United States or the United Kingdom.

The next largest readerships are located in Singapore, Saudi Arabia, India, Australia, Germany, France, Canada, Malaysia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the Philippines respectively

The ten most read posts during the year (including some published before 2012) are:

Mawhiba: Gifted Education in Saudi Arabia (Part One)

Gifted Education in South Korea – Part One

The Removal of National Curriculum Levels and the Implications for Able Pupils’ Progression

Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education: An In-Depth Analysis

Gifted Education in Singapore: Part 1

Gifted Education in Singapore: Part 2

The European Council for High Ability (ECHA)

Are Leonardo Schools a Good Model of Gifted Education?

USA: Maryland – Center for Talented Youth (CTY), Johns Hopkins University

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Finally

As we move into 2013, may I take this opportunity to wish all my visitors and readers a very Happy New Year.

I have several very interesting posts planned for the early part of next year. I hope they will continue to meet your needs but, if you would like me to address a particular topic, please don’t hesitate to suggest it.

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GP

December 2012

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IGGY – The International Gateway for Gifted Youth

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This post is an in-depth review of IGGY, a service for gifted learners hosted by the University of Warwick in England.

IGGY_Logo_Blue_DDAI 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.)

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Recruitment Targets

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.

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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.

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Pricing

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.

It costs:

  • £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:

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(12,500 x £120)  + (12,500 x £200) = £4.0m or £80 per student.

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The maximum fee from 15,000 students is:

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(3,750 x £120)  + (3,750 x £200) = £1.2m or £80 per student.

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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.

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P1020218

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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.

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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.’

Moreover:

‘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.)
  • Anything posted on the site can be used by Warwick for any purpose ‘in any media across the world’ as long as that is consistent with the declared privacy policy. They can change and adapt that material as they see fit. These rights aren’t exclusive, however, so others can be granted similar entitlement. (This presumably applies to any content provided by third parties.)
  • The terms of use can be changed at any time

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.

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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.

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GP

December 2012

High Attaining Pupils in the 2012 Primary School Performance Tables

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This short post examines data about the performance of high-attaining pupils at Key Stage 2 in the 2012 Primary School Performance Tables.

It compares this year’s outcomes with those for 2011 when the high-attaining pupil measure was first introduced.

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Introduction

The 2011 Tables included performance measures for low, medium and high attainers, to encourage schools to improve the performance of all their pupils, rather than concentrating disproportionately on those at risk of not achieving the threshold measures.

The Key Stage 2 threshold measure is achievement of Level 4 in English and maths. Level 4 achievement has always received most attention in the public interpretation of school performance.

More recently, measures of progress have been added alongside those relating to achievement. All pupils are expected to demonstrate at least two levels of progress during Key Stage 2.

These two measures of achievement and progress are enshrined in the Government’s primary school ‘floor targets’, which determine whether school improvement intervention is required.

Comparison between the 2012 and 2011 Performance Tables provides the first opportunity to assess whether the introduction of these three categories of prior attainment have encouraged schools to adjust their behaviour – and whether this is to the relative advantage of higher attaining learners.

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Definition

The definition of a high-attaining pupil in the 2012 Primary Performance Tables is based on the average points scores they achieved in Key Stage 1 teacher assessment four years earlier.

High-attaining pupils are deemed to be all those achieving above Level 2 at Key Stage 1, with the precise borderline marked by the achievement of an average points score of 18 or higher. The definition is unchanged since 2011.

It is not clear from the Performance Tables User Guide whether this average points score is based on achievement across reading, writing, speaking and listening, maths and science (the full spectrum of KS1 assessment) or a subset of these (to ensure agreement with the KS2 measure which is confined to English and maths only).

Regardless of which methodology is selected, this measure will not include learners who are particularly strong in one area while particularly weak in another, unless their performance in one field (or more) is high enough to compensate for underperformance in another. The scope for compensation is clearly higher if science is included in the calculation.

That said, the measure is more likely to be criticised on grounds of over-inclusiveness rather than the reverse. But it is hard to source concrete figures.

National data about the percentage of pupils achieving Level 3 at KS1 across reading, writing, maths (and science) is not included in the official KS1 assessment statistical tables, nor are KS1 average points scores across these subjects. This seems something of an oversight given their significance for the Key Stage 2 Performance Tables.

We do know that, in 2011, the average points score across all pupils was 15.5, just 2.5 points short of the high attainer borderline. We also know that the average points score measure will include some pupils who achieve the average score while not achieving Level 3 in at least one area, making it relatively more generous than a requirement for Level 3s across the board.

