Closing England’s Excellence Gaps: Part 2

This is the second part of an extended post considering what we know – and do not know – about high attainment gaps between learners from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds in England.


Mind the Gap by Clicsouris

Part one provided an England-specific definition, articulated a provisional theoretical model for addressing excellence gaps and set out the published data about the size of excellence gaps at Key Stages 2,4 and 5, respectively.

Part two continues to review the evidence base for excellence gaps, covering the question whether high attainers remain so, international comparisons data and related research and excellence gaps analysis from the USA.

It also describes those elements of present government policy that impact directly on excellence gaps and offers some recommendations for strengthening our national emphasis on this important issue.


Whether disadvantaged high achievers remain so


The Characteristics of High Attainers

The Characteristics of high attainers (DfES 2007) includes investigation of:

  • whether pupils in the top 10% at KS4 in 2006 were also high attainers at KS3 in 2004 and KS2 in 2001, by matching back to their fine grade points scores; and
  • chances of being a KS4 high attainer given a range of pupil characteristics at KS2 and KS3.

On the first point it finds that 4% of all pupils remain in the top 10% throughout, while 83% of pupils are never in the top 10% group.

Some 63% of those who were high attainers at the end of KS2 are still high attainers at the end of KS3, while 72% of KS3 high attainers are still in that group at the end of KS4. Approximately half of high attainers at KS2 are high attainers at KS4.

The calculation is not repeated for advantaged and disadvantaged high attainers respectively, but this shows that – while there is relatively little movement between  the high attaining population and other learners (with only 17% of the overall population falling within scope at any point) – there is a sizeable ‘drop out’ amongst high attainers at each key stage.

Turning to the second point, logistic regression is used to calculate the odds of being a KS4 high attainer given different levels of prior attainment and a range of pupil characteristics. Results are controlled to isolate the impact of individual characteristics and for attainment.

The study finds that pupils with a KS2 average points score (APS) above 33 are more likely than not to be high attainers at KS4, and this probability increases as their KS2 APS increases. For those with an APS of 36, the odds are 23.73, meaning they have a 24/25 chance of being a KS4 high attainer.

For FSM-eligible learners though, the odds are 0.55, meaning that the chances of being a KS4 high attainer are 45% lower amongst FSM-eligible pupils, compared to  their non-FSM counterparts with similar prior attainment and characteristics.

The full set of findings for individual characteristics is reproduced below.

Ex gap Capture 7


An appendix supplies the exact ratios for each characteristic and the text points out that these can be multiplied to calculate odds ratios for different combinations:

The odds for different prior attainment levels and other characteristics combined with FSM eligibility are not worked through, but could easily be calculated. It would be extremely worthwhile to repeat this analysis using more recent data to see whether the results would be replicated for those completing KS4 in 2014.


Sutton Trust

In 2008, the Sutton Trust published ‘Wasted talent? Attrition rates of high achieving pupils between school and university’ which examines the attrition rates for FSM-eligible learners among the top 20% of performers at KS2, KS3 and KS4.

A footnote says that this calculation was ‘on the basis of their English and maths scores at age 11, and at later stages of schooling’, which is somewhat unclear. A single, unidentified cohort is tracked across key stages.

The report suggests ‘extremely high rates of ‘leakage’ amongst the least privileged pupils’. The key finding is that two-thirds of disadvantaged top performers at KS2 are not amongst the top performers at KS4, whereas 42% advantaged top performers are not.



Also in the longitudinal tradition ‘Performing against the odds: developmental trajectories of children in the EPPSE 3-16 study’ (Siraj-Blatchford et al, June 2011) investigated through interviews the factors that enabled a small group of disadvantaged learners to ‘succeed against the odds’.

Twenty learners were identified who were at the end of KS3 or at KS4 and who had achieved well above predicted levels in English and maths at the end of KS2. Achievement was predicted for the full sample of 2,800 children within the EPPSE study via multi-level modelling, generating:

‘…residual scores for each individual child, indicating the differences between predicted and attained achievement at age 11, while controlling for certain child characteristics (i.e., age, gender, birth weight, and the presence of developmental problems) and family characteristics (i.e., mothers’ education, fathers’ education, socio-economic status [SES] and family income). ‘

The 20 identified as succeeding against the odds had KS2 residual scores for both English and maths within the highest 20% of the sample. ‘Development trajectories’ were created for the group using a range of assessments conducted at age 3, 4, 5, 7, 11 and 14.

The highest job level held in the family when the children were aged 3-4 was manual, semi-skilled or unskilled, or the parent(s) had never worked.

The 20 were randomly selected from each gender – eight boys and 12 girls – while ensuring representation of ‘the bigger minority ethnic groups’. It included nine students characterised as White UK, five Black Caribbean, two Black African and one each of Indian (Sikh), Pakistani, Mixed Heritage and Indian (Hindu).

Interviews were conducted with children, parents and the teacher at their [present] secondary school the learners felt ‘knew them best’. Teacher interviews were secured for 11 of the 20.

Comparison of development trajectories showed significant gaps between this ‘low SES high attainment’ group and a comparative sample of ‘low SES, predicted attainment’ students. They were ahead from the outset and pulled further away.

They also exceeded a comparator group of high SES learners performing at predicted levels from entry to primary education until KS2. Even at KS3, 16 of the 20 were still performing above the mean of the high SES sample.

These profiles – illustrated in the two charts below – were very similar in English and maths respectively. In either case, Group 1 are those with ‘low SES, high attainment’, while Group 4 are ‘high SES predicted attainment’ students.


Supp exgap Eng Capture

Supp exgap Maths Capture


Interviews identified five factors that helped to explain this success:

  • The child’s perceived cognitive ability, strong motivation for school and learning and their hobbies and interests. Most parents and children regarded cognitive ability as ‘inherent to the child’, but they had experienced many opportunities to develop their abilities and received support in developing a ‘positive self-image’. Parenting ‘reflected a belief in the parent’s efficacy to positively influence the child’s learning’. Children also demonstrated ability to self-regulate and positive attitudes to homework. They had a positive attitude to learning and made frequent use of books and computers for this purpose. They used school and learning as distractions from wider family problems. Many were driven to learn, to succeed educationally and achieve future aspirations.
  • Home context – effective practical and emotional support with school and learning. Families undertook a wide range of learning activities, especially in the early years. These were perceived as enjoyable but also valuable preparation for subsequent schooling. During the primary years, almost all families actively stimulated their children to read. In the secondary years, many parents felt their efforts to regulate their children’s activities and set boundaries were significant. Parents also provided practical support with school and learning, taking an active interest and interacting with their child’s school. Their parenting style is described as ‘authoritative: warm, firm and accepting of their needs for psychological autonomy but demanding’. They set clear standards and boundaries for behaviour while granting extra autonomy as their children matured. They set high expectations and felt strongly responsible for their child’s education and attitude to learning. They believed in their capacity to influence their children positively. Some were motivated by the educational difficulties they had experienced.
  • (Pre-)School environment – teachers who are sensitive and responsive to the child’s needs and use ‘an authoritative approach to teaching and interactive teaching strategies’; and, additionally, supportive school policies. Parents had a positive perception of the value of pre-school education, though the value of highly effective pre-school provision was not clear cut with this sample. Moreover ‘very few clear patterns of association could be discerned between primary school effectiveness and development of rankings on trajectories’. That said both parents and children recognised that their schools had helped them address learning and behavioural difficulties. Success was attributed to the quality of teachers. ‘They thought that good quality teaching meant that teachers were able to explain things clearly, were enthusiastic about the subject they taught, were approachable when things were difficult to understand, were generally friendly, had control over the class and clearly communicated their expectations and boundaries.’
  • Peers providing practical, emotional and motivational support. Friends were especially valuable in helping them to respond to difficulties, helping in class, with homework and revision. Such support was often mutual, helping to build understanding and develop self-esteem, as a consequence of undertaking the role of teacher. Friends also provided role models and competitors.
  • Similar support provided by the extended family and wider social, cultural and religious communities. Parents encouraged their children to take part in extra-curricular activities and were often aware of their educational benefits. Family networks often provided additional learning experiences, particularly for Caribbean and some Asian families.



Ofsted’s The most able students: Are they doing as well as they should in our non-selective secondary schools? (2013) defines this population rather convolutedly as those:

‘…starting secondary school in Year 7 attaining level 5 or above, or having the potential to attain Level 5 and above, in English (reading and writing) and or mathematics at the end of Key Stage 2.’ (Footnote p6-7)

There is relatively little data in the report about the performance of high-attaining disadvantaged learners, other than the statement that only 58% of FSM students within the ‘most able’ population in KS2 and attending non-selective secondary schools go on to achieve A*-B GCSE grades in English and maths, compared with 75% of non-FSM pupils, giving a gap of 17 percentage points.

I have been unable to find national transition matrices for advantaged and disadvantaged learners, enabling us to compare the proportion of advantaged and disadvantaged pupils making and exceeding the expected progress between key stages.


Regression to the mean and efforts to circumvent it

Much prominence has been given to Feinstein’s 2003 finding that, whereas high-scoring children from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds (defined by parental occupation) perform at a broadly similar level when tested at 22 months, the disadvantaged group are subsequently overtaken by relatively low-scoring children from advantaged backgrounds during the primary school years.

The diagram that summarises this relationship has been reproduced widely and much used as the centrepiece of arguments justifying efforts to improve social mobility.

Feinstein Capture

But Feinstein’s finding were subsequently challenged on methodological grounds associated with the effects of regression to the mean.

Jerrim and Vignoles (2011) concluded:

‘There is currently an overwhelming view amongst academics and policymakers that highly able children from poor homes get overtaken by their affluent (but less able) peers before the end of primary school. Although this empirical finding is treated as a stylised fact, the methodology used to reach this conclusion is seriously flawed. After attempting to correct for the aforementioned statistical problem, we find little evidence that this is actually the case. Hence we strongly recommend that any future work on high ability–disadvantaged groups takes the problem of regression to the mean fully into account.’

On the other hand, Whitty and Anders comment:

‘Although some doubt has been raised regarding this analysis on account of the potential for regression to the mean to exaggerate the phenomenon (Jerrim and Vignoles, 2011), it is highly unlikely that this would overturn the core finding that high SES, lower ability children catch up with their low-SES, higher-ability peers.’

Their point is borne out by Progress made by high-attaining children from disadvantaged backgrounds (June 2014) suggesting that Vignoles, as part of the writing team, has changed her mind somewhat since 2011.

This research adopts a methodological route to minimise the impact of regression to the mean. This involves assigning learners to achievement groups using a different test to those used to follow their attainment trajectories and focusing principally on those trajectories from KS2 onwards.

The high attaining group is defined as those achieving Level 3 or above in KS1 writing, which selected in 12.6% of the sample. (For comparison, the same calculations are undertaken based on achieving L3 or above in KS1 maths.) These pupils are ranked and assigned a percentile on the basis of their performance on the remaining KS1 tests and at each subsequent key stage.

The chart summarising the outcomes in the period from KS1 to KS4 is reproduced below, showing the different trajectories of the ‘most deprived’ and ‘least deprived’. These are upper and lower quintile groups of state school students derived on the basis of FSM eligibility and a set of area-based measures of disadvantage and measures of socio-economic status derived from the census.


Ex gap 8 Capture

The trajectories do not alter significantly beyond KS4.

The study concludes:

‘…children from poorer backgrounds who are high attaining at age 7 are more likely to fall off a high attainment trajectory than children from richer backgrounds. We find that high-achieving children from the most deprived families perform worse than lower-achieving students from the least deprived families by Key Stage 4. Conversely, lower-achieving affluent children catch up with higher-achieving deprived children between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4.’


‘The period between Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4 appears to be a crucial time to ensure that higher-achieving pupils from poor backgrounds remain on a high achievement trajectory.’

In short, a Feinstein-like relationship is established but it operates at a somewhat later stage in the educational process.


International comparisons studies


PISA: Resilience

OECD PISA studies have recently begun to report on the performance of what they call ‘resilient’ learners.

Against the Odds: Disadvantaged Students Who Succeed in Schools (OECD, 2011) describes this population as those who fall within the bottom third of their country’s distribution by socio-economic background, but who achieve within the top third on PISA assessments across participating countries.

This publication uses PISA 2006 science results as the basis of its calculations. The relative position of different countries is shown in the chart reproduced below. Hong Kong tops the league at 24.8%, the UK is at 13.5%, slightly above the OECD average of 13%, while the USA is languishing at 9.9%.

Ex Gap Capture 9

The findings were discussed further in PISA in Focus 5 (OECD 2011), where PISA 2009 data is used to make the calculation. The methodology is also significantly adjusted so that includes a substantially smaller population:

‘A student is classified as resilient if he or she is in the bottom quarter of the PISA index of economic, social and cultural status (ESCS) in the country of assessment and performs in the top quarter across students from all countries after accounting for socio-economic background. The share of resilient students among all students has been multiplied by 4 so that the percentage values presented here reflect the proportion of resilient students among disadvantaged students (those in the bottom quarter of the PISA index of social, economic and cultural status.’

According to this measure, the UK is at 24% and the US has leapfrogged them at 28%. Both are below the OECD average of 31%, while Shanghai and Hong Kong stand at over 70%.

The Report on PISA 2012 (OECD 2013) retains the more demanding definition of resilience, but dispenses with multiplication by 4, so these results need to be so multiplied to be comparable with those for 2009.

This time round, Shanghai is at 19.2% (76.8%) and Hong Kong at 18.1% (72.4%). The OECD average is 6.4% (25.6%), the UK at 5.8% (23.2%) and the US at 5.2% (20.8%).

So the UK has lost a little ground compared with 2009, but is much close to the OECD average and has overtaken the US, which has fallen back by some seven percentage points.

I could find no commentary on these changes.

NFER has undertaken some work on resilience in Northern Ireland, using PISA 2009 reading results (and the original ‘one third’ methodology) as a base. This includes odds ratios for different characteristics of being resilient. This could be replicated for England using PISA 2012 data and the latest definition of resilience.


Research on socio-economic gradients

The Socio-Economic Gradient in Teenagers’ Reading Skills: How Does England Compare with Other Countries? (Jerrim 2012) compares the performance of students within the highest and lowest quintiles of the ISEI Index of Occupational Status on the PISA 2009 reading tests.

It quantifies the proportion of these two populations within each decile of  achievement, so generating a gradient, before reviewing how this gradient has changed between PISA 2000 and PISA 2009, comparing outcomes for England, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany and the US.

Jerrim summarises his findings thus:

‘The difference between advantaged and disadvantaged children’s PISA 2009 reading test scores in England is similar (on average) to that in most other developed countries (including Australia, Germany and, to some extent, the US). This is in contrast to previous studies from the 1990s, which suggested that there was a particularly large socio-economic gap in English pupils’ academic achievement.

Yet the association between family background and high achievement seems to be stronger in England than elsewhere.

There is some evidence that the socio-economic achievement gradient has been reduced in England over the last decade, although not amongst the most able pupils from advantaged and disadvantaged homes.’

Jerrim finds that the link in England between family background and high achievement is stronger than in most other OECD countries, whereas this is not the case at the other end of the distribution.

He hypothises that this might be attributable to recent policy focus on reducing the ‘long tail’ while:

‘much less attention seems to be paid to helping disadvantaged children who are already doing reasonably well to push on and reach the top grades’.

He dismisses the notion that the difference is associated with the fact that  disadvantaged children are concentrated in lower-performing schools, since it persists even when controls for school effects are introduced.

In considering why PISA scores show the achievement gap in reading has reduced between 2000 and 2009 at the lower end of the attainment distribution but not at the top, he cites two possibilities: that Government policy has been disproportionately successful at the lower end; and that there has been a more substantial decline in achievement amongst learners from advantaged backgrounds than amongst their disadvantaged peers. He is unable to rule out the latter possibility.

He also notes in passing that PISA scores in maths do not generate the same pattern.

These arguments are further developed in ‘The Reading Gap: The socio-economic gap in children’s reading skills: A cross-national comparison using PISA 2009’ (Jerrim, 2013) which applies the same methodology.

This finds that high-achieving (top decile of the test distribution) boys from the most advantaged quintile in England are two years and seven months ahead of high-achieving boys from the most disadvantaged quintile, while the comparable gap for girls is slightly lower, at two years and four months.

The chart reproduced below illustrates international comparisons for boys. It shows that only Scotland has a larger high achievement gap than England. (The black lines indicate 99% confidence intervals – he associates the uncertainty to ‘sampling variation’.)

Gaps in countries at the bottom of the table are approximately half the size of those in England and Scotland.

Ex gap 10 capture


One of the report’s recommendations is that:

‘The coalition government has demonstrated its commitment to disadvantaged pupils by establishing the Education Endowment Foundation… A key part of this Foundation’s future work should be to ensure highly able children from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed in school and have the opportunity to enter top universities and professional jobs. The government should provide additional resources to the foundation to trial interventions that specifically target already high achieving children from disadvantaged homes. These should be evaluated using robust evaluation methodologies (e.g. randomised control trials) so that policymakers develop a better understanding of what schemes really have the potential to work.’

