Gifted Phoenix’s 2013 Review and Retrospective

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This final post of 2013 takes a reflective look back at this year’s activity.

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One purpose is straightforward self-congratulation – a self-administered pat on the back for all my hard work!

This is also an opportunity to review the bigger picture, to reflect on the achievements and disappointments of the year now ending and to consider the prospects for 2014 and beyond.

Perhaps I can also get one or two things off my chest…

…So, by way of an aside, let me mention here that I provide this information to you entirely free of charge, partly because I believe that global progress in (gifted) education is obstructed by the rationing of knowledge, partly to encourage those who construct and shelter behind paywalls to reflect on the negative consequences of their behaviour.

I try my best to offer you a factual, balanced and objective assessment, to flag up weaknesses as well as strengths. In short, I tell it like it is. I have no interest in self-aggrandisement, in reputation or the trappings of academia. You will search in vain for those trappings in my CV, but I speak and write with commensurate authority, based on extended experience as a national policy maker and student of the field …

Another purpose is to provide an annotated list of my posts, so that readers can catch up with anything they missed.

I make this my 35th post of 2013, five fewer than I managed in 2012. I took an extended break during August and September this year, half of it spent on tour in Western Australia and the remainder engaged on other projects.

During the course of the year I’ve made a conscious effort simultaneously to narrow and diversify my focus.

I’ve devoted around two-thirds of my posts to educational reform here in England, while the remainder continued to address global issues.

Some of the Anglocentric posts were intended to draw out the wider implications of these reforms, rather than confining themselves exclusively to gifted education and the impact on gifted learners.

I wanted to paint on a broader canvas. It is all too easy to exist in a gifted education ghetto, forgetting that it must be integral to our national educational systems as well as a global endeavour in its own right.

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Global Gifted Education

During 2013 I published two feature-length posts about the performance of high achievers in international comparisons studies:

Like it or not, these international tests are becoming increasingly influential in most countries around the world. Those involved in gifted education ignore them at their peril.

Many of the countries that top the rankings already invest significantly in gifted education – and some of those that do not (invest significantly and/or top the rankings) ought seriously to consider this as a potential route to further improvement.

Other posts with a global gifted focus include:

My best effort at a personal credo, derived from the experience of writing this Blog. Colleagues were very flattering

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I supplemented the post with a vision for delivery, primarily to inform UK-based discussion within GT Voice, but also relevant to Europe (the EU Talent Centre) and globally (the World Council).

I took a second look at this nascent field, exploring developments since I first blogged about it in 2010. I like to flatter myself that I invented the term.

The post tells of the passing interest exhibited by IRATDE and notes the reference in the July 2012 World Council Newsletter to a special issue of Gifted and Talented International (GTI) that will be devoted to the topic.

I heard in May that an unnamed specialist had been invited to prepare a ‘target paper’, but nothing has materialised to date. The wheels of academic publishing turn parlous slow.

I concluded the post with a tongue-in cheek contribution of my own – the Gifted Phoenix Equation!

Minimising the Excellence Gap and Optimising the Smart Fraction maximises impact on Economic Growth (Min EG + Optimal SF = Max EG)

This post opened with a self-confessed rant about the ‘closed shop’ operated by academics in the field, defended by research paywalls and conference keynote monopolies.

But I set aside my prejudices to review the nine leading academic journals in gifted education, examine the rights the publishers offer their authors and offer a constructive set of proposals for improving the accessibility of research.

There were also a handful of new national studies:

the last of which is strictly a transatlantic study of support for low income high ability students, developed from analysis of the US NAGC publication of the same name.

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Gifted Education in England

Two posts examined material within England’s national school performance tables relating to high attainment and high attainers.

The latter is the second such analysis I have provided, following one on the 2012 Tables published last December. The former will be supplanted by a new version when the Secondary Tables are published in January.

I also offered a detailed treatment of the underlying accountability issues in:

These posts explored the rather haphazard treatment now afforded ‘the most able students’ in documents supporting the School Inspection Framework, as well as the different definitions deployed in the Performance Tables and how these might change as a consequence of the trio of accountability consultations launched this year.

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During the Spring I wrote:

Despite the Government’s reported intention to establish a national network of up to twelve of these, still only two have been announced – sponsored by King’s College London and Exeter University respectively.

I might devote a 2014 post to updating my progress report.

There was also special mini-series, corralled under the speculatively optimistic title: A Summer of Love for Gifted Education?’