In 2012, the proportions of learners achieving Level 3 in individual assessments across all schools were: 27% (maths); 14% (writing); 22% (speaking and listening); 22% (maths); 21% (science). The overall percentage of pupils within the high attainer category will obviously depend on the subjects used to derive the calculation but will almost certainly lie somewhere above 20%.

It is also important to note that, since this is an attainment measure, not an ability measure, it will disproportionately include pupils from relatively advantaged backgrounds. In 2011, the average points score across all FSM pupils was 13.5, compared with an average non-FSM figure of 15.7.

It follows that schools with a relatively advantaged intake will tend to perform better on this measure than schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged learners, though there will be some that ‘buck the trend’.

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2012 results

The 2012 Primary School Performance Tables show that:

  • 27% of pupils nationally achieved Level 5 or above in KS2 English and maths tests. (The corresponding figure for reading and maths tests and teacher assessment in writing combined is 20% – a writing test was not administered in 2012, so creating comparability issues between results in 2011 and 2012.)
  • In individual subject areas, the percentage of learners achieving Level 5 or above in English overall is 38%, in reading only it is 48% and in maths it is 39%;
  • The proportion of pupils achieving Level 6 through the new KS2 level 6 tests is not given in the Performance Tables but we know from other published data that 900 pupils achieved Level 6 in the KS2 reading test and 19,000 did so in the maths test. While the former is significantly lower than 1% of total entries, the latter is equivalent to 3%, so roughly one pupil per class is now achieving Level 6 in maths. (About 700 pupils also achieved Level 6 in science teacher assessment). Almost all learners achieving a Level 6 will have demonstrated three levels of progress. We know from other provisional data that some 2,500 of those securing Level 6 in maths achieved either Level 2A or even Level 2B in maths alone at KS1, so managing four levels of progress in crude whole-level terms;
  • But, reverting to the average point score methodology deployed in the Primary Tables, no high attaining pupils achieved Level 3 or below in English and maths at KS2, hence 100% of high attainers achieved Level 4 or above on that measure;
  • Only 72% achieved the expected two or more levels of progress between the end of KS1 and the end of KS2, by achieving Level 5 or above in both English and maths. This means that over a quarter of high attaining pupils are underachieving on this measure;
  • The separate figures for English and maths look better. Some 87% of high attainers made the expected progress in English, while 92% did so in maths. This may suggest that the degree of overlap between high attaining pupils in English and maths respectively may be relatively low;
  • In maths, the percentage of high attainers making expected progress is slightly above the percentage of middle attainers making expected progress (90%) and significantly higher than the corresponding percentage for low attainers (71%);
  • But in English there is a more worrying situation. Some 93% of middle attainers make expected progress and 83% of low attainers do so. High attainers surpass the latter, with 87% making the expected level of progress, but that is markedly short of the middle attainers, suggesting that – in English at least – there is still a bias towards the middle of the achievement spectrum, at the expense of outliers at both ends. Why that should be is largely unexplained.

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Change Since 2011

Compared with 2011:

  • The percentage of pupils achieving Level 5 or above in KS2 English and maths tests has increased by 6% from 21% to 27%, but the removal of the writing test has had a significant impact here. There is some evidence from teacher assessment results that there has been an improvement, but this cannot be reliably confirmed;
  • The removal of the writing test also impacts on the percentage achieving Level 5 or above in English which has improved from 29% to 38%. In reading and maths, where there are no such comparability problems, the percentage achieving Level 5 or above has also increased significantly, by 5% and 4% respectively. Achievement at Level 6 cannot be compared with 2011 when tests were not available;
  • In 2011, 1% of high attainers failed to achieve Level 4 in KS2 English and maths and only 61% achieved Level 5 in both subjects, so there has been significant improvement in that the proportion not achieving this key benchmark has fallen from about four in ten to less than three in ten. This proportion remains unacceptably high and the impact of the removal of the writing test can only be guessed at, but the headline figure suggests that the introduction of the high attainer measure in the Tables may be having a positive impact;
  • Turning to the individual subjects, the percentage of high attainers making the expected progress in maths has increased from 89% to 92% and the comparable figure in English has increased substantially from 77% to 87%. Interestingly, in English the high attainers have overtaken the low attainers, though they continue to trail the middle attainers (see table below).