The study is published by the Sutton Trust whose Chairman – Sir Peter Lampl – is also chairman of the EEF.

In ‘Family background and access to high ‘status’ universities’ (2013) Jerrim provides a different chart showing estimates by country of disadvantaged high achieving learners. The measure of achievement is PISA Level 5 in reading and the measure of disadvantage remains quintiles derived from the ISEI index.

Ex Gap 12 Capture 

The underlying figures are not supplied.

Also in 2013, in ‘The mathematical skills of school children: how does England compare to the high-performing East Asian jurisdictions?’ Jerrim and Choi construct a similar gradient for maths, drawing on a mix of PISA and TIMSS assessments conducted between 2003 and 2009, so enabling them to consider variation according to the age at which assessment takes place.

The international tests selected are TIMSS 2003, 4th grade; TIMSS 2007, 8th grade and PISA 2009. The differences between what these tests measure are described as ‘slight’. The analysis of achievement relies on deciles of the achievement distribution.

Thirteen comparator countries are included, including six wealthy western economies, three ‘middle income’ western economies and four Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan).

This study applies as the best available proxy for socio-economic status the number of books in the family home, comparing the most advantaged (over 200 books) with the least (under 25 books). It acknowledges the limitations of this proxy, which Jerrim discusses elsewhere.

The evidence suggests that:

‘between primary school and the end of secondary school, the gap between the lowest achieving children in England and the lowest achieving children in East Asian countries is reduced’

but remains significant.

Conversely, results for the top 10% of the distribution:

‘suggest that the gap between the highest achieving children in England and the highest achieving children in East Asia increases between the end of primary school and the end of secondary school’.

The latter outcome is illustrated in the chart reproduced below

Ex gap 11 Capture


The authors do not consider variation by socio-economic background amongst the high-achieving cohort, presumably because the data still does not support the pattern they previously identified for reading.


US studies

In 2007 the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation published ‘Achievement Trap: How America is Failing Millions of High-Achieving Students from Low Income Backgrounds’ (Wyner, Bridgeland, Diiulio) The text was subsequently revised in 2009.

This focuses exclusively on gaps attributable to socio-economic status, by comparing the performance of those in the top and bottom halves of the family income distribution in the US, as adjusted for family size.

The achievement measure is top quartile performance on nationally normalised exams administered within two longitudinal studies: The National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS) and the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study (B&B).

The study reports that relatively few lower income students remain high achievers throughout their time in elementary and high school:

  • 56% remain high achievers in reading by Grade 5, compared with 69% of higher income students.
  • 25 percent fall out of the high achiever cohort in high school, compared with 16% of higher income students.
  • Higher income learners who are not high achievers in Grade 1 are more than twice as likely to be high achievers by Grade 5. The same is true between Grades 8 and 12.

2007 also saw the publication of ‘Overlooked Gems: A national perspective on low income promising learners’ (Van Tassel-Baska and Stambaugh). This is a compilation of the proceedings of a 2006 conference which does not attempt a single definition of the target group, but draws on a variety of different research studies and programmes, each with different starting points.

An influential 2009 McKinsey study ‘The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools’ acknowledges the existence of what it calls a ‘top gap’. They use this term with reference to:

  • the number of top performers and the level of top performance in the US compared with other countries and
  • the gap in the US between the proportion of Black/Latino students and the proportion of all students achieving top levels of performance.

The authors discuss the colossal economic costs of achievement gaps more generally, but fail to extend this analysis to the ‘top gap’ specifically.

In 2010 ‘Mind the Other Gap: The Growing Excellence Gap in K-12 Education’ (Plucker, Burroughs and Song) was published – and seems to have been the first study to use this term.

The authors define such gaps straightforwardly as

‘Differences between subgroups of students performing at the highest levels of achievement’

The measures of high achievement deployed are the advanced standards on US NAEP maths and reading tests, at Grades 4 and 8 respectively.

The study identifies gaps based on four sets of learner characteristics:

  • Socio-economic status (eligible or not for free or reduced price lunch).
  • Ethnic background (White versus Black and/or Hispanic).
  • English language proficiency (what we in England would call EAL, compared with non-EAL).
  • Gender (girls versus boys).

Each characteristic is dealt with in isolation, so there is no discussion of the gaps between – for example – disadvantaged Black/Hispanic and disadvantaged White boys.

In relation to socio-economic achievement gaps, Plucker et al find that:

  • In Grade 4 maths, from 1996 to 2007, the proportion of advantaged learners achieving the advanced level increased by 5.6 percentage points, while the proportion of disadvantaged learners doing so increased by 1.2 percentage points. In Grade 8 maths, these percentage point changes were 5.7 and 0.8 percentage points respectively. Allowing for changes in the size of the advantaged and disadvantaged cohorts, excellence gaps are estimated to have widened by 4.1 percentage points in Grade 4 (to 7.3%) and 4.9 percentage points in Grade 8 (to 8.2%).
  • In Grade 4 reading, from 1998 to 2007, the proportion of advantaged learners achieving the advanced level increased by 1.2 percentage points, while the proportion of disadvantaged students doing so increased by 0.8 percentage points. In Grade 8 reading, these percentage point changes were almost negligible for both groups. The Grade 4 excellence gap is estimated to have increased slightly, by 0.4 percentage points (to 9.4%) whereas Grade 8 gaps have increased minimally by 0.2 percentage points (to 3.1%).

They observe that the size of excellence gaps are, at best, only moderately correlated with those at lower levels of achievement.

There is a weak relationship between gaps at basic and advanced level – indeed ‘smaller achievement gaps among minimally competent students is related to larger gaps among advanced students’ – but there is some inter-relationship between those at proficient and advanced level.

They conclude that, whereas No Child Left Behind (NCLB) helped to narrow achievement gaps, this does not extend to high achievers.

There is no substantive evidence that the NCLB focus on lower achievers has increased the excellence gap, although the majority of states surveyed by the NAGC felt that NCLB had diverted attention and resource away from gifted education.

In 2011 ‘Do High Fliers Maintain their Altitude?’ (Xiang et al 2011) provides a US analysis of whether individual students remain high achievers throughout their school careers.

They do not report outcomes for disadvantaged high achievers, but do consider briefly those attending schools with high and low proportions respectively of students eligible for free and reduced price lunches.

For this section of the report, high achievement is defined as ‘those whose math or reading scores placed them within the top ten per cent of their individual grades and schools’. Learners were tracked from Grades 3 to 5 and Grades 6 to 8.

It is described as exploratory, because the sample was not representative.


‘High-achieving students attending high-poverty schools made about the same amount of academic growth over time as their high-achieving peers in low-poverty schools…It appears that the relationship between a school’s poverty rate and the growth of its highest-achieving students is weak. In other words, attending a low-poverty school adds little to the average high achiever’s prospects for growth.’

The wider study was criticised in a review by the NEPC, in part on the grounds that the results may have been distorted by regression to the mean, a shortcoming only briefly discussed in an appendix..

The following year saw the publication of Unlocking Emergent Talent: Supporting High Achievement of Low-Income, High-Ability Students (Olszewski-Kubilius and Clarenbach, 2012).

This is the report of a national summit on the issue convened in that year by the NAGC.

It follows Plucker (one of the summit participants) in using as its starting point,the achievement of advanced level on selected NAEP assessments by learners eligible for free and reduced price lunches.

But it also reports some additional outcomes for Grade 12 and for assessments of civics and writing:

  • ‘Since 1998, 1% or fewer of 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade free or reduced lunch students, compared to between 5% and 6% of non-eligible students scored at the advanced level on the NAEP civics exam.
  • Since 1998, 1% or fewer of free and reduced lunch program-eligible students scored at the advanced level on the eighth-grade NAEP writing exam while the percentage of non-eligible students who achieved advanced scores increased from 1% to 3%.’

The bulk of the report is devoted to identifying barriers to progress and offering recommendations for improving policy, practice and research. I provided an extended analysis in this post from May 2013.

Finally, ‘Talent on the Sidelines: Excellence Gaps and America’s Persistent Talent Underclass’ (Plucker, Hardesty and Burroughs 2013) is a follow-up to ‘Mind the Other Gap’.

It updates the findings in that report, as set out above:

  • In Grade 4 maths, from 1996 to 2011, the proportion of advantaged students scoring at the advanced level increased by 8.3 percentage points, while the proportion of disadvantaged learners doing so increased by 1.5 percentage points. At Grade 8, the comparable changes were 8.5 percentage points and 1.5 percentage points respectively. Excellence gaps have increased by 6.8 percentage points at Grade 4 (to 9.6%) and by 7 percentage points at Grade 8 (to 10.3%).
  • In Grade 4 reading, from 1998 to 2011, the proportion of advantaged students scoring at the advanced level increased by 2.6 percentage points, compared with an increase of 0.9 percentage points amongst disadvantaged learners. Grade 8 saw equivalent increases of 1.8 and 0.9 percentage points respectively. Excellence gaps are estimated to have increased at Grade 4 by 1.7 percentage points (to 10.7%) and marginally increased at Grade 8 by 0.9 percentage points (to 4.2%).

In short, many excellence gaps remain large and most continue to grow. The report’s recommendations are substantively the same as those put forward in 2010.


How Government education policy impacts on excellence gaps

Although many aspects of Government education policy may be expected to have some longer-term impact on raising the achievement of all learners, advantaged and disadvantaged alike, relatively few interventions are focused exclusively and directly on closing attainment gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged learners – and so have the potential to makes a significant difference to excellence gaps.

The most significant of these include:


The Pupil Premium:

In November 2010, the IPPR voiced concerns that the benefits of the pupil premium might not reach all those learners who attract it.

Accordingly they recommended that pupil premium should be allocated directly to those learners through an individual Pupil Premium Entitlement which might be used to support a menu of approved activities, including ‘one-to-one teaching to stretch the most able low income pupils’.

The recommendation has not been repeated and the present Government shows no sign of restricting schools’ freedom to use the premium in this manner.

However, the Blunkett Labour Policy Review ‘Putting students and parents first’ recommends that Labour in government should:

‘Assess the level and use of the Pupil Premium to ensure value for money, and that it is targeted to enhance the life chances of children facing the biggest challenges, whether from special needs or from the nature of the background and societal impact they have experienced.’

In February 2013 Ofsted reported that schools spending the pupil premium successfully to improve achievement:

‘Never confused eligibility for the Pupil Premium with low ability, and focused on supporting their disadvantaged pupils to achieve the highest levels’.

Conversely, where schools were less successful in spending the funding, they:

‘focused on pupils attaining the nationally expected level at the end of the key stage…but did not go beyond these expectations, so some more able eligible pupils underachieved.’

In July 2013, DfE’s Evaluation of Pupil Premium reported that, when deciding which disadvantaged pupils to target for support, the top criterion was ‘low attainment’ and was applied in 91% of primary schools and 88% of secondary schools.

In June 2013, in ‘The Most Able Students’, Ofsted reported that:

‘Pupil Premium funding was used in only a few instances to support the most able students who were known to be eligible for free school meals. The funding was generally spent on providing support for all underachieving and low-attaining students rather than on the most able students from disadvantaged backgrounds.’

Accordingly, it gave a commitment that:

‘Ofsted will… consider in more detail during inspection how well the pupil premium is used to support the most able students from disadvantaged backgrounds.’

However, this was not translated into the school inspection guidance.

The latest edition of the School Inspection Handbook says only:

‘Inspectors should pay particular attention to whether more able pupils in general and the most able pupils in particular are achieving as well as they should. For example, does a large enough proportion of those pupils who had the highest attainment at the end of Key Stage 2 in English and mathematics achieve A*/A GCSE grades in these subjects by the age of 16?

Inspectors should summarise the achievements of the most able pupils in a separate paragraph of the inspection report.’

There is no reference to the most able in parallel references to the pupil premium.

There has, however, been some progress in giving learners eligible for the pupil premium priority in admission to selective schools.

In May 2014, the TES reported that:

‘Thirty [grammar] schools have been given permission by the Department for Education to change their admissions policies already. The vast majority of these will introduce the changes for children starting school in September 2015…A small number – five or six – have already introduced the reform.’

The National Grammar Schools Association confirmed that:

‘A significant number of schools 38 have either adopted an FSM priority or consulted about doing so in the last admissions round. A further 59 are considering doing so in the next admissions round.’

In July 2014, the Government launched a consultation on the School Admissions Code which proposes extending to all state-funded schools the option to give priority in their admission arrangements to learners eligible for the pupil premium. This was previously open to academies and free schools via their funding agreements.


The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF)

The EEF describes itself as:

‘An independent grant-making charity dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement, ensuring that children from all backgrounds can fulfil their potential and make the most of their talents.’

The 2010 press release announcing its formation emphasised its role in raising standards in underperforming schools. This was reinforced by the Chairman in a TES article from June 2011:

‘So the target group for EEF-funded projects in its first couple of years are pupils eligible for free school meals in primary and secondary schools underneath the Government’s floor standards at key stages 2 and 4. That’s roughly 1,500 schools up and down the country. Projects can benefit other schools and pupils, as long as there is a significant focus on this core target group of the most needy young people in the most challenging schools.’

I have been unable to trace any formal departure from this position, though it no longer appears in this form in the Foundation’s guidance. The Funding FAQs say only:

‘In the case of projects involving the whole school, rather than targeted interventions, we would expect applicants to be willing to work with schools where the proportion of FSM-eligible pupils is well above the national average and/or with schools where FSM-eligible pupils are under-performing academically.’

I can find no EEF-funded projects that are exclusively or primarily focused on high-attaining disadvantaged learners, though a handful of its reports do refer to the impact on this group.


Changes to School Accountability Measures

As we have seen in Part one, the School Performance Tables currently provide very limited information about the performance of disadvantaged high achievers.

The July 2013 consultation document on primary assessment and accountability reform included a commitment to publish a series of headline measures in the tables including:

‘How many of the school’s pupils are among the highest-attaining nationally, by…showing the percentage of pupils attaining a high scaled score in each subject.’

Moreover, it added:

‘We will publish all the headline measures to show the attainment and progress of pupils for whom the school is in receipt of the pupil premium.’

Putting two and two together, this should mean that, from 2016, we will be able to see the percentage of pupil premium-eligible students achieving a high scaled score, though we do not yet know what ‘high scaled score’ means, nor do we know whether the data will be for English and maths separately or combined.

The October 2013 response to the secondary assessment and accountability consultation document fails to say explicitly whether excellence gap measures will be published in School Performance Tables.

It mentions that:

‘Schools will now be held to account for (a) the attainment of their disadvantaged pupils, (b) the progress made by their disadvantaged pupils, and (c) the in-school gap in attainment between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.’

Meanwhile a planned data portal will contain:

‘the percentage of pupils achieving the top grades in GCSEs’

but the interaction between these two elements, if any, remains unclear.

The March 2014 response to the consultation on post-16 accountability and assessment says:

‘We intend to develop measures covering all five headline indicators for students in 16-19 education who were in receipt of pupil premium funding in year 11.’

The post-16 headline measures include a new progress measure and an attainment measure showing the average points score across all level 3 qualifications.

It is expected that a destination measure will also be provided, as long as the methodology can be made sufficiently robust. The response says:

‘A more detailed breakdown of destinations data, such as entry to particular groups of universities, will continue to be published below the headline. This will include data at local authority level, so that destinations for students in the same area can be compared.’

and this should continue to distinguish the destinations of disadvantaged students.

Additional A level attainment measures – the average grade across the best three A levels and the achievement of AAB grades with at least two in facilitating subjects seem unlikely to be differentiated according to disadvantage.

There remains a possibility that much more excellence gap data, for primary, secondary and post-16, will be made available through the planned school portal, but no specification had been made public at the time of writing.

More worryingly, recent news reports have suggested that the IT project developing the portal and the ‘data warehouse’ behind it has been abandoned. The statements refer to coninuing to deliver ‘the school performance tables and associated services’ but there is no clarification of whether this latter phrase includes the portal. Given the absence of an official statement, one suspects the worst.



The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC)

The Commission was established with the expectation that it would ‘hold the Government’s feet to the fire’ to encourage progress on these two topics.

It publishes annual ‘state of the nation’ reports that are laid before Parliament and also undertakes ‘social mobility advocacy’.

The first annual report – already referenced in Part one – was published in November 2013. The second is due in October 2014.

The Chairman of the Commission was less than complimentary about the quality of the Government’s response to its first report, which made no reference to its comments about attainment gaps at higher grades. It remains to be seen whether the second will be taken any more seriously.