This is fundamentally a trilogy:

The original conceit had been to build each episode around a key publication expected during the year. Episodes One and Two fitted this description but the third, an ‘Investigation of school- and college- level strategies to raise the Aspirations of High-Achieving Disadvantaged Pupils to pursue higher education’ was (is still) overdue, so I had to adjust the focus.

Episode Two was a particularly rigorous examination of the Ofsted report that led to the changes to the inspection documentation.

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In Episode Three, I took the opportunity to expose some questionable use of statistics on the part of selective universities and their representative bodies, setting out a 10-point plan to strengthen the representation of disadvantaged students at Oxford and Cambridge. This was accompanied by a flying pig.

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There were also some supplementary posts associated with the Summer of Love:

And some material I produced at the time that Ofsted published ‘The Most Able Students’:

Did it turn out to be a ‘Summer of Love’? Looking back now, I have mixed feelings. Significant attention was paid to meeting the needs of high attaining learners, and those needs are likely to be better recognised and responded to as a consequence.

But the response, such as it is, relies almost exclusively on the accountability system. There is still a desperate need for authoritative updated national framework guidance. Ideally this should be developed by the national gifted education community, working collaboratively with government seed funding.

But the community shows little sign of readiness to take on that responsibility. Collaboration is virtually non-existent:  GT Voice has failed thus far to make any impact (justifying my decision to stand down from the board in protest at frustratingly slow progress).

Meanwhile, several players are pursuing their own diverse agendas. Most are prioritising income generation, either to survive or simply for commercial gain. Everyone is protecting their corner. Too many scores are being settled. Quality suffers.

For completeness, I should also mention a couple of shorter posts:

a piece I wrote for another publisher about how free schools might be rolled into this national collaborative effort, and

which was my best effort to summarise the ‘current state’ on the other side of Ofsted’s Report, as well as an alternative future vision, avoiding the Scylla of top-down centralised prescription and the Charybdis of bottom-up diffused autonomy.

 

Wider English Educational Reform

Almost all the posts I have written within this category are associated with emerging national policy on curriculum and assessment:

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There was even

which I still expect to see in a manifesto come 2015!

As things stand, there are still many unanswered questions, not least where Labour stands on these issues.

Only one of three accountability consultations has so far received a Government response. The response to the primary consultation – comfortably the least persuasive of the three – was due in ‘the autumn’ but hadn’t appeared by Christmas.

The decision to remove National Curriculum levels looks set to have several unintended negative consequences, not least HMCI Wilshaw’s recent call for the reintroduction of national testing at KS1 and KS3.

I am still to be persuaded that this decision is in the best interest of high attainers.

 

Social Media

This year I have spent more time tweeting and less time producing round-ups of my Twitter activity.

At the time of writing, my follower count has reached 4,660 and I have published something approaching 18,700 Tweets on educational topics.

I try to inform my readers about wider developments in UK (especially English) education policy, keeping a particularly close eye on material published by the Government and by Parliament.

I continue to use #gtchat (global) and #gtvoice (UK) to hashtag material on gifted education and related issues. I look out particularly for news about developments worldwide. I publish material that seems interesting or relevant, even though I might disagree with it. I try to avoid promotional material or anything that is trying to sell you something.

I began 2013 intending to produce round-ups on ‘a quarterly-cum-termly basis’ but have managed only two editions:

The next volume is already overdue but I simply can’t face the grinding effort involved in the compilation process. I may not continue with this sequence in 2014.

I was also invited to answer the question:

ResearchED was a conference organised via Twitter which took place in September.

The post argued for a national network of UK education bloggers. This hasn’t materialised, although the status and profile of edublogging has improved dramatically during 2013, partly as a consequence of the interest taken by Michael Gove.

There are many more blogs and posts than a year ago, several co-ordinated through Blogsync and/or reblogged via The Echo Chamber.

Precious few bloggers enter the field of gifted education, though honourable mentions must go to Distilling G&T Ideas and Headguruteacher.

Elsewhere in the world, not too many gifted education bloggers are still generating a constant flow of material.

Exceptions include Lisa Conrad, who is maintaining two blogs in the US Gifted Parenting Support and Global #GT Chat Powered by TAGT. Also Kari Kolberg who produces Krummelurebloggen (in Norwegian) and Javier Touron who writes Talento y Educacion (in Spanish).