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                  Maths                   English
High Middle Low High Middle Low
2011 89 85 65 77 89 80
2012 92 90 71 87 93 83
Change +3 +5 +6 +10 +4 +3

Percentage of high, middle and low attainers achieving 2+ Levels of progress from KS1 to KS2

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One can see that the rate of improvement is slowest for high attainers in maths and fastest in English, though this may imply that the removal of the writing test has enabled many more high attainers than low attainers to make the expected progress. The fact that one in seven high attaining pupils are still not making the expected progress in English is, however, a cause for concern.

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Additional analysis

Back in 2011, the Daily Mail published some further detail. It put the number of high attaining pupils not making the expected progress in English and maths at ‘up to 51,000’.

Furthermore:

  • 2,160 primary schools returned a gap of 20% or more between the proportion of middle and high attainers making the expected 2+ levels of progress in English (presumably in favour of the former);
  • About half of all primary schools had some high attainers who failed to make  2+ levels of progress in both English and maths (so they did not have a 100% record on this measure);
  • Incredibly, about 800 schools had high attainers who failed even to achieve Level 4 at KS2, meaning they remained stuck at Level 3 after four years of KS2 education.
  • 15 schools had over 20% of their pupils in this position – some 1,300 pupils in all.

The 2012 Tables suggest that just 11 schools had high attaining pupils who were stuck at Level 3 in English and maths combined, with the highest recorded percentage for an individual school reaching 9%. It seems that only a few tens of pupils were in this invidious position.

But, more worryingly, in about 125 schools, 25% or fewer high attaining pupils failed to achieve Level 5 in both English and maths. Some 1,130 schools had 50% or fewer high attaining pupils achieving the expected progress.

Fewer than 870 schools had a perfect record in this respect, a significant improvement on 2011 but still not good enough.

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Conclusion

Overall there is some positive evidence that underachievement by high attainers is being significantly reduced – although the extent of the improvement is confused by the incomparability of 2011 and 2012 results as a consequence of the removal of the writing test.

Nevertheless, the extent of this underachievement remains unacceptably high, with well over a quarter still not securing Level 5 in English and maths combined.

The 2+ levels of progress required under existing arrangements is arguably insufficiently challenging for the majority of high attainers anyway – as evidenced by the increasing numbers achieving Level 6 – so there is a hidden underachievement factor to superimpose on top of the published figures.

There are improvements in progression in English and maths when considered separately. Although the improvement in progression is about three times as fast in English as in maths, the percentage failing to secure Level 5 in English remains higher.

Moreover, the progression rate for high attainers continues to lag behind middle achievers in English, which would suggest that many are continuing to receive inadequately differentiated challenge and support.

Issues with the structure of the Performance Tables remain. The high attainers measure is insufficiently differentiated, especially since Level 6 test results do not feature as a separate measure in the Performance Tables.

And, since the existing measure is not applied to the Narrowing the Gap indicators, we have no way of knowing whether schools are neglecting high attainers from disadvantaged backgrounds relatively more or less than their more advantaged peers.

Finally, it has been confirmed that National Curriculum levels are shortly to disappear, but no information has yet been published about the means of recording achievement and progression in future – and how that will be reflected in Performance Tables, assuming they continue to exist.

So, although there is scope for some optimism in the short term, the medium term prospect remains decidedly uncertain.

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GP

December 2012

Working Towards Stronger European Collaboration in Gifted Education

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

EU talent centre Capture

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

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

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The History

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

Those plans were fourfold:

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

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

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

The Declaration proposed that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EU Lobbying Activity

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

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

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

The draft proposed that:

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

Apropos the proposed Centre it said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conceivably, all three reasons may have been in play.

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

On this date it was presented by four MEPs:

The wording is only very slightly different.

The first point is unchanged.

The second calls on:

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

The third has been very slightly altered, calling on:

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

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

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

The final instruction is unchanged.

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

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

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

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

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EU lobbying poster Capture

There is even a poster to promote the Declaration..

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

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

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

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The Polish Conference

 

Organisation and Planning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Proceedings

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

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

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

Some of these papers also bear the Conference byline:

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

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

There was a significant Polish input.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The five panel sessions on the second day were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hungarian summary comments:

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

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

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

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

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The EuropeanTalent Centre in Budapest 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Centre’s Activities

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

The site describes the Centre’s mission thus:

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

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

The threefold goal of the Centre is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Relationship with ECHA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Overall Verdict on Progress to Date

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GP

November 2012