The Commission has already shown significant interest in disadvantaged high achievers – in June 2014 it published the study ‘Progress made by high-attaining children from disadvantaged backgrounds’ referenced above – so there is every chance that the topic will feature again in the 2014 annual report.

The Commission is of course strongly interested in the social mobility indicators and progress made against them, so may also include recommendations for how they might be adjusted to reflect changes to the schools accountability regime set out above.


Recommended reforms to close excellence gaps

Several proposals emerge from the commentary on current Government policy above:

  • It would be helpful to have further evaluation of the pupil premium to check whether high-achieving disadvantaged learners are receiving commensurate support. Schools need further guidance on ways in which they can use the premium to support high achievers. This should also be a focus for the pupil premium Champion and in pupil premium reviews.
  • Ofsted’s school inspection handbook requires revision to fulfil its commitment to focus on the most able in receipt of the premium. Inspectors also need guidance (published so schools can see it) to ensure common expectations are applied across institutions. These provisions should be extended to the post-16 inspection regime.
  • All selective secondary schools should be invited to prioritise pupil premium recipients in their admissions criteria, with the Government reserving the right to impose this on schools that do not comply voluntarily.
  • The Education Endowment Foundation should undertake targeted studies of interventions to close excellence gaps, but should also ensure that the impact on excellence gaps is mainstreamed in all the studies they fund. (This should be straightforward since their Chairman has already called for action on this front.)
  • The Government should consider the case for the inclusion of data on excellence gaps in all the headline measures in the primary, secondary and post-16 performance tables. Failing that, such data (percentages and numbers) should be readily accessible from a new data portal as soon as feasible, together with historical data of the same nature. (If the full-scale portal is no longer deliverable, a suitable alternative openly accessible database should be provided.) It should also publish annually a statistical analysis of all excellence gaps and the progress made towards closing them. As much progress as possible should be made before the new assessment and accountability regime is introduced. At least one excellence gap measure should be incorporated into revised DfE impact indicators and the social mobility indicators.
  • The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC) should routinely consider the progress made in closing excellence gaps within its annual report – and the Government should commit to consider seriously any recommendations they offer to improve such progress.

This leaves the question whether there should be a national programme dedicated to closing excellence gaps, and so improving fair access to competitive universities. (It makes excellent sense to combine these twin objectives and to draw on the resources available to support the latter.)

Much of the research above – whether it originates in the US or UK – argues for dedicated state/national programmes to tackle excellence gaps.

More recently, the Sutton Trust has published a Social Mobility Manifesto for 2015 which recommends that the next government should:

‘Reintroduce ring-fenced government funding to support the most able learners (roughly the top ten per cent) in maintained schools and academies from key stage three upwards. This funding could go further if schools were required to provide some level of match funding.

Develop an evidence base of effective approaches for highly able pupils and ensure training and development for teachers on how to challenge their most able pupils most effectively.

Make a concerted effort to lever in additional support from universities and other partners with expertise in catering for the brightest pupils, including through creating a national programme for highly able learners, delivered through a network of universities and accessible to every state-funded secondary school serving areas of disadvantage.’

This is not as clear as it might be about the balance between support for the most able and the most able disadvantaged respectively.

I have written extensively about what shape such a programme should have, most recently in the final section of ‘Digging Beneath the Destination Measures’ (July 2014).

The core would be:

‘A light touch framework that will supply the essential minimum scaffolding necessary to support effective market operation on the demand and supply sides simultaneously…

The centrepiece of the framework would be a structured typology or curriculum comprising the full range of knowledge, skills and understanding required by disadvantaged students to equip them for progression to selective higher education

  • On the demand side this would enable educational settings to adopt a consistent approach to needs identification across the 11-19 age range. Provision from 11-14 might be open to any disadvantaged learner wishing it to access it, but provision from 14 onwards would depend on continued success against challenging attainment targets.
  • On the supply side this would enable the full range of providers – including students’ own educational settings – to adopt a consistent approach to defining which knowledge, skills and understanding their various programmes and services are designed to impart. They would be able to qualify their definitions according to the age, characteristics, selectivity of intended destination and/or geographical location of the students they serve.

With advice from their educational settings, students would periodically identify their learning needs, reviewing the progress they had made towards personal targets and adjusting their priorities accordingly. They would select the programmes and services best matched to their needs….

…Each learner within the programme would have a personal budget dedicated to purchasing programmes and services with a cost attached. This would be fed from several sources including:

  • Their annual Pupil Premium allocation (currently £935 per year) up to Year 11.
  • A national fund fed by selective higher education institutions. This would collect a fixed minimum topslice from each institution’s outreach budget, supplemented by an annual levy on those failing to meet demanding new fair access targets. (Institutions would also be incentivised to offer programmes and services with no cost attached.)
  • Philanthropic support, bursaries, scholarships, sponsorships and in-kind support sourced from business, charities, higher education, independent schools and parents. Economic conditions permitting, the Government might offer to match any income generated from these sources.’



We know far too little than we should about the size of excellence gaps in England – and whether or not progress is being made in closing them.

I hope that this post makes some small contribution towards rectifying matters, even though the key finding is that the picture is fragmented and extremely sketchy.

Rudimentary as it is, this survey should provide a baseline of sorts, enabling us to judge more easily what additional information is required and how we might begin to frame effective practice, whether at institutional or national level.



September 2014

‘Unlocking Emergent Talent’


This post reviews ‘Unlocking Emergent Talent’, a recent publication about support for low income high ability students by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) in the United States, and considers its relevance to other national settings, especially England.

summer of love 1967 by 0 fairy 0

summer of love 1967 by 0 fairy 0

Although not formally part of the ‘Summer of Love’ series, this is linked to those posts. It offers a useful comparator for an upcoming report on supporting high-achieving disadvantaged learners towards higher education, third of a trio of publications that are staging-posts in the sequence.

It also offers some basis for judgement whether the wider narrative devotes sufficient attention to the equity dimension of gifted education. My Gifted Phoenix Manifesto asserts that it is essential to maintain equity-driven gap-narrowing in judicious balance with excellence-driven efforts to raise standards for all gifted learners regardless of background.

I am particularly interested in the implications for the design of suitable policy interventions. But also in the application in England of the Pupil Premium, additional funding determined by the number of disadvantaged pupils which schools are expected to use to reduce the attainment gap between them and their peers.

The key issue is whether or not the Premium is being utilised effectively to tackle excellence gaps between high attaining learners – and the prospects for further improvement in that quarter, should it be needed.

The NAGC report does not help in this respect, but I have taken the liberty of introducing additional material relevant to the topic, because it is so pivotal to the equity strand of the emerging ‘Summer of Love’ narrative. Put crudely, understanding what constitutes an effective intervention is of limited value if there is no resource or incentive to implement it.

While ‘Unlocking Emergent Talent’ remains the centrepiece of the post, I have also factored in other recent and relevant material from a variety of US and English sources, especially where it seems to me that the argument in NAGC’s publication is guilty of elision, or needs tempering to enhance its relevance to English settings.


The Summit

‘Unlocking Emergent Talent’ made its appearance in November 2012, the product of a two-day National Summit on Low-Income High Ability Learners which took place from 30-31 May, with support from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

The NAGC Website retains a page dedicated to the Summit including biographies of many of the participants and a multitude of background reading. The supporting resources include a list of Summit Presenter Recommended Readings and an Annotated Bibliography. Other useful contributions have been linked into the text below.

According to the Agenda:

  • The event began with an overview and expectation-setting session led by Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Director of CTD at Northwestern University and current NAGC President;
  • There was a presentation on The Effects of Poverty on Educational Opportunity by Josh Wyner, Executive Director of the College Excellence Program at The Aspen Institute. Three respondents subsequently shared their thoughts on how poverty-related issues present amongst different US populations.
  • Paula Olszewski-Kubilius introduced the themes and rationale for an ensuing discussion focused respectively on school programmes and supplemental programmes that ‘work with promising learners from poverty’. Brief composite summaries of the featured school and supplemental programmes are provided. (Further links to each programme are supplied below.)
  • Following small group discussion and a first stab at delineating an emerging research agenda, the next session focused on ‘Building a Psychological Entity that Supports Commitment to High Achievement/Psycho-social Skills and Issues with Promising Learners from Poverty’.  This featured Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania (whose presentation is here) and Frank Worrell, from the University of California.
  • The second day kicked off with a session on ‘Research and Policy: Next Steps for Action/Reinventing the System for High Ability Learners from Poverty’ with inputs from Chester Finn, President of the Thomas B Fordham Institute and Jonathan Plucker, then Director of the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University (whose presentation is here).
  • Finally ‘Overlooked Gems Then and Now: What’s Changed, What’s the Same’ – a comparison between the outcomes of an earlier NAGC venture into this territory and the current effort – was led by Joyce VanTassel- Baska from the College of William and Mary Center for Gifted Education.

The resulting publication ‘Unlocking Emergent Talent’ divides participants in a slightly different way, citing Olszewski-Kubilius, Duckworth, Finn, Plucker, Worrall and Wyner respectively as ‘Featured Presenters’, followed by 18 ‘Moderators, Panelists and Respondents’ and a further 35 ‘Participants’.

Of these 59, all are resident in the United States. Almost half are academics employed in US universities, a further 15 or so work in district, county or state education departments or state associations for the gifted. The remainder are associated with selected programmes featured in the publication or with the sponsors (whose programmes also feature).

It says that the Summit was intended to:

  • Share recent research on the education and development of low-income high ability learners;
  • Identify barriers that prevent them from reaching the highest levels of school achievement and ‘success in adulthood commensurate with their abilities’;
  • Share details of successful school-based and supplementary programmes;
  • Synthesise best practice for identifying and supporting low-income learners, ‘especially culturally and linguistically diverse students’; and
  • Generate a research agenda to inform future practice.

It explains that the Summit and Report together were designed to build on the earlier publication ‘Overlooked Gems: A National Perspective on Low-Income Promising Learners’ dating from 2007. NAGC’s page on the Summit carries a shorter summary of the proceedings of the April 2006 conference that generated this report.

‘Unlocking Emergent Talent’ is divided into a series of short chapters which dart around the territory and include a fair degree of duplication. So, in undertaking this analysis, I have taken the liberty of reorganising the material to focus respectively on:

  • The nature of the problem, as currently manifested in US education, including evidence of underachievement and analysis of the barriers to progress and participation by this target group. I have undertaken a good deal more ‘ground-clearing’ than appears in the report itself;
  • The skills and attitudes that can inhibit progress by such learners (which the Report calls ‘Psychosocial Issues’);
  • Effective policies, initiatives, programmes and practice – and the problems associated with replication and scaling (which are given rather cursory treatment);
  • The identified research agenda, insofar as this throws further light on the material already presented.

I have introduced commentary on different but associated material throughout the analysis, wherever it seems to fit best. Much is concentrated in the first part of the post, which considers in some detail the issues that ‘Unlocking Emergent Talent’ is designed to address.


Park Fauna by Gifted Phoenix

Park Fauna by Gifted Phoenix


Defining the Target Group

The report is rather remiss in not bothering to define with any exactitude what constitutes a ‘Low Income High Ability Student’ and in failing to engage with the issues that arise from the adoption of a definition.

The low income dimension is associated principally with eligibility for free and reduced-price lunches, the criterion applied to data published through the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The analysis also makes use of PISA data on the comparative performance of learners from different socio-economic backgrounds and how this varies between countries.

There is no comparison of these measures and no exploration of their good and bad points compared with alternative approaches to defining educational disadvantage.

Any treatment of these issues in England would be certain to include some commentary on the pros and cons of eligibility for free school meals (FSM) as a measure, compared with alternatives that utilise a localised geographical indicator, based on wards or neighbourhoods, or possibly even an alternative proxy derived from family background.

This analysis suggests that such issues are equally pertinent in the US:

‘Students are entitled to free lunches if their families’ incomes are below 130 percent of the annual income poverty level guideline established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and updated annually by the Census Bureau (currently $21,756 for a family of four). Children who are members of households receiving food stamp benefits or cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant, as well as homeless, runaway, and migrant children, also qualify for free meals. Students with family incomes below 185 percent of poverty are eligible for a reduced price lunch…

…Researchers often use free or reduced price lunch (FRPL) enrollment figures as a proxy for poverty at the school level, because Census poverty data (which is used at the state and district level) is not available disaggregated below the school district level and is not collected annually…

While FRPL data is generally a reliable poverty indicator in the elementary grades, it is less so in the high school grades. Because free and reduced price lunch is an opt-in program at the majority of schools, researchers believe that high school students are greatly under-represented in school lunch program enrollment. High school students may refuse to enroll in FRPL due to a perceived stigma attached to the program.’

The high ability dimension is comparatively muddier, in that the report relies principally on attainment measures – the Advanced Level on NAEP assessments and, on one occasion, ‘the highest achievement levels’ in PISA assessments of reading maths and science (for background on the latter see this previous post).

This introduces into proceedings the oft-encountered confusion between ability and attainment/achievement, which are of course quite different animals. Indeed the difference between ability unfulfilled and ability already manifested through high attainment/achievement is absolutely pivotal to this topic.

The problem is that much of the available data relates to high achievement, as opposed to high ability. The resulting bias towards achievement data reproduces at macro level an issue often encountered in identification for gifted programmes, where attainment evidence is  paramount, resulting in neglect of learners with unfulfilled potential, often attributable to disadvantage.

It is strange that no use is made of data about the composition of the population served by gifted programmes of different kinds and levels, even though there must be abundant evidence that many of these are heavily skewed against learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.

There may even be aggregated national data available. If there is a gifted flag and a FRPL flag in the national data collection, what is the problem in establishing the relationship?

Certainly the Office for Civil Rights publishes information (page 9) about the ethnic composition of gifted programmes nationally.

Their March 2012 summary notes that almost three-quarters of students enrolled in gifted and talented education (GATE) are either White (62%) or Asian (10%) whereas the overall enrolment rates for these populations in areas offering GATE programming are 49% and 5% respectively. Contrastingly, 16% of GATE enrolments are Hispanic and 10% Black, while the comparable overall enrolment rates are 25% and 19% respectively.

Across the sample, only 4% of African-American and 5% of Hispanic students are enrolled in gifted programmes.

This introduces a second problem, in that there is evidence throughout that the report is relying disproportionately on material – both data and research – about the under-representation of (and limited support for) learners from minority ethnic backgrounds in gifted programmes, as opposed to material that relates directly to learners of any ethnic background who are from low-income families.

This is understandable, given the prominent historical focus on minority provision in the US. There are signs that the focus is beginning to shift, given recent data about the increasing size of income achievement gaps compared with minority achievement gaps (see below).

England has already moved to perceiving this issue predominantly through the lens of financial disadvantage, an adjustment that also came about in recognition that some minority ethnic achievement gaps are narrowing (although others remain pronounced) and that financial disadvantage is apparently the core problem.

This approach is not without its critics, since other explanations of minority ethnic gaps may tend to be underplayed as a consequence.

On the other hand, the historical emphasis on minorities may have tended to obscure and even aggravate achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged learners in majority populations. In England, white working class boys are a particular cause for concern.

While there is clear and significant overlap between minority ethnic and financially disadvantaged populations, whether in the US or England, they are by no means synonymous in either country, so prominent health warnings are necessary whenever such assumptions are made.

I have made similar observations in respect of New Zealand, where minority ethnic issues are so prominent in educational discourse – including discourse about gifted education – that they appear to overshadow the issue of financial disadvantage.

To give this report credit, it does point out quite clearly that, while poverty and ethnicity overlap, they are by not the same thing. Three general assumptions are expressed:

  • ‘Poverty and minority status are not the same. Although there is overlap, poverty manifests differently based on geography, ethnicity, and race.
  • Poverty is pervasive and includes students from rural, White, urban, African American, Hispanic, Asian, and other cultural backgrounds.
  • Typical characteristics of gifted students may manifest differently in low-income, high-ability learners.’

Earlier in the report, 2010 Census data is quoted revealing that 38% of African-American, 32% of Hispanic, 17% of White and 14% of Asian children ‘live in low socio-economic circumstances’. (It is not stated whether this is defined by FRPL or some alternative indicator).

It might have gone further in clarifying that the broader construct of disadvantage reflects the complex interaction between these factors and several others, not least gender, parental level of education, incidence of special educational needs, English as an additional language and even month of birth. As in the UK, it is quite likely that social class may also be a factor.

The large number of variables that may impact on disadvantage in any one individual reinforces the danger of embarking on analysis that gives particular prominence to any single factor, even if evidence suggests that it is the main driver.

It is also a salutary reminder that the response to disadvantage – whether or not within gifted programmes – must be tailored to individual circumstances. The data and research evidence may point to significant trends, but programmes will stand or fall on their capacity to address each learner’s unique needs.

It follows that regular assessment of those needs and how they are changing over time is an essential element of effective practice (and one that is probably underplayed in Unlocking Emergent Talent).