I need urgently to revisit my Blogroll. I might also write a post about the general state of global gifted education blogging in the early part of 2014.

 

Reference

I have made only limited progress this year with the reference pages on this Blog:

  • Who’s Who?  remains embryonic. I had plans to force myself to produce a handful of entries each day, but managed only two days in succession! There isn’t a great deal of intellectual challenge in this process – life may be too short!
  • Key Documents is a mixed bag. The UK pages are fully stocked. You should be able to find every significant national publication since 2000. The Rest of the World section is still largely empty.

Rightly or wrongly, the production of blog posts is taking priority.

 

Analytics

Compared with 2012, the number of page views has increased by over 30%, although the number of posts is down by 12.5%. I’m happy with that.

Some 40% of views originate in the UK. Other countries displaying significant interest include the US, Singapore, Australia, India, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, Canada and Spain. Altogether there have been visits from 169 countries.

The most popular posts published this year are, in order of popularity:

  • Whither National Curriculum Assessment Without Levels?
  • What the KS2/KS4 Transition Matrices Show About High Attainers’ Performance
  • High Attaining Students in the 2012 Secondary School Performance Tables
  • Analysis of the Primary Assessment and Accountability Consultation Document and
  • A Summer of Love for English Gifted Education Episode 2: Ofsted’s ‘The Most Able Students’

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Visuals

I have changed the theme of my Blog twice this year – initially to Zoren and more recently to Highwind. I wanted a clearer, spacier look and a bigger font.

During the course of the year I have alternated between using my photographs within posts and producing work that is largely free of illustration. I have mixed feelings about this.

It seems somehow incongruous to intersperse unrelated photographs within a post about educational matters, but the stock of education-relevant non-copyrighted illustration is severely limited. Then again, screeds of unbroken text can be rather dreary to the eye.

So readers can expect some more views of Western Australia (especially) during 2014! Here’s one to whet your appetite.

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Flora 2 by Gifted Phoenix

Flora 2 by Gifted Phoenix

 

The Future

I close 2013 in a pessimistic mood. Despite the more favourable domestic policy climate, I am markedly less optimistic about the future of gifted education than I was at the start of the year.

Disillusion is setting in, reinforced by negligible progress towards the objectives I hold most dear.

The ‘closed shop’ is as determinedly closed as ever; vested interests are shored up; governance is weak. There is fragmentation and vacuum where there should be inclusive collaboration for the benefit of learners. Too many are on the outside, looking in. Too many on the inside are superannuated and devoid of fresh ideas.

Every so often I witness dispiriting egotism, duplicity or even vengefulness. Disagreements fester because one or both of the parties is unwilling to work towards resolution.

The world of gifted education is often not a happy place – and while it remains that way there is no real prospect of achieving significant improvements in the education and life chances of gifted learners.

To mix some metaphors, it may soon be time to cut my losses, stop flogging this moribund horse and do something else instead.

Happy New Year!

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GP

December 2013

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4 thoughts on “Gifted Phoenix’s 2013 Review and Retrospective

  1. Tim, please continue to plough your furrow, shine light into the darkness, carry your burden and mix your metaphors. Despite the sloth and petty jealousies of the academic and academic publishing worlds (’twas ever thus) or, perhaps, because of them we need commentators and analysts prepared to offer thoughts which are relevant, incisive and bang-up-to-date. Your integrity and powers of analysis do you great credit and benefit those of us who are new to all this, like myself, and more experienced observers. Thank you for the honourable mention; I intend to continue offering a quirky, classroom-based perspective across a range of my school’s academic subjects in 2014 in the hope that a few good folk find it interesting, challenging and worth kicking against. Like you, I am surprised that there isn’t more out there. Like you, I enjoy flowers. Keep up the great work next year. The compliments of the Season!

    Robert

  2. Thanks Robert! Have a good Christmas. I’ll be back in the New Year, but I’m getting to the point where – if I really call a spade a spade – I’ll be splintering the G&T world even further apart, all the while firmly believing that it needs to draw closer together. I haven’t quite got my head round what to do about that…

    Best wishes

    Tim

  3. Such an excellent post! Thanks for the kind mention. Never give up or get down … there are too many children relying on us to advocate for them until they can do it for themselves. I have been told to ignore the negativity and do my best to express positive and informative news/comments within the gifted community. We must model the behavior we wish to see in others. I look forward to many more years of posts from you and tweets along the way. You inspire me daily! ‘Lisa’ Conrad

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