Park Flora 1 by Gifted Phoenix

Park Flora 1 by Gifted Phoenix


Analysis of the Problem

The initial Overview section of the report identifies these constituent elements of the problem it seeks to address:

  • Relatively few US students of any description are achieving levels of excellence, whether defined in terms of NAEP Advanced Level or the highest levels of PISA assessment.
  • Poverty has a negative impact on educational achievement. The report draws first on evidence of the impact of socio-economic disadvantage on achievement gaps in the US, compared with other countries, drawn from analysis of PISA 2006 and 2009. The point could have been illustrated pertinently by this diagram

OECD Numbers Final.xlsx

Incidentally, the UK is close to the OECD average (14.0) on this measure

  • Within the US there are also achievement gaps at every level, including ‘excellence gaps’ as evidenced by NAEP. Three different measures are cited:

‘Between 1998 and 2007, 1.7% or fewer of free and reduced lunch program-eligible students scored at the advanced level on the eighth-grade NAEP math exam compared to between 6% and 10% of non-eligible students.

Since 1998, 1% or fewer of 4th-, 8th-, and 12th- grade free or reduced lunch students, compared to between 5% and 6% of non-eligible students scored at the advanced level on the NAEP civics exam.

Since 1998, 1% or fewer of free and reduced lunch program-eligible students scored at the advanced level on the eighth-grade NAEP writing exam while the percentage of non-eligible students who achieved advanced scores increased from 1% to 3%.’

  • Some evidence is also offered to support the argument that US schooling does not currently improve or sustain the performance of the top-achieving students compared with comparatively lower achievers, nor does it close the gap in performance between high- and low-income high-achieving students, as measured by attendance at selective universities, graduation and completion of a postgraduate degree.
  • High ability students (as opposed to high-achieving students) are not perceived as a priority within US education policy. Moreover:

‘Success in closing achievement gaps amongst lower achieving students does not appear to impact gaps amongst groups of top students’.

This is compounded because efforts to address equity in education often fail to embrace those ‘who are already showing advanced ability and/or achievement’ while the overall commitment to supporting gifted education per se is described as ‘tenuous’. The level of support depends where one lives and remaining funding is often under threat.


A very recent US publication ‘Breaking the Glass Ceiling of Achievement for Low-Income Students and Students of Color’ from The Education Trust (May 2013) provides more in-depth analysis of the excellence gap data (though its coverage is frustratingly incomplete and it too is guilty of unhelpfully interweaving minority ethnic and economically disadvantaged data).

It also relies on NAEP advanced level data for FRPL-eligible students, examining trends from 2003 to 2011, particularly in maths and reading at grades 4 and 8 respectively.

  • In 4th grade maths, the percentage of low-income learners achieving the advanced benchmark increased from 1% to 2% between 2003 and 2011; meanwhile the percentage of high-income learners improved from 6 to 12%, thus widening the gap. A similar pattern was seen in 8th grade maths.
  • In 4th grade reading, the percentage of low-income learners achieving the advanced benchmark remained at 2% between 2003 and 2011, whereas high-income learners improved slightly, from 11% to 13%. The gap also widened at 8th grade.

Meanwhile, gaps were typically narrowing at the ‘below basic’ benchmark (though there was no significant change in 4th grade maths at this level).

This study also analyses progress at the 90th percentile of performance, so independently of the NAEP advanced benchmark, finding some evidence of gap-narrowing (which isn’t quantified for low-income students).

By 2011 there are wide gaps in performance between low-income and high-income learners: 21% for 4th grade maths, 26% for 8th grade maths, 24% for 4th grade reading and 21% for 8th grade reading. But these are invariably smaller gaps than apply at the 10th percentile for low-achieving learners.

Only at 12th Grade is this pattern reversed. At that age, the gap at the 90th percentile in maths is 24%, compared with 18% at the 10th percentile; in reading the 90th percentile gap is 21% compared with 19% for the 10th percentile.

So the overall picture is perhaps somewhat less clear-cut than the selective facts provided in ‘Unlocking Emergent Talent’ would suggest.


The pattern is by no means identical in England. I included materials about England’s own excellence gaps in this recent post, which draws particularly on Jerrim’s work on PISA reading assessments.

His work reveals that, on this measure at least, countries display significantly different profiles when it comes to the relationship between background and achievement at different deciles of achievement:

‘He comments on the difference between the US – where the association between background and achievement is relatively strong across the achievement deciles – and Finland, where the association is comparatively weak.

In England there is a relatively strong link between socio-economic background and high achievement:

‘Socio-economic test score differences at the 80th percentile are greater here than in 18 out of the other 22 OECD countries considered (and significantly so on 11 occasions). The same is not true, however, at the bottom of the PISA reading test distribution, where England is actually ranked above the median, having smaller socioeconomic test score differences.’

…He finds that, while the average gap has declined [over time] and that is repeated at the bottom end of the achievement distribution, this is not true at the top.

…He finds that the narrowing of the gap appears to have been driven by a relatively greater decline in achievement amongst those from advantaged backgrounds but:

‘Whereas the apparent decline in performance for the top SES quintile seems to have occurred quite evenly across the achievement distribution… the decline suffered by the most disadvantaged group is most apparent at the top end.’

It would be fascinating to pursue further the apparent disparities between the US and England that this amalgamation of sources begins to uncover, but we must content ourselves for the time being with the broader truth that both countries have significant issues with their socio-economic excellence gaps that urgently need addressing.


What can Education Contribute to Gap-Narrowing?


How much Difference Does Education Make?

There is nothing at all in ‘Unlocking Emergent Talent’ about the relative impact of educational interventions on disadvantage compared with other strategies, such as tackling the root causes of poverty by redistributing wealth. It seems to be taken for granted that the interventions described will address the problems identified, as long as such effective practice is more widely adopted.

The omission is curious, since Plucker’s presentation to the Summit is unfailingly explicit about the fundamental importance of reducing poverty to tackling the excellence gap.

Plucker poverty 1 Capture


Plucker poverty 2 Capture








Another recent publication, ‘Improving Performance of Low-Achieving and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students’, written by Ben Levin for the Global Cities Education Network, sets the context nicely:

‘The relationship between these social factors and school outcomes has been known for a long time. And at least since the Coleman Report (done in the United States in the mid-1960s), there has been a vigorous debate about how much schools can actually do to overcome these differences. That debate continues, with some contending that schools are rather powerless in the face of social disadvantage and others claiming that schools can do a great deal to overcome social inequities. According to various estimates in the research literature, anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the variance in student achievement is due to factors outside the school, and anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of the variance is explainable” (in statistical terms) by factors inside the school.’

Levin goes on to point out that there is huge variance between schools’ performance at any given socio-economic level – and that there are similar disparities between countries, as revealed by the PISA data. Although system-wide improvement is feasible, significant achievement gaps remain in even the most successful countries.

The assumption that school factors may account for up to 50% of variance seems relatively optimistic from a UK perspective. For example, the 2010 BERA Paper ‘Social Equality: can schools narrow the gap?’ warns:

‘However, school effects must not be overstated, as they have sometimes been by national policy-makers. According to studies in the UK, typically between 10-20 per cent of the variance in attainment between pupils is related to school factors – though this does not mean all variance is down to school-level factors, since some will be attributable to teachers.’

In addressing the contribution that gifted education can make to reducing excellence gaps, we would do well to inject a dose of realism about the overall impact of such interventions, while not succumbing to the temptation to underplay their potential significance.


The latter position can be all too easy to reach in the light of some contributions to this debate. In recent months, significant attention has been paid to discussion of Sean Reardon’s comparatively pessimistic assessment.

In July 2011 he published The Widening Opportunity Gap Between the Rich and Poor: New Evidence and Possible Explanations which examines the changing relationship between family economic background and educational achievement since the 1970s.

He compares learners from families at the 90th percentile of the income distribution (around $165,000) with those at the 10th percentile (around $15,000). This is of course a significantly more polarised distinction than exists between those eligible for FRPL and those ineligible.

He notes that income inequality has become much more pronounced since the 1970s, such that a family with school-age children at the 90th percentile in 1970 earned five times the amount of a family at the 10th percentile. Nowadays, the multiple is 11. As a consequence, wealthy families now have a comparatively higher proportion of income to invest in their children’s development.

He argues that:

  • The income achievement gap is almost twice the size of the achievement gap between black and white students whereas, in the 1960s, this ethnic achievement gap was almost twice as large as the income-related gap. Hence family income has become a significantly better predictor of success in school than ethnic background.
  • The increasing gap does not seem attributable to differences in parents’ educational level – the relationship between these two factors has remained fairly stable since the 1960s. Consequently, family income is now almost as strong an indicator of children’s achievement as their parental level of education.
  • The size of the gap is at least partly attributable to a significantly stronger association between income and achievement for families with above average incomes, where the effect is now some 30-60% larger than it was for children born in the 1970s.
  • The gap is already sizeable when US children enter kindergarten but then remains relatively stable throughout the remainder of their schooling, neither increasing nor decreasing, so schooling appears to make relatively little difference (though Reardon appears to compromise this position slightly elsewhere.)
  • Evidence suggests that the increase is partly associated with increasing parental investment in children’s cognitive development at the top end of the distribution. Children from wealthier families are better prepared to succeed in school when they enter kindergarten, and they retain this advantage throughout their subsequent schooling.

Reardon’s research has recently been given fresh impetus by an article in the New York Times which glosses his argument thus:

‘The most potent development over the past three decades is that the test scores of children from high-income families have increased very rapidly. Before 1980, affluent students had little advantage over middle-class students in academic performance; most of the socioeconomic disparity in academics was between the middle class and the poor. But the rich now outperform the middle class by as much as the middle class outperform the poor. Just as the incomes of the affluent have grown much more rapidly than those of the middle class over the last few decades, so, too, have most of the gains in educational success accrued to the children of the rich.’

He suggests that wealthier parents are increasingly focussed on the school success of their children because such success has become increasingly important in an environment where a university degree is no longer a guarantee of a good job. Upward social mobility is much harder to secure, so parents are increasingly competing to secure their children’s success.

The level of this investment is significantly higher amongst high-income families than amongst middle and low income families. The gap between the rich and the middle class – ‘upper tail inequality’ – is a new and unfamiliar condition and little thought has been given to addressing it.

Wealthier parents are gaining this advantage through:

‘More stable home environments, more time for parents to read to their children, access to higher-quality child care and preschool and — in places like New York City, where 4-year-old children take tests to determine entry into gifted and talented programs — access to preschool test preparation tutors or the time to serve as tutors themselves.’

It is this fundamental ‘opportunity gap’ that needs to be addressed, rather than the achievement gap evident in schools, which is partly a consequence of it.

Breaking the link between education and family background might involve replicating the behaviour of wealthy families, by investing heavily in the development of high-quality childcare and pre-school experience, paying relatively more attention to improving the quality of parenting than to improving the quality of teachers.

In the light of this there is arguably negligible benefit in investing in subsequent educational interventions that support low-income high-ability learners, because the damage has already been done and later investment is unlikely to level the playing field sufficiently to make a real difference.

But, as noted above, comparisons between the 90th and 10th percentiles by income – as opposed to eligibility and non-eligibility by FRPL or FSM – are bound to result in a relatively pronounced effect.

Moreover, it is not clear whether Reardon’s conclusions apply equally at all levels of achievement. There might be some reason to believe that the effects he describes are somewhat less pronounced in the case of disadvantaged learners who are relatively high attainers, or who have the potential to be so.

And some might argue that an intervention tailored to individual need, which also includes an explicit focus on parental education, might stand a better chance than most of having a positive effect at least commensurate with its cost.


Inter-school Variance Still Matters at the Micro-Level

Given the temptation to surrender to negativity, it is important that we do not lose sight of Levin’s point about inter-school variance (as well as inter-national variance). There must be scope for improvement if we can bring more schools (and more countries) up to the level demonstrated by the strongest performers.

This of course raises further difficult questions about the transferability and replicability of effective practice –whether between schools or between countries – that must be set aside as beyond the scope of this post.

Let us continue on the brave assumption that, given the right inputs and distribution processes, improved outcomes can be spread and embedded within a much wider range of settings – and that the right inputs and processes are understood and available to us.

Inter-school variance in support for high-achieving low-income learners has been discussed in another recent US publication. ‘A Level Playing Field: How College Readiness Standards Change the Accountability Game’ reports the findings of a three-year study of 35,000 high attaining learners in elementary and middle schools. The sample was drawn from the top 10% of achievers from each school.

The analysis compares the performance of high-achieving learners from high-poverty and low-poverty schools respectively (as defined by the top and bottom quartiles according to the percentage of learners eligible for FRPL).

It is important to note that high achievers in high-poverty schools are not necessarily from a disadvantaged background, though that is significantly more likely. The same goes for advantaged high achievers in low poverty schools. The study is rather quiet about this issue, though its findings are nevertheless significant.

Two measures are used: improvement in outcomes over time, measured through maths and reading achievement on Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests, and projected ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in maths and reading, which were derived from a study that linked MAP scores with these benchmarks.

Key findings were:

  • The vast majority of middle school high-achievers were projected to achieve the ACT benchmarks – 95% in low-poverty schools in both maths and reading; and over 85% in maths and over 80% in reading in the high-poverty schools. So, on this measure, while there is a disparity, the gap between high and low poverty schools is relatively small.
  • As for improvement in performance, the research finds that high- and low-poverty schools ‘produce roughly consistent rates of improvement over time in both reading and mathematics’. The achievement gap between the high- and low-poverty schools did not widen during the study period (though it didn’t narrow either).
  • There is, however, very significant variation between schools on this measure, both in the low-poverty and the high-poverty samples:

‘For example, at the beginning of the study, the average high-achieving math student in a high-poverty school started out performing at about the 90th percentile relative to national (NWEA) achievement norms. But if such a student attended a school that produced 10th percentile growth, that student would enter middle school performing at only the 77th percentile, whereas a comparable student at a 90th percentile growth school would enter middle school performing at the 93rd percentile. For these two students, the differences in opportunities could be quite large.

In short, given the large variance in growth across schools, it is quite clear that factors other than poverty largely control the relative growth of high achievers generated by any given school. This trend is interesting because it is counterintuitive. Given the advantages in resources available to wealthier schools, many might expect that students attending such schools would show superior growth over time. This was not necessarily the case.’

It follows that transferring from a high-poverty to a low-poverty school will not necessarily produce a dramatic improvement in high achievers’ performance. And it is a mistake to assume that low poverty equates to high quality, or vice versa for that matter. Quality operates independently of the relative poverty of the intake.

  • The study calculates that, if all high-poverty schools were able to produce the growth achieved by schools in the 75th percentile of the sample, the college-readiness gap between high- and low-poverty schools would be eliminated. The Preface comments:

‘Perhaps the best news coming from this study is that many high-poverty schools meet and exceed that target. The top high-poverty schools show growth that not only equals the best low-poverty schools but also dwarfs the meagre returns achieved by the worst ones. In fact, the 22 high-poverty elementary schools with the best growth rates entirely erased and surpassed their achievement gap relative to the 27 low-poverty schools with the lowest growth rates. And the 13 high-poverty middle schools with the highest rates of growth closed and surpassed their achievement gap relative to the 16 low-poverty schools with the lowest growth rates.’

So, to sum up, when it comes to narrowing achievement gaps – including excellence gaps -education may not matter that much at the macro level when compared with other key variables, but which school matters considerably at the micro level for the individual gifted learner.

Moreover, if all schools could perform at the level of the best, that would have a significant effect within the relatively narrow limits of education’s contribution to the overall equation. So attention shifts to the optimal way of transmitting effective practice between settings (or it would had we not set aside the difficult questions about this). This issue is another missing link in the argument set out in ‘Unlocking Emergent Talent’.

In passing, it is worth noting that one of the policy recommendations in ‘A Level Playing Field’ would be very familiar to those involved in English gifted education:

‘Moving forward, this study encourages policymakers to reframe the national discussion about how to best serve high achievers by recognizing that the nation’s “elite students” should not be defined solely as the top 1%, 5%, or 10% in the standardized testing pool, and that each and every school has its own group of elite students.’

There is real value in framing policy to address the needs of the most able pupils in every school, even though this population would vary considerably compared with national norms. This takes one stage further the arguments in the report in favour of local norms.

Not only should interventions be tailored to the needs of individual learners, but they should also be sufficiently flexible to be adopted in every school, since no school should be allowed to assume that it has no gifted learners. If exceptions are permitted, it follows that high-ability learners within them who are held back by disadvantage will miss out on their entitlement.

This has been an extensive detour and it is high time that we returned to the substance of ‘Unlocking Emergent Talent’.


Park Flora 2 by Gifted Phoenix

Park Flora 2 by Gifted Phoenix


Barriers to Overcome

The report identifies seven barriers to participation by disadvantaged learners in programmes suited to their educational needs which, it says, are particularly problematic for those catered for by public (as opposed to private) schools.

  • Narrow conceptions of giftedness that perceive it as an inherited and fixed trait rather than malleable and potentially evidenced through unfulfilled potential. The Report speaks of ‘already-developed ability’ as opposed to ‘potential to achieve’, but this is inaccurate and confusing since the distinction is fundamentally between selection on the basis of achievement (which favours those from advantaged backgrounds) and selection on the basis of ability (which should not do so, assuming that ability is evenly distributed within the population). The report avoids confronting this issue of the distribution of ability head on (see below), though it does acknowledge the deleterious effect of limited exposure to ‘a literacy-rich home’ and ‘challenging curriculum and enriched learning opportunities’.
  • Misconceptions about disadvantaged high-ability learners which boil down to low expectations and over-emphasis on what these learners lack by way of ‘economic, social and cultural capital’ rather than their strengths. These impact negatively on teacher nominations for gifted programmes, often dictated by poor identification practice that fails to utilise qualitative evidence and does not take account of learners’ different cultural backgrounds.
  • Limitations of pedagogy and curriculum which do not foreground talent development but tend to underestimate learners’ capabilities, concentrating overmuch on tackling ‘perceived academic deficits’ through ‘drill to build up missing basic skills and content knowledge’. It is also suggested that US schools do not offer a sufficiently culturally responsive curriculum that reflects the experiences, heritage, language and values of minority ethnic groups as well as of ‘majority cultures living in geographically depressed areas’.
  • Poor identification practice, including using a narrow range of evidence, failing to take account of the limited learning opportunities formerly made available to such students, perhaps by applying inappropriate national norms, relying overmuch on nominations from inexperienced teachers who have had no appropriate training, and failing to offer learners more than one opportunity to demonstrate their ability and to take proper account of improvement over time.
  • Introducing obstacles to programme participation, such as expecting learners to travel outside their own area or expecting them to meet associated transport costs. Sometimes parents’ inability to press for appropriate educational adjustments or secure access to the best quality schooling can also prove problematic.
  • The Gifted Label which can damage relationships between the learner and his peers, even resulting in rejection and/or bullying. Consequently, potential gifted learners may avoid the imposition of the label, or be dissuaded if their own background is under-represented in the gifted group.
  • Limited access to out-of school opportunities, which – in the US particularly – have been used by parents to compensate for ‘the shortage, or absence, of advanced courses in their children’s schools’. There is an extensive tradition of such provision in the US, especially summer schools and shorter weekend and holiday courses, often linked to talent search procedures. But the vast majority require payment of tuition fees, so they are largely enclaves for the advantaged middle classes.

All of these are familiar in the English setting, though the last is somewhat less pronounced, simply because the range of opportunities of this kind is significantly more limited here, and there may be a stronger tradition of schools providing their own out-of-hours learning opportunities.

They are all perfectly valid, but they stand as proxy for the more substantial barrier that I have alluded to above: the assumption that ability (as opposed to achievement) is unequally distributed in the population, whether by ethnicity, gender or socio-economic background.

This issue is now so toxic that there is often a tendency to ignore it. There are continuing research traditions which make it their business to detect perceived differences in intelligence or ability, and to conclude that these impact significantly on educational achievement.

But, even if these arguments can be made to stand up (and they are open to challenge on a variety of grounds), the fundamental difficulty is that they serve to reinforce precisely the low expectations that lie at the root of the problem.

It follows that there is much virtue in starting from the fixed and incontrovertible assumption that, while the distribution of achievement is undoubtedly affected by gender, ethnic and socio-economic background, the distribution of ability is not.

Then the equity-driven side of the equation for gifted educators is far more straightforward to grasp and aim towards: it is simply to ensure that entry to gifted programmes is broadly representative and that success – whether demonstrated by a measure of high achievement, progression to selective higher education or any other outcome – is evenly distributed.

If too few low-income learners are admitted to a gifted programme, this may well be indicative that identification procedures are over-reliant on attainment measures, as opposed to evidence of hidden or emergent potential.

If too few low-income learners are successful within a gifted programme, this may well be indicative that the content and/or assessment is inappropriately weighted against learners from such a background.

This is not to argue for fixed quotas, or affirmative action, but simply to advance a straightforward corrective to the ‘deficit thinking’ that is outlined in the report.

It is only by following these arguments through to this ultimate position that we can effectively counter the hold of unfairly low expectations on our efforts to narrow and ultimately eliminate unhelpful excellence gaps.


Psychosocial Factors

The report poses two questions: which non-cognitive factors are most significant in determining the success of low-income high ability students, and which of these most lend themselves to improvement through education?

It calls for more research into the characteristics of successful learners with this background, which is perhaps tantamount to admission that the treatment subsequently offered is both provisional and potentially incomplete.

As a precursor to that treatment, it offers an outline drawn from research on African-American and Latino gifted students which may not be fully transferrable to the low-income population (the emphases are mine):

‘These students had high educational and career aspirations and were extremely motivated to accomplish them. They demonstrated a strong work ethic and commitment to study. Their families were emotionally supportive and they had extended family and other adults such as teachers, coaches, mentors, and church leaders to turn to for additional support and guidance. High self-esteem gave them the confidence to actively seek advice and assistance from adults outside the family when they needed it. They had a peer network of other students with similarly high goals and commitment to academic achievement who provided psychological, emotional and social support to remain on track despite setbacks or obstacles. They were confident in their own racial identity and open to multicultural experiences, including friendships.’

The subsequent text does not dwell on the importance of support networks within and beyond the family, concentrating exclusively on the learners’ own characteristics. Nor does it treat all of those, selecting instead the following list which it suggests are ‘especially critical and malleable’:

  • Mindsets, or beliefs about intelligence and ability. Those who see their capability as fixed are disadvantaged compared with those who believe they can improve their performance through effort. This is allied with the concept of ‘grit’, or resilience, associated with recognition of the significance of persistent effort over time. Educational settings can encourage learners to appreciate the contribution to success made by their own effort and persistence.

‘Grit’ is currently receiving significant attention. Duckworth’s presentation concludes with an admirably brief summary of the conclusions from her research into this phenomenon

Duckworth grit Capture

  • Motivation, which is associated with students’ belief that they can do well in school, and that doing well is important to them and will contribute significantly to their life chances. Motivation is associated with high expectations from educators, who give learners opportunities to succeed, so building their confidence and motivation to succeed further.
  • Some other factors are identified as particularly relevant to high achievers, though the commentary suggests that findings associated with minority ethnic groups are being applied here to low-income students without too much supporting evidence. Factors include: negative stereotypes of groups to which the learner belongs, which can impact on their engagement and performance; a perceived choice between achievement and affiliation with a group of friends or peers, and the risk that choosing the former lays the student open to isolation and bullying; and the capacity to develop ‘dual identities’ to reconcile conflicting expectations and norms.

There is a fairly extensive literature in England about the impact of aspirations and attitudes – whether the learner’s or their parents’ – on learners from disadvantaged backgrounds, though the extent to which these vary according to ability or prior achievement is relatively less explored.

It will be interesting to compare the findings from the forthcoming ‘Investigation of school and college-level strategies to raise the aspirations of high-achieving disadvantaged pupils to pursue higher education’ with other more generic material and also with the list above.

A 2012 study by Gorard et al: ‘The impact of attitudes and aspirations on educational attainment and participation’ offered a meta-analysis covering 13 different kinds of aspiration, attitude or behaviour (AAB), four of which were relevant to parents (parental involvement, parenting style, parental expectations and parental substance abuse).

Five more relate to a learner’s own attitudes and aspirations: self-concept or esteem (self- perception and evaluation of one’s worth or goodness), self-efficacy or locus of control (belief in one’s ability to achieve and that one’s actions can make a difference), aspiration (what one hopes will happen in the future), motivation (the reason for a decision and strength of purpose in carrying it out) and attitude (one’s feelings about school and education).

The remaining four are behavioural: engagement with extra-curricular activities, engagement with paid work, substance abuse and poor behaviour.

The survey sought evidence of a causal relationship between each of these and attainment/participation, having determined that such a relationship involves four aspects:

  • There is an association, or correlation between the two variables;
  • The AAB pre-existed any improvement in attainment/participation and can be used to predict subsequent changes;
  • Controlled interventions have altered the level of an AAB, so producing changes in attainment/participation that cannot be otherwise explained; and
  • There is a plausible account of how the AAB influenced attainment/participation.

The authors comment:

‘The evidence in most areas is generally too immature at present to estimate the effect sizes or the costs of any type of intervention. It is important, therefore, that future work moves towards estimates of both, which can then be broken down into estimates of cost-effectiveness for specific sub-groups of learners, such as low attainers and families of low socio-economic status (SES).

Much of the work found in this review on the causes of attainment was conducted in the USA. Its results are relevant to the experience on this side of the Atlantic, but it would be helpful to see more of this kind of work, concerning both participation and attainment, being carried out in the UK, and reflecting the country’s specific context and culture.’

This parallel summary report ‘The Role of Aspirations, Attitudes and Behaviour in Closing the Educational Attainment Gap’ concludes:

‘The existing evidence supports the use of interventions focused on parental involvement in children’s education to improve outcomes. The immediate focus should be on rolling out and closely monitoring such interventions.

There is mixed evidence on the impact of interventions focused on extra-curricular activities, mentoring, children’s self-belief and motivation. Further development of such interventions should be trialled alongside evaluations of their effectiveness.

There is little or no evidence of impact for interventions focused on things like addressing children’s general attitudes to education or the amount of paid work children do during term time. Such interventions might be pursued for other reasons, but the evidence does not currently support their use to raise attainment.’

While there are clear differences between the typologies adopted – and the English research relates to all disadvantaged learners rather than just high-ability learners – there is cause for caution.

While ‘psychosocial factors’ may be significant, the evidence base is thin and, without such evidence, we may be tempted to exaggerate their impact relative to other factors that may more readily explain achievement and excellence gaps.


Park Flora 3 by Gifted Phoenix

Park Flora 3 by Gifted Phoenix


Effective Policies, Initiatives, Programmes and Practice

The report comes at effective provision in three overlapping chapters, devoted to programme models, policies and initiatives and best practices respectively.

Six effective practices are identified from analysis of a range of different school-based and supplementary programmes (one or two of which are called slightly into question by the analysis above):

  • Gateway function: a focus on preparation for subsequent educational experience, often at critical transition points, so helping to ‘increase access, create additional entry points into, and address “leaks” in existing pipelines of talent development’.  Ideally provision should comprise ‘comprehensive talent development paths…that begin in pre-school (or earlier) and continue through Grade 12 and beyond.
  • Selection criteria matched to level of developed talent: provision for younger learners is more inclusive and less selective than provision for older students. Selection criteria draw on multiple evidence sources to produce a holistic assessment, including quantitative data based on local norms rather than rigid national cut-off scores.
  • A challenging enriched curriculum that requires higher-level thinking skills: learners with developing abilities can benefit from challenge as much as the highest-achieving students. This often demands professional development to raise teachers’ expectations and develop their differentiation skills.
  • Significantly extended learning time beyond the school day: this may be as important in tackling underachievement amongst potentially high-achieving students as for those performing at lower levels.
  • Components that compensate for the benefits enjoyed by more advantaged students: this might include tutoring, mentoring and counselling, internship opportunities and careers advice.
  • Expanded student support networks: providing opportunities for learners to work with similar students from other schools or localities, so creating a stronger peer network. This might be complemented by mentor support and parental education, so as to strengthen family support.

This is followed by a series of seven ‘policies and action initiatives’:

  • Increase expectations, by introducing and working towards clearer definitions of advanced levels of learning on state tests, focusing simultaneously on increasing the proportion of learners achieving those levels and narrowing achievement gaps. Similar goals should be set in respect of NAEP and PISA measures of advanced performance. Also ensure that high-quality teaching is available to these learners, especially in high-poverty schools.
  • Support high achievement through a range of strategies including more specialist STEM schools, implementing a ‘gifted education pedagogy’, additional focus on gifted education in initial teacher education and subsequent professional development, extending access to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, improved access to out-of-hours supplementary programmes,
  • Start early and sustain, by supporting pre-school and elementary school enrichment activity, identifying high achievers and then providing them with consistent support throughout their time in school. This will demand focus on instilling psychosocial skills ‘supportive of continued commitment to high achievement’.
  • Provide additional support alongside the school curriculum, such as mentoring, tutoring, advice on university entry and access to role models.  Given the significance of family support, programmes must develop parents’ understanding and advocacy.
  • Remove barriers to programme participation, ensuring that definitions and identification processes are inclusive of ‘marginalised and under-identified gifted students’, that information is translated into community languages and that districts and schools are supportive of learners progressing through the curriculum at their own pace.
  • Focus wider school reform on high ability: ensure that efforts to address achievement gaps incorporate excellence gaps, that Response To Intervention (RTI) and grouping strategies address these learners’ needs and that success is measured in a way that incorporates high achievement. Effective practice must be shared, so that successful programmes can be replicated and adapted elsewhere.
  • Invest in research to determine ‘the conditions under which interventions are effective and with whom’. It is critical that these are cost-effective and scalable. (There is a brief and not too helpful section on replicability and scalability which rather vaguely suggests exploration of distance education models and the development of ersatz supplementary education within school settings, possibly built on partnership between organisations offering supplementary programmes and school districts.)

Finally, there is a third series of ‘best educational practices’ which highlights material earlier in the text. In summary it advocates:

  • Inclusive, culturally responsive and holistic identification practice, supported by teacher education.
  • Culturally responsive programmes and services incorporating development of both cognitive and psychosocial skills.
  • Positive cultures in schools that ‘exalt individual differences of all kinds and value and reward high academic achievement create [sic] contexts in which low-income, high-ability students from all backgrounds can thrive’.

There is also a final exhortation:

‘A list of best practices will remain just that unless it is coupled with a commitment to looking at low-income and culturally and linguistically diverse students from a different lens and from a perspective that emphasises strengths instead of weaknesses, differences rather than deficits, possibilities as opposed to limitations, and solutions instead of obstacles.’

The Appendix to the report provides separate summaries of eight different programmes featured at the Summit. This is both a small sample and a mixed bag, containing some very small programmes and some rather large ones. There are also two projects focused exclusively on supporting learners from minority ethnic backgrounds.

The links below are to project websites where these are available:

  • Project Excite, a year-round out-of-school programme for minority learners in Grades 3-8 provided by Northwestern University and two local school districts.
  • Project Nexus, a former programme of the Maryland State Education Department (2005-2008) helping to prepare low-income students for higher education.
  • The Scholars Program, provided by Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO), a year-round out-of-school programme supporting urban students in New York and San Francisco to progress to selective universities.
  • The TEAK Fellowship, a year-round out-of-school programme for talented New York City students from low income families supporting admission to high school and university.
  • The Young Scholars Program, operated by Fairfax County, Virginia to support low-income high ability learners in grades K-2, preparing them for subsequent gifted programmes.


Moving Forward

The report admits to ‘a lingering concern’ associated with the interaction of different variables – it specifies rural/urban/surburban, race and culture – and the implications for effective provision. This is welcome in light of some of the reservations expressed above.

It also quite rightly rejects ‘categorical designations’ because they ‘fail to capture the variation in levels of poverty, opportunity and education within the subgroups included in each category’. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work.

It proposes a research agenda that foregrounds our limited understanding of the characteristics of successful learners from low-income backgrounds since:

‘Although we can speculate on obstacles and impediments, there is not a deep understanding of how these intersect with race, culture, gender and domain of talent.’

There is surely a risk that the interaction of so many different factors – elements of disadvantage, as well as variations in background, schooling and personal attitudes – is so complex and individualised that it will not be possible to draw general conclusions that can be consistently applied across this population?

The research agenda proposes further work to investigate the characteristics of successful learners, the development of psychosocial skills, the removal of barriers (professionals’ perceptions and assumptions, identification, family and community beliefs) and effective provision (appropriate curriculum and instruction, the characteristics of successful programmes, scaling and replication and teacher education).

One cannot help feeling that, rather than providing a basis for extensive further work of this nature, any available funding might be better spent in devising cost-effective and scalable interventions that start from our current understanding of effective practice – and evaluating them formatively and summatively so as to refine that understanding and adjust the programmes accordingly.

But maybe this is the tension between giftedness and gifted education once more raising its ugly head. Or maybe it is my bias against research and in favour of policy-making; or perhaps a little of both.

Still, a focus on the tangible and immediate – on inputs and processes and their success in generating efficiently the right mix of positive outcomes – is likely to generate more substantive and more immediate returns than in-depth psychological study.


Apple Blossom by Gifted Phoenix

Apple Blossom by Gifted Phoenix


Drawing the Strands Together


Unlocking Emergent Talent and Elements of Effective Provision

Unlocking Emergent Talent is a helpful resume of what is currently understood as effective practice in identifying and meeting the needs of high ability low income learners, but it does not add conspicuously to our collective understanding of such practice.

It also displays some shortcomings, in substituting evidence about minority ethnic students to fill gaps in the evidence base for low-income students and, to a lesser extent, in not consistently differentiating findings about high-achieving students from findings about high-ability students.

It does not fully address, or else skips over, a series of substantive issues including:

  • Different definitions of ‘high ability’ and ‘low income’ and the issues associated with selecting one of several alternatives.
  • The wider evidence base on excellence gaps, which presents a rather more complex picture than that presented in the report.
  • The range of factors that contribute towards disadvantage and the complex manner in which different factors interact and impact on the learner.
  • The relatively limited contribution that education can make to tackling disadvantage and the correspondingly significant impact of poverty on educational achievement.
  • Variation in the quality of support between settings, the impact of reducing this variance (and associated questions about our capacity to spread and embed effective practice).
  • The distribution of ability within the population.
  • The value of parental engagement compared with learners’ own ‘psychosocial skills’, and the significance of those skills relative to other variables.
  • Cost and efficiency and their influence on the shape of interventions to support the target group.
  • Identifying the right blend of in-school and out-of-hours provision.
  • Considering the relative advantages and disadvantages of stand-alone provision for disadvantaged learners, integrated support for advantaged and disadvantaged alike, or a mixed economy.

All that said, it provides a helpful framework against which to assess current practice and from which to begin to develop new practice. From a domestic perspective it supplies a reasonable reference point for consideration of the relatively similar English publication we expect in September.

The read-across will not be perfect. The English report will be dedicated specifically to support for progression to higher education and its focus is exclusively 11-18 year-olds. It will adopt a relatively liberal definition of ‘high-achieving’ which is broad in terms of the range of achievement it embraces, but does not otherwise accommodate those whose ability is not yet translated into high achievement. It is likely to concentrate substantively on in-school and in-college strategies, as opposed to external programmes.

Nevertheless, my forthcoming review will undoubtedly be aided by this prior excursion into broadly similar territory on the other side of the Atlantic.


The Pupil Premium

That said, one further critical issue will not be assisted by the comparison: whether available funding, principally in the form of the Pupil Premium, is allocated in such a manner that high-achieving disadvantaged learners receive their fair share of support – and whether such funding is making a real difference to their expectations of progression to higher education, and especially to selective universities.

I have raised in at least one previous post the question whether:

‘Gifted learners from disadvantaged backgrounds will receive the same level of benefit from the Premium as other disadvantaged learners, notably those who are not likely to achieve national benchmarks at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4.

For the Premium does not currently operate as an individual entitlement following the learner. The Government has issued no advice to schools to suggest that it should be deployed in this fashion…

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has argued that each eligible learner should receive a Pupil Premium Entitlement, so ensuring that the funding directly benefits those eligible for it. The IPPR argues that this should pay for:

‘extra catch-up tuition, small group tuition or one-to-one teaching to stretch the most able low-income pupils’.’

While there has been no apparent shift towards such an entitlement, other levers have been brought to bear to increase the general emphasis on gap narrowing. Ofsted inspectors will be monitoring the attainment gap in every school and will not rate a school outstanding unless it is closing that gap. Schools that are struggling will be required to appoint a head teacher from a successful school to advise them.

Ofsted has reinforced the message that schools should have:

‘Carefully ringfenced the funding so that they always spen[d] it on the target group of pupils’.

And, when it comes to high achievers, has expressed the desire that they have:

‘Never confused eligibility for the Pupil Premium with low ability, and focused on supporting their disadvantaged pupils to achieve the highest levels’.

One might reasonably expect that the imminent Ofsted report on provision for highly able learners, next in line for publication in the ‘Summer of Love’, will incorporate some further coverage of this kind, including some guidelines to differentiate effective and less effective practice. That messaging should then be traceable across to the third and final publication, where it should be an important feature.

It remains to be seen whether the other key accountability lever School Performance Tables, will be used to incentivise schools to support their higher achievers. The consultation on secondary school accountability – recently closed – proposed the publication of generic attainment data for pupils attracting the Premium, but did not commit to differentiating that by prior achievement.

We know that the current method of delineating such achievement, National Curriculum levels, is set to disappear in 2016 and, although there has been a commitment to a new system for grading high attainment in the core subjects at the end of KS2, we do not yet know how that will be done.

The Government has published a series of short case studies of effective use of the Premium, one of which features the gifted and talented programme at Paignton Community and Sports College. It doesn’t offer any startling insights into best practice, but it does confirm official endorsement for deploying some of the available funding in this fashion.

There is evidence elsewhere that the broad message has already been taken on board. A new scheme administered by the National College of Teaching and Leadership ‘Closing the Gap: Test and Learn’ supports school-based research into effective approaches to narrowing the gap. It is beginning with a consultation phase in which schools have been asked ‘which group of pupils should we be most attending to?’

The initial results make positive reading.

Curee consultation Capture

As things stand, one might reasonably expect that a significant proportion of the funded projects will be focused on our target group.

But there are also issues associated with the fact that the Pupil Premium is not available in post-16 settings, where entirely different funding arrangements apply. There is no mechanism for securing consistent support across the transition between 11-16 and 16-19 education for the substantial proportion of students who progress to higher education via two separate institutions with a break at 16 (or, for that matter, for those who change institutions at some other point in their school careers, most often as a consequence of moving house).

There have been suggestions that this might change. Press coverage in May 2012 reported that consideration was being given to a Student Premium for all pupils eligible for free school meals who passed the EBacc. The funding, worth up to £2,500 a year, would be confirmed at the age 16, subject to confirmation of a university place, but would not be available until the student entered higher education.

Then the Government’s report on progress in the first year of its social mobility strategy mentioned:

‘Options for reform of the National Scholarship Programme and other forms of student support, including a possible ‘HE Premium’, alongside other models… and whether we can give greater certainty of the support available to individuals at the point they are considering applying to university.’

No reforms of this nature have so far been forthcoming.

Towards the end of the first post in the Summer of Love series, I proposed a targeted intervention programme supported by an annual Pupil Premium topslice. The funding would be transferred into a personal entitlement or voucher that could be passported on the individual learner, following them across into a post-16 setting if necessary.

There is a precedent for such a topslice in the form of the £50m of Pupil Premium funding set aside for summer schools. A further £50m topslice represents just 2% of the total sum available for the Pupil Premium in 2014-15.

It should be possible to generate a matched contribution from a separate 16-19 funding source if necessary, though the total amount required would be relatively small.

Let us end with some traditional but provisional ‘back-of the envelope’ costings,

In the early secondary years the funding might be targeted at broader awareness-raising for all Premium-eligible learners achieving Level 5 at KS2 in English and Maths (or the equivalent in the new assessment regime). This is currently some 14% of the Year 6 cohort so, assuming a total year group of 600,000, some 84,000 learners annually across Years 7-9.

From Year 9/10 onwards it might be focused more tightly on a tailored programme for each Premium-eligible learner with the capacity to enter a selective higher education course, or a selective university, or to achieve a specified benchmark, such as A levels at Grades AAB+. In 2010-11, just 7% of all state school students achieved these grades (though admittedly in ‘facilitating subjects’ only).

I cannot find a reliable estimate of the proportion formerly eligible for free school meals, but modelling undertaken by HEFCE in 2011 (Annex D) suggests very small numbers in POLAR Quintile 1 (2,741 aged under 21) achieved this outcome (and not only in ‘facilitating subjects’ either). It is highly unlikely that the national cohort of Premium-eligible learners considered likely to achieve this would exceed 5,000 per year group.

So we might expect a steady-state national cohort of around 250,000 in Years 7-9 and some 20,000 in Years 10-13. A sum of £50m would enable one to allocate:

  • £1,500 per year to learners in Years 10-13 (20,000 x £1,500 = £30m)
  • An average of £6,000 per year per school for learners in Years 7-9 (3,000 x £6,000 = £18m) though the sums provided would be weighted to reflect distribution while avoiding ‘penny packages’

So leaving sufficient change for formative and summative evaluation, possibly even a thorough randomised control trial!



May 2013

Gifted Phoenix Twitter Round-Up: Volume 10


Here, rather belatedly, is my latest review of @Gifted Phoenix Twitter activity.

The previous edition was published as long ago as 14 July, so this post covers over four months of activity.

I intend to publish approximately termly reviews henceforward – either three or four a year, depending on my level of industry (and Twitter activity) and your level of interest!

I have made some adjustments to reflect these new arrangements. Rather than attempt coverage of my entire Twitter feed, I have concentrated on drawing together material relevant to gifted education.

As far as wider education policy is concerned, I have included only those tweets that are pertinent to gifted education in England.

The review is organised as follows:

  • Global gifted education – I have divided this into two sub-sections, one covering the World Council’s activities, the other everything else.
  • Separate sections for Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australasia and Europe (other than the UK) respectively. The Americas is divided into three: Other Than USA, US National and US Local. The latter covers material relevant to states, cities, counties, gifted centres, universities and schools.
  • UK, again sub-divided into three: Gifted, Related Issues and Data.
  • Thematic, which also has three sub-sections: Twice Exceptional, Creativity and Innovation, Intelligence and Neuroscience.
  • Commentary, which is once more tripartite, containing subsections entitled Gifted Research, Academic/Gifted Education and Advocacy/Parents/General Interest.

I have exercised some discretion in placing tweets into categories. Some would fit in two or more different sections. Some of my categorisations, especially in the UK and Commentary sections, are also a little rough and ready.

The tweets in each section are organised so that linked material is together, but are otherwise in broadly chronological order. As ever, all the tweets are mine, though a handful are retweets or modified tweets originated by others.

The photographic accompaniment is also supplied by yours truly, collected on my last visit abroad. But where did I go?


Global Gifted Education


World Council/World Conference

WCGTC conference Auckland July 2013: earlybird registration for non-members falls NZ$ 174 to NZ$ 825 (£428)

The results of the 2012 International Chemistry Olympiad, just finished in Washington DC:

WCGTC is celebrating an International Week of Giftedness in August 2012 – and again in August 2013:

More about the WCGTC International Week of Giftedness:

More again about the WCGTC International Week of #Giftedness, which has its own hashtag #IWG2012:

The World Council Executive Committee (sans President) at their new HQ in Bowling Green Kentucky:

@wcgtc Do you support the African Council for Gifted and Talented as claimed here?

Breaking news: World Council 2013 Gifted Conference in New Zealand cancelled. Nothing here yet:

Nothing on the World Council site either about cancellation of the 2013 Conference in NZ:

NZ Gifted Conference 2013 scrapped due to lack of sponsorship; organisational differences with World Council:

World Council Gifted Conference has been cancelled at short notice for second time in succession

World Conference cancellation is a huge blow to NZ gifted education: – but it also begs questions …

With just 10 months before World Council conference runs, even US fallback locations will be hard to find:

Maybe the IRATDE Conference in Turkey could be rebranded as a joint World Council/IRATDE conference:

Look what I’ve found! Could the 2013 World Council Gifted Conference be moving to Dubai?

The site has now moved to a different URL: – Think this is the venue ICIE used in Dubai

WCGTC Conference 2013 has a byline and workshops (mostly Exec Committee members) but still no location

World council gifted conference in Kentucky USA as predicted  but Louisville rather than Bowling Green

World gifted conference dates moved to August 10-14. No other details on programme or host location:


Other Global

A timeline of developments and influential people in gifted education: – WARNING highly US-centric!

IRATDE’s 3rd International Conference on Talent Development and Excellence in Turkey, September 2013:

Review of and link to @gtchatmod’s webinar about #gtchat:

Did you know? #gtchat now has a blog! Sneak peek @  for chat summaries, links & news

Visit our new #gtchat Blog 4 chat summaries & news about upcoming chats at

IBO and World Academy of Sport offer a flexible Diploma to accommodate talented young sports stars:

The results from the 24th International Informatics Olympiad, just finished in Italy:

Facebook and Gifted Education listings: – thanks for including me!

Mensa for Kids is running an Excellence in Reading Award:

Mensa for Kids Reading Award booklist for Grades 9-12? – Curious. Would love to know the selection criteria

Pearson’s Project Blue Sky looks interestingly relevant to gifted learners:




More about sponsorship of Kenya’s gifted learners:

Messy end for an independent school for gifted learners in Kwa-Kulu Natal:

President Jonathan visits Jigawa State Academy for the Gifted, Nigeria: – background here




Other than USA

Caribbean Science Foundation is running a pan-Caribbean summer school for gifted students:

‘SO(bre)S(alientes Reloded’: The revival of a blog about gifted education in Mexico:

The Iberoamerican gifted education conference starts today in Buenos Aires Argentina:


US National

US NAGC view of the year ahead: Making a Difference with Small Actions:

Preview of US NAGC Convention in November:

Details of US NAGC’s Back to School Webinar Series (£):

Joy Lawson Davis has a place at the US NAGC Board of Directors’ table:

US NAGC’s Report on support for gifted disadvantaged learners: ttp:// – At first glance this looks rather pedestrian

Edweek on the NAGC report on gifted disadvantaged learners that I called pedestrian yesterday:

Will the National Association for Gifted Children’s (@NAGC) new paradigm be divisive?

Has Mariam Willis left US NAGC? Parenting High Potential Blog has been dormant for 3 months:

Unwrapping the Gifted’s report of Day 1 of the US NAGC convention:  – mostly Common Core

Excellent review of day 2 of the US NAGC Convention from Unwrapping the Gifted:

SENG’s National Parenting Gifted Week Blogtour details:

Catching up: the full roster of blog posts from the SENG National Parenting Gifted Children Week:

Update on SENG activities:

Article about the 2012 Davidson Fellows:

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to dish out $500K annually for talent development: – 1st recipient Renzulli Academy

National Consortium of Early College Entrance Programs just met – but no insight here into proceedings

Feature on the iGifted School, a US-based non-profit provider of after school activities:

Welcome to Right Side of the Curve – a new US-based online gifted education community:

I see Tamara Fisher, author of the Unwrapping the Gifted Blog, has joined Twitter as @thethinkteacher :

US Government tracker says, optimistically, that Grassley’s gifted bill has 1% chance of enactment:

Passing reference to gifted learners in Obama’s Educational Excellence for African Americans initiative

Education Next feature on selective ‘exam schools’ in the US: and a comment on same:

Extended Washington Post article on development of maths as ‘competitive sport’ in the US:

Three reasons why Americans ignore gifted children:

This Dropout Nation post says US gifted education is a legacy ‘of racialist thinking’ and should be ditched:

A critical commentary on the Chester Finn piece about US neglect of gifted learners:

‘Solving America’s Math Problem’ through better differentiation including for top performers:

More Advanced Placement controversy: and and

The ‘Asianification’ of selective US high schools: – a selection issue as yet largely ignored here in the UK?

Worrall et al on minority gifted students: – fails to state firm principle that ability is evenly distributed

US Needs to Focus Its Educational Efforts on Talented Americans (@JonathanLWai):

‘The smartest kid in the room’ – another current state of US gifted education article:


US Local

First part of a critique of gifted education in the Southern states of the USA:

Second part of that blog post on being gifted in the Southern states of the USA:

Michigan educators worry whether the emphasis on gap-narrowing there will disadvantage gifted learners:

It’s Time to Respect Our Gifted and Talented Students – a Delaware USA perspective:

Minorities are under-represented in Virginia’s gifted education programmes:

Gifted jobs: Virginia Association for the Gifted requires a PT Executive Director: ($35-40K)

The scary state of gifted education in Ohio:

Gifted education issues in Ohio:

A state of the state report on gifted education in Oregon USA:  – the ‘quiet crisis’

Your  Member Newsletter: Gifted Education News from MCGATE

The Gifted: Left Behind? (in Montgomery County):

A view of gifted education from the Chicago suburbs:

Ethnic bias in admission to NYC’s selective high schools and efforts to rectify that via the DREAM programme:

Can opening up NYC selective high schools help poor kids?

James Borland lays into NYC’s gifted education programme, and with some justification:

Finn says selective high school admission in NYC needs reform but dislikes ‘disparate-impact analysis’

Why the Naglieri test won’t make admission to NYC’s gifted programme more equitable:

More on what’s wrong with gifted education in NYC:

Gifted education jobs: MIT seeks Assistant Director of Admissions to lead on recruitment of talented students:

Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth appoints new Director, though Stambaugh remains Executive Director:

Gifted jobs: William and Mary CFGE seeks Assistant Clinical Professor leading on publications/professional development

Belin Blank advertises its international credentials: and has updated its website

Belin Blank’s Colangelo is retiring imminently:

More about CTY’s Rural Connections Gifted Programme:

Looks like expansion at CTY given some of these new posts:

Gifted jobs: National Society for Gifted and Talented requires a Program Director based in Stamford CT USA:

CTD’s Summer 2012 newsletter on implications for gifted students of the Common Core:

September News from the Gifted Development Center:

Jonathan Plucker – the excellence gap expert – has moved to UConn’s Neag School of Education: Jefferson HS in the US is being sued over non-admission of gifted Black and Latino students:

Interview with the Director of the Institute for Talent Development at Northern Kentucky University:

Gifted jobs: Western Kentucky University requires an Assistant Professor with gifted education emphasis:

You can only be Professor of Gifted Education at Whitworth University if you’re a committed Christian

Gifted education jobs: Notre Dame of Maryland University seeks a specialist Assistant Professor:

Thomas Jefferson High School and the Search for Equity in the Nation’s Schools:

A bunch of Thomas Jefferson students have launched a social learning start-up:




More from the opening ceremony of the Asia-Pacific Conference:

Malaysian 1st Lady’s remarks at Asian-Pacific Gifted Conference More on her involvement

Plug pulled on eagerly awaited gifted classes in China (Anhui province):

Mensa China’s chair joined ‘to land an intelligent boyfriend’: – old one couldn’t understand her jokes

S Korea, US and China lead the medals table at the 2012 International Maths Olympiad. This report from Vietnam

A useful outline of gifted education in Vietnam and other ASEAN countries by Kim Ngoc Minh:

Funding problems for gifted schools in Vietnam

Wow. Vietnam invests US$20m to improve quality of gifted education in rural and disadvantaged areas:

Singapore’s Gifted Education Programme (GEP) cracks down on questionable private tuition providers:

Outstanding Performance by Singapore at the 2012 International Science Competitions

A documentary and review about Singapore’s Gifted Education Programme (GEP):

Thoughts on gifted education in Singapore:

Interesting Singaporean parental view: ‘Let’s not hold back children who are gifted’:

A brief but fascinating insight into gifted education in North Korea:

An article on recent developments in Malaysia’s Permata Pintar gifted programme: (via @noorsyakina)

Looks like Malaysia plans significant further steps in its national strategy for gifted education:

Here’s that Malaysian Education Blueprint Document – plans for gifted education are on pp116-117:

Commentary on Malaysia’s new plans for gifted education:

Brief report on gifted education in Sarawak, Malaysia:

Malaysian DPM seems to be inviting international efforts to contribute to Malaysian gifted education:

A slightly different take on what the Malaysian DPM said yesterday about #gifted education:

Teach For Pakistan is launching the Pakistan Talent fund, an annual competition for talented young Pakistanis

Cramming is now less virulent in Taiwan because it has so many (some would say too many) universities:

A senior Filipino politician proposes a Bill to support gifted learners and those with special needs

Filipino House of Representatives passes Bill establishing local resource centres for gifted and SEN learners

Iran’s Ayatollah engages with the country’s gifted young people: – I find this rather disturbing

It’s the 55th anniversary of the Abai Kazakh Language and Literature Residential School for Gifted Children!

Arab Bureau of Education argues for Gulf-wide collaboration in gifted education: – Too many rivalries?

The Saudis have been to check out Gatton and WKU – Minister to follow in January:

Dhool Ke Phool – Neat Indian talent development model that blends X-Factor and support for most disadvantaged:



A mixed picture of threats and opportunities in NZ gifted education:

New Zealand’s undertaking a new national survey of gifted education More use than a dodgy Sutton Trust report

The latest edition of giftEDnewz from new Zealand:

Revised, updated version of New Zealand’s handbook on Meeting Needs of Gifted Students has been published at

The NZ Ministry of Education Gifted Handbook in alternative format (for those having trouble with the PDF):

Media coverage of release of updated NZ Handbook on Meeting the Needs of Gifted Students:

NZ Education Gazette article on revised NZ Gifted Education Handbook: – memorably calls one author ‘Roger Molten’

NZ Journal of Gifted Education Vol 17.1, featuring some gifEDnz conference papers:

Evidence of increased focus on Maori giftedness in New Zealand:

To be gifted and Maori:

Some support from NZ’s Labour Party for gifted education there:

Item about NZ’s Future U competition for gifted young thought leaders:

New NZ site on mentoring in gifted education: – developed as a student project

An insight into gifted professional development activity underway in New Zealand:

Gifted Resources August newsletter can be read online at

Gifted Resources Newsletter August (vol 2):

Gifted Resources September newsletter can be read online at

Gifted Resources October newsletter online at

A second October Gifted Resources newsletter can be read at

November 2012 Gifted Resources Newsletter from @jofrei

A new article by the Chair of the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into gifted education:

A post by @jofrei on the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into gifted education:



Javier Touron blogs (in Spanish) about the imminent ECHA12 Conference:

Christian Fischer article ahead of ECHA12 in Die Welt (in German):

Interview with Peter Csermely mentioning European Centre of Talent Support:

Mission statement for the European Talent Centre:

Elsewhere on the gifted conference front, I can find out nothing more about the mysterious Polish event:

…Except that there is now a satellite event for East European experts in Hungary a few days later:

Details arrive of the Polish Gifted Conference, just under a week before it happens! Here’s the Programme:

@tanzania8 will present in Poland on UK good practice: Could you live tweet and share presentations Margaret?

Sweet FA from the Warsaw gifted conference. No presentations or tweets. All there is (in Polish):

Information about ECHA 2014:

Our Slovenian colleagues are to be congratulated on setting up an ECHA2014 Forum: – open registration

Smart Kids, Bad Schools – A Norwegian perspective (courtesy of Krumelurebloggen):

Irish Times piece on How to Make a Modern Superhero – mentions CTYI:

The autobiography of a gifted counsellor with Romania’s IRSCA Gifted Education Programme:

TES reports on a Finnish teacher’s book alleging that gifted students’ needs are neglected there:

Description of UYEF, the ‘Federation of Gifted Children Education’ in Turkey:

Article about the Enderun, an Ottoman school for the gifted (15th to 19th century):

CTYI students report on the CTYI experience:

Gifted education in Malta:

Los ninos de alta capacidad son el 3-5% de la poblacion?

Aqui­ esta la nueva entrada. Espero que is interese

Aqui­ estan las 10 claves para hablar de la identificacion. Saludos

Sobre la identificacion de los mes capaces

Cuantos alumnos de Alta Capacidad hay en Espana? Unas cifras para la reflexion via @jtoufi  rendimiento en PISA y talento.

Una Vision Grafica Del Rendimiento en PISA 2003, 2006 y 2009 (from @jtoufi ):

National Report on Identification. oy si aprendemos de los demos?

La excelencia nacional. Un informe interesante.

Los instrumentos de medida en la identificacion






Sutton Trust report on educating highly able pupils-but does it cut the mustard?

Ian Warwick’s dissects Sutton Trust Highly Able Report:  – Been there, done that already:

Summary of Sutton Trust Highly Able research: – rather spoiled by an inaccurate commentary at the end

@EducationElf I fear there is bias and misinformation in your commentary on Sutton Trust Highly Able research:

Apropos the IMO, here are the UK results from the 2012 Olympiad, because they won’t get reported here:

Good luck to Team UK, heading to Germany to compete in the International Geography Olympiad!

Arts Council PN confirming Sadlers Wells will run the new National Youth Dance Company for 16-19 year-olds:

LSU gifted education professor addressing Oxford Round Table event on Talent Development of Olympic Athlete:

Indy Leader uses the G word of sportspeople with zero embarrassment: – Linguistic discrimination

Martin Stephen pleads for the Olympic investment to be extended to our academically gifted learners too:

Meanwhile the Mail produces its annual ‘zoo exhibit’ story about a gifted child So predictable; so depressing

Does the British culture celebrate mediocrity and penalise success? Gifted education is part of the solution

Evidence of the huge variation in schools’ capability to support their highest attainers:

Article summarising Mujis research on the relative success of sixth form colleges in securing top A level grades:

UCAS Chief floats 1-10 A level grading with 9 and 10 pitched above A* to raise ceiling for gifted learners:

Gifted learners need flexibility within curriculum frameworks that tie learning to specific year groups:

Inter alia IFS notes case for action to narrow the excellence gap between poor and other gifted learners

New IPPR Report on Closing the Attainment Gap Notices the gap at top grades p16, but doesn’t really address it

Feedback link on DfE’s Dux awards page contains no feedback; Schools Network link’s moribund; no link yet to GT Voice:

Milburn’s Report lays into the Dux Scheme: (p 38) – that won’t please DfE

Of course independent heads will support Open Access if Government pays: But it’s politically rash and too expensive

Lampl’s still pushing open access – His other suggestion on fair access to grammar schools is more of a runner

Lampl wants Government to stump up 100s of £m to denude state schools of their most able pupils. Idiotic:

Apply between 7 and 30 September to be a Specialist Leader of Education with expertise in highly able pupils:

How seriously does England take education of its most able?  On PISA high achiever data (my analysis included)

Farewell then Mike Baker, a friend of gifted education:

Ian Warwick on KS2 Level 6ness: – Level 6 is of course slated to disappear by September 2014

More from Ian Warwick on ‘level 6ness’: – a concept with a very limited shelf-life

Moynihan says Government sports strategy fails to support talent identification or progression to elite sport:

Need to see detail of London Mayoral Gold Club of schools ‘to stretch the brightest pupils’ – what will it do?

Wall to Wall is preparing a Child Genius Show:

Why Do We Underestimate Our Most Able Pupils?  – Agree in spades with the final section!

Lampl still flogging his Open Access dead horse:  – Only a crazy or desperate party would add it to their 2015 Manifesto

Richard Garner in the Independent supports Lampl’s Open Access scheme Government and Opposition more sensible!

Oral PQ reply on steps taken by Government to improve attainment of most able pupils in maths: (Col 14)

Truss’s argument for investment in intellectual capital goes beyond STEM: it’s the case for gifted education:

Truss maths speech also cites lack of gifted young mathematicians Concerted strategy is needed to change that

It’s a small victory that this DfE press notice cites the disparity in high attainers’ PISA outcomes in maths:

Arts Council is to pilot a Music Industry Talent Development Fund:

Gender imbalance revealed in Cambridge Chemistry Challenge:

UK’s It’s Alright to be Bright Week is scheduled for 20-27 October 2012, details to follow:

On Giftedness and ‘It’s alright to be Bright!’- The UK celebrates a 2012 Gifted Awareness Week!-

It’s Alright to Be Bright Week is well underway:

I kid you not, GT Voice Board member Jonny Ball is to be a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing:

Apart from me all this lot still serve: – The item on my resignation has vanished – must repost

GTVoice Bulletin for October 2012:

Take the gtvoice survey:

I see Warwick University/IGGY’s offering scholarships for 2 gifted education PhDs (but they’re still in my bad books)

IGGY revitalisation press notice: – Targets to ‘reach’ 15K students in 1 year; 50K in 3 years (ie not members)

@iggywarwick: The beta version of our new website  Let us know what you think!

IGGY’s not new, dating from 2007. Useful resource, but won’t alone secure quality gifted education in schools

Jimmy Saville’s MENSA membership is quietly expunged. Compare 2010 FAQ: with new version:

I don’t want to labour the Savile/Mensa connection, but someone shelled out £160 for his Mensa scarf and tie:



Related Issues

More on Cambridge and contextualised admission: – Does it all boil down to confusion between ability and attainment?

Apparently a 5.3% rise in state school admissions to Cambridge, but I can’t find the source:

Peter Wilby suggests imposing a version of the Texas 10% model on Oxbridge: Right principles but details awry

Do you ever read a newspaper story and think ‘I told you so’: – impact of stalling A level grades on AAB grade HE entry

More evidence that AAB recruitment didn’t work out exactly as it should have done for many selective universities:

Higher report says A level students with AAB grades were projected to increase by 4000 but numbers stayed unchanged:

Statistically I’m unclear why a bigger cohort increases A level pass rate but reduces proportion of top grades

Here comes the ABacc: – basically ‘gold standard’ A level with choice limited, plus academic/service learning bolt-ons

KS5 performance tables already have A level AAB+, RG/Oxbridge destination indicator from 2013 – now ABacc measure too?

Interesting Ofqual research on comparative A level stretch and challenge: – though definition’s a tad basic

Cambridge’s post-16 maths project: – is actually £2.8m to strengthen NRich so nothing to do with A level reform

Why We Need Olympic-style Maths Academies: Forgets there’s funding for a tranche of 16-19 maths free schools

TES reports results of AQA further maths certificate offering A* with distinction:  – see

It won’t be straightforward to add top-end stretch and simultaneously eliminate tiering from a single son-of-GCSE exam:

Son of GCSE to be graded with 1-6 (7 a fail) with 5-10% limit on grade 1 (norm or criterion-referenced unclear):

If only the percentage achieving the top EBC grade is fixed that discriminates unfairly against high attainers

The brakes will be applied to GCSE results as well as A levels: Disproportionate impact on top grades again?

Thankful for small mercies? It seems that O level mark 2 will be takeable in Spring 2016 after one year of study

EBC consultation document shows early entry in core subjects will be impossible in 2016 after all (para 1.4):

Blistering attack on EBC proposals, including idea of a cap on percentage achieving top (all?) grades:

Irresponsible early entry reporting – Can be right for gifted learners but only those secure in A*/A should be entered

Wilshaw’s comments on early entry to GCSE pre-empt a report to be published shortly. Ofsted press notice at:

The Mail and Smithers should temper their enthusiasm for GS until they see FSM pupils’ HE destinations data next year

Answer to the question of how to make grammar schools more socially inclusive isn’t necessarily more grammar schools:

Doubt Brady will ever get new 11+ grammars into a Tory Manifesto, but that doesn’t stop him endlessly trying:

Graham Brady is in broken record mode about grammar schools – has nothing new to say:

Redwood on selection:  – Presumably Brady and Daley contributions come later

Kent is looking for a ‘less coachable’ 11 plus test: – but less coachable is still coachable. Half measures.

Why would you set up a determinedly mixed ability free school and still select 10% of pupils by aptitude? Contradictory

Ministerial statement on the Olympic sporting legacy: (Col 36WS): a bit thin on school PE where ‘more needs to be done’

Nrich has had a makeover:

Sutton Trust press notice accompanying the report of their recent Social Mobility Summit:

Hodgson and Spours on ‘squeezed middle’ in the attainment spectrum: – Is Government overly focused on top 30%?

Barber IPPR essay fails to recognise how Asian Tiger gifted programmes help drive achievement AND innovation



330 of 2164 schools and colleges sent no pupils to RG universities in 2009/10; 1395 sent none to Oxbridge:

Slight increase in Cambridge applications; slight fall in Oxford applications – doesn’t tell us much:

Percentage of students achieving 3+ A levels at A*/A fell from 13.1% to 12.5% (Table 1b):

In 2011/12, 33,154 students gained 3+ A*/A grades at A level:  (Col 200W)

Overall UK GCSE results: A* grades down 0.5% on 2011; A*/A grades down 0.8% on 2011; A*-C grades down 0.4% on 2011:

Percentage of pupils making 3 levels of progress from KS2-4 increased by 3.7% in maths but decreased by 4.2% in English

23.3% of pupils achieving KS2 L5 in English failed to make 3 levels of progress by KS4: (Table 1d)

20.4% of pupils achieving KS2 L5 in maths failed to make 3 levels of progress by KS4: (Table 1d)

23.3% of pupils achieving KS2 L5 in English failed to make 3 levels of progress by KS4: (Table 1d)

2012 Performance Tables to show AAB A level grades but not KS2 L6 results (but L6 counts in progress measures)

KS2 SFR shows that in 2012 11% of those achieving L3 in KS1maths managed only 1 level  level of progress to L4

But KS2 SFR also shows that 14% of those achieving L3 in KS1 maths achieved L6 at KS2:

KS2 SFR shows that in 2012, 16% of those achieving L3 in KS1 English managed only one level of progress to L4:

KS2 SFR shows that around 900 pupils achieved L6 in reading and  3% achieved L6 in maths:

KS2 SFR shows L5 maths up from 35% to 39% in 2012, a significant increase on the previous 3 years:

KS2 SFR shows L5 reading up from 43% to 48%, restoring most of a big 7% dip in 2011:

KS1 SFR shows much bigger FSM gaps at L3 than at L2 across all of reading, writing, maths and science:

KS1 SFR shows 1% increases in L3 TA in Reading, writing, S&L, science and 2% increase in L3 TA in maths






Great blogpost on being twice-exceptional: – Required reading for a certain Ms Teather I would suggest

Twice Exceptional Newsletter 26 July 2012:

Twice Exceptional Newsletter 13 August 2012:

Twice-exceptional Newsletter 4 September 2012:


Creativity and Innovation

The tension between schooling and creativity from a gifted perspective:

How lucid dreaming can support creativity and innovation:

10 Suggestions for Raising Creative Kids: – I would personally omit number 6!

Identifying the Creative Child in the Classroom:

Informative extended article on creativity (especially musical creativity) and the brain:

Creativity and Chaos:

Does social rejection fuel creativity? – Low need for conformity; high need for uniqueness. Recognise that profile!

Interesting article on the components of creativity:

Creativity and IQ – what is divergent thinking and how is it helped by sleep, humour and alcohol:

Another version of the constituents of creativity:

Maybe Gifted Underachievers are More Creative:

Grounding Creative Giftedness in the Body, from @sbkaufman


Intelligence and Neuroscience

How do cognitive abilities change over the lifespan? Number sense as an exemplar:

Short Time article on recent ‘genes for learning’ studies:

The (limited) contribution of brain imaging to distinguishing intelligence:

Intensive practice in reasoning skills can change the brain – Does tuition have a value beyond mere rehearsal?

On whether neuroscience supports free will or determinism:  (warning: you may need to read this 7 times)

How early social deprivation impairs long-term cognitive function:

Are great leaders born or made? Do they need intelligence and creativity?

Evidence that adult brain structure changes as a consequence of learning:

Cogmed working memory training: does the evidence support the claims?

The relationship between genes and intelligence is still far from understood:

Another piece on the relationship between genes and intelligence:

More from Willingham on working memory training:

The prevalence of ‘neuromyths’ amongst UK and Dutch teachers:

Why social and mechanical reasoning are mutually inhibiting:

Perfect Saturday reading – an academic paper about Einstein’s brain:





Gifted Research

Seeking participants for research on gifted kids and their hobbies

The impact of genes on athletic performance: – a brief review of research evidence

Algebra for All Harmed High Achievers, Study Finds:

Working paper on Conscientiousness, Education and Longevity of High Ability Individuals by Peter Savelyev:

The value of deliberate practice (as opposed to practice per se) in achieving (musical) excellence:

The impact of self-regulated learning (from Ericcson’s expert performance perspective): (via @sbkaufman)

Top Maths Achievers Spread Unevenly Across Schools – Ed Week report on a (£) academic paper:

Review of a recent French book by Lignier – A Sociology of Gifted Children:

Gifted and Talented International edition with Persson’s article on cultural bias in research and responses:

@JonathanLWai on a (£) Gifted Child Quarterly edition devoted to responses to that Subotnik et al article:

You can access Subotnik’s target article free but these Gifted Child Quarterly responses are sadly $20 a time:

The Entire “Rethinking Giftedness” Debate – from Gifted Child Quarterly

Thanks to @sbkaufman for publishing the full Gifted Child Quarterly edition on Subotnik et al’s paper:

A critical Koshy paper on English primary gifted education which, on a quick skim, is very curate’s eggy:


Academic/Gifted Education

A gender dimension to the Flynn effect? Mr F promotes his new book:

Interview with James Flynn: and his article in Wall St Journal:

An interview with June Maker, speaking at the Asia-Pacific Conference:

The concept of Optimum Intelligence – and what happens when you’re outside those boundaries:

Some complex thinking aloud about distinctions between high IQ and genius: – don’t think it’s that simple!

An interview with @sbkaufman

A restatement of the nature/nurture balance in development of genius:

If expertise has such limitations does that undermine gifted education theories predicated on its development?

The changing nature of expertise: – has implications for expertise-in-development models of gifted education

Feature on Olympic talent development based on work by Rita Culross at LSU:

CTD at Northwestern on flipped classrooms:

Belin Blank’s Colangelo on high attaining learners’ progression to teaching as a career:

Part 5 of Belle Wallace’s gifted blog on developing a problem-solving pedagogy

Final Belle Wallace article in series of 6, on ‘Whole Brain Based Learning’: – not sure this one quite works

Nine ‘research-supported facts’ about gifted education: – some are contestable though…

The relative impacts of harmonious and obsessive passion on performance:

The relationship between ability and motivation:

Learners need  knowledge as well as resilience. More commentary on Tough’s book:

A bit more follow-up on the Paul Tough book:

Hirsch on Tough:

Even more ‘true grit’ (and its impact on student achievement):

I thoroughly commend this blog post about a gifted driven model of teaching and learning by @headguruteacher

Interesting post incorporating Sternberg presentation on assessing creativity, common sense and wisdom

Review of Finn and Hockett’s ‘Exam Schools’ and the merits of balancing excellence and equity:

Another review of the Exam Schools book:

From the Curry School of Education Blog – I share this perspective on social and emotional needs

Camilla Benbow gifted education article:  (I reckon she has the best name in gifted ed btw)

The Pesky Persistence of Labels from @sbkaufman

Duke TIP blogpost on academic self-concept:

Q. What can we learn from international best practice in gifted education?: – A. Much from careful scrutiny

Paula O-K takes a sensible middle way on social and emotional dimensions of giftedness:

Links between child prodigies and autism (summary):

Impact of openness to experience on cognitive ability:

In which Brink Lindsay, author of Human Capitalism fails to take on board the Smart Fraction argument:

Everything you ever needed to know about prodigiousness (and more):

Restatement of an old question – do objective standards (of excellence) exist in the arts?

Long Subotnik et al article in Scientific American: – the eminence trajectory remains the weak link

10 Lessons on Gifted Education – Part 1 (by @RichardCash)

Valentine Cawley argues that gifted people suffer as a consequence of the Dunning-Kruger effect:

The arguments for and against detracking:

WCGTC 2013 Conference post on highly proficient readers:

World Conference 2013 blog on Technology: – High time for gifted educators to enter the 21st Century

@ByrdseedGifted proffers an example of a ‘fuzzy problem’ for gifted learners:

How black gifted students are ‘living between two races’:

Catching up: Mainstreaming effective gifted education practices:

More ways to use Twitter in gifted education:



Advocacy/Parents/General Interest

Nicole Kidman – a Brief Profile of High Ability and Complexity:

Are we doing enough to support the parents of gifted children?

More valuable advice about parenting a gifted child:

Everyday Glimpses of Giftedness:

Catching up: ‘why is my gifted child so anxious all the time’:  (causation/correlation health warning)

Catching up: a blog post on gifted labelling:

What should we do about gifted and talented pupils? Do they exist? New blog post

Catching up: The Smartest 1%: Do Americans Value Intelligence?

Catching up: Advocacy Groups for Parents of Gifted Learners:

50 Essential Links for the Parents of Gifted Children  Has transformed the very English Gifted Phoenix to Kiwi! (no 28)

Catching up: Gas station without pumps cocks a snook at National Parenting Gifted Children Week:

Catching up: A post about Raising Gifted Children:

Pondering the Olympics from a gifted perspective:

Why Gifted Teens Should be Sponges Not Spongers:

Wouldn’t it be Weirder if I Didn’t Think my Child was Gifted?

Blog post on The Value of Exclusive Gifted Programmes:

Why Are All the Smart Kids Cheating (an inaccurate headline but worth reading anyway):

US comparison of academic v sporting success Raises big questions about support for elite academic performance

A comparison of gifted education and varsity athletics:

All kinds of smart: applying lessons from the Olympics:

Online education for gifted homeschoolers:

Sibling rivalry: Blog post – Life Among the Gifted

The Talent Myth:

Ideas on the causes of negativity towards gifted learners and gifted education:

Insights into gifted adults in the workplace:

Raising the floor but neglecting the ceiling:

Daniel Coyle offers some tips on talent development:

Courtesy of @sbkaufman the correlation between national chocolate consumption and number of nobel prizewinners

Bullying and the Gifted:

An article advocating IQ testing of gifted children:

A contrary view about the value of IQ testing:

Strategies for helping gifted children back to school:

How does one discuss giftedness with a gifted learner?

New post on Gifted Resources blog: virtually attending the ECHA conference

Can’t find a school for your gifted child? Start your own:

Grades and gifted learners

Young gifted and neglected:

Gifted Exchange on tuition for tests giving entry to gifted education programmes: – a can of worms

Do teenage gifted writers have sufficient opportunity to engage their imagination in school?

From the editor of Concord Review: why are we afraid to show off our brightest students?

Withholding appropriate education from a gifted child is educational neglect:

Against Accelerating the Gifted Child:

In which I respond to nearly 200 @NYTMotherlode comments re: acceleration in gifted education:

The advantages of acceleration:

Inductive learning for gifted students:

Things I’ve Learned About Parenting a Gifted Child:

The Highly Distracted Gifted Child:

A Prezi on Talent Identification and Development in Sport:

Universal Traits of Giftedness – – there are of course no such thing!

Leave gifted children alone: – I think he actually opposes hothousing rather than support

The 2 worst words in gifted education, parts 1 – – and 2 –

How to Recognise the Parent of a Gifted Child:

Stacie says ‘Shut up about what a burden your gifted child is’:

Holding back gifted learners:

Differentiating between gifted and high-achieving students:  – Better imho to treat latter as subset of former

Is there an emotional intelligence equivalent of the Flynn Effect?

Ten myths about gifted students and programmes for the gifted:

New post at GPS, “Just My Imagination”

New post at Gifted Parenting Support, “Accentuate the Positive”

New post at GPS, “Supporting Your Child’s Gifted Teacher”:

New post @GPS, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting? The Unexpected”

New post on GPS, “Nurturing the Global Nature of Giftedness”

Check out our latest gtchat blog post on the ECHA12 Symposium @  – Thanks Lisa!

‘Is there a place at table for parents’? from Gifted Parenting Support:

New Gifted Parenting Support post from @ljconrad  on standardisation:

New post on our #gtchat Blog, “The Middle School Years”

Gifted Resources Blog post about #gtchat

Couldn’t make #gtchat this week? Check out our blog  for  summary & links!

Missed Friday’s #gtchat ? ‘Collaboration, Not Confrontation” Transcripts:

Giftedness as a Special Educational Need, chat transcript:

Transcripts of the last 2 #gtchats with guests van Gemert and Housand respectively: and

Transcript of yesterday’s #gtie chat on gifted education research: – Thanks so much for referencing my blog!

Transcript from tonight’s chat, Essential Websites on Giftedness:  (and thanks for the reference)

Transcript of When Parents Push Too Hard

Some #IWG2012 blog posts: and and and

Another selection of #IWG12 posts: and  and and

A 3rd selection of #IWG12 blogposts and  and and

A further selection of #IWG12 blog posts: and and

A 5th set of #IWG12 blog posts: and and and

Today’s selection of #IWG12 posts: and  and and

Couldn’t fit these #IWG12 posts into the last round-up: and

Sunday’s batch of #IWG12 posts: and and and

….and one last one:

A final (?) #IWG12 post: and one that perhaps should have been:



November 2012

Gifted Phoenix Twitter Round-Up: Volume 7

This is the Seventh Edition of my monthly review of @GiftedPhoenix Twitter activity, covering the period from 5 April to 9 May 2012 inclusive.

My Twitter feed is almost exclusively dedicated to gifted education, wider English education policy and associated topics. I am to make these posts a fairly comprehensive record, incorporating all those Tweets that carry a hyperlink to an online resource while discarding those that are merely badinage.

I haven’t rechecked all the hyperlinks, so apologies if any are broken.

The categorisation I’ve used on this occasion is slightly revised. There are three sections on:

  • Gifted Education Worldwide, with sub-sections for each of the five continents and, separately, for the UK;
  • Gifted Education: Thematic, with sub-sections for Twice-exceptional; Creativity and Innovation, Intelligence and Neuroscience; and, finally, Commentary and Research;
  • Related Educational Issues, which is focused predominantly on developments in England and is broken down into several thematic subsections – several more than I have used previously.

The final section covers some material of interest to gifted educators but also extends into wider areas of domestic education policy. It should provide a fairly comprehensive overview of most of the live topics in English education policy, though with a significant bias towards the schools sector

The vast majority of these are my own Tweets, but a few are modified tweets or retweets of originals sent by others. I have removed addresses and hashtags – except where these are integral to the tweet – and corrected a few typos. The Tweets in each section are broadly in chronological order, though I have grouped some together where that makes sense.

Otherwise this is largely an unadulterated record of proceedings, though with added fish! I hope you find it useful.

Gifted Education Worldwide

The 2012 Torrance Legacy Creative Writing Awards:

The WCGTC 2013 Conference blog, including part of the speaker line-up:

Free webinar series: Supporting Gifted Students with 21st Century Strategies:

Brief report of the APEC Future Scientist Conference in Java: 120 gifted learners from 16 (or 9?) countries involved:

Mother’s Day SENGinar on mother/daughter relationships of profoundly gifted girls  – early am 11/5

WCGTC marketing for 2013 conference in NZ: – I love the geographical optimism of slide 2!

Round-up of summer professional development in gifted education:  Mostly US but includes @Begabungs SL events

#gtchat transcript from last week on Adult Giftedness:

The transcript for tonight’s chat on Role Models For Gifted Children:

Gifted Underachievement with @Josh_Shaine, transcript 18/4 has been chirpified!

Transcript for last Sunday’s #gtie, “Cyberbullying and Gifted Education”:

Transcript from tonight’s #gtie: 5 Give-away Signs of Giftedness for Teachers


Kenyan pupils call for ‘a curriculum review to incorporate competences, skills and talent development at all levels’:


FICOMUNDYT IX Congreso Iberoamericano de Superdotacion, Talento y Creatividad, October 2012:

Puerto Rico Legislature Considers Laws to Boost Gifted Children

Gifted trivia: what’s the connection between Francoys Gagne and Star Wars? Answer: (I should do more of these!)

National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT) in US has College Board agreement to run SAT test in summer school:

Gifted Jobs: Louisiana School for Math Science and the Arts needs a Director of Admissions and Outreach

NYC gifted kindergarten entry articles: and  and

More about gifted kindergarten admissions in NYC: and and

Another one on NYC gifted kindergarten admissions: – It’s not called Gotham City for nothing!

Coaching and private tuition strengthen their fiendish grip in NYC:

Rundown of gifted and talented schools in NYC including hyperlinks to their websites:

Study calls for NYC to test all kindegarten pupils for giftedness since many poor families don’t use service:

Yet more on the impenetrable mystery that is NYC gifted education policy:

Belin-Blank outlines its summer professional development programme:

Online gifted education as an option in Minnesota:

A second US blogger posts on distance learning for gifted kids: ttp://

Are gifted learners informationally fluent? CTD is aiming to ensure they are:

Updated links to test scores for all major talent searches – plus other test score percentiles

Valerie Bostwick, a PhD student at UC Santa Barbara, plans an economic evaluation of gifted + talented magnet schools:

Upcoming Duke Conference featuring Project Bright Idea, applying gifted education approaches for all learners

Carolyn Callahan appears for defence in US gifted lawsuit; contests Donna Ford’s testimony for prosecution

A second report on the Elgin gifted education lawsuit:

Gifted jobs: DC Public Schools (no less) is looking for a Director of Gifted Education: ($89-97K)

Petition to Vermont Commissioner of Education to provide adequate public education for gifted children:

Deb Delisle confirmed as nation’s new assistant secretary of education

Education acceleration bill heads to Gov. Rick Scott FL

Norwich (Connecticut) plans 40th anniversary reunion for participants of 1973 elementary gifted programme:

On Native American gifted education:

Whitworth University confirms who is sponsoring their $3m dollar endowed chair in gifted education:


Taiwan has reviewed its talent development policies and will produce a White Paper in the next year:

Taiwan moves to improve quality of English, especially in rural schools:

Oman follows Taiwan in declaring need for a National Talent Development Plan  Can we have one of those?

Philippines’ Department of Education increases SPED funding (including gifted education) by 56%

On this otherwise quiet gifted news day I bring you the results of the aforementioned Philippines run for gifted kids!

Questions asked in Singapore Parliament today about the impact of their Gifted Education Programme (GEP):

Malaysia’s worried about failure to progress to Harvard places: a target for the Permata Pintar gifted programme?

Upcoming HKAGE Professional Development Seminars by messrs Porath, van Tassel-Baska and Chandler:

Hong Kong’s 2012 Biennial Gifted Education Conference in May is another van Tassel-Baska/Chandler show:

Who’s in the running to establish a new university campus on a premium Hong Kong site?

The pressure’s on to secure a place at one of Vietnam’s High Schools for the Gifted:

English medium teaching in Vietnam’s High Schools for the Gifted runs into difficulties:

Vietnam is experiencing a brain drain of gifted students, but only from urban areas:

Wow! Israel’s Education Ministry has a ‘super gifted’ programme comprising 15-18 students a year:

Two reports on giftedness and gifted education from Bangalore India: and

Looks like ICIE is planning a January 2013 gifted education conference in Chennai India:

Arab News carries a short article highly critical of the Saudi gifted programme (Mawhiba):  Brave!

Gifted jobs: teaching posts in trilingual (Kaz, Rus, Eng) Kazakhstani Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools:


More on Jill Bevan-Brown’s work on gifted Maori learners:

Access the presentations from the recent giftEDnz conference in NZ:

ERO Report on science in the NZ Curriculum: – notes that gifted learners get favourable treatment in a few schools

Two Sydney Morning Herald pieces on giftedness and gifted education: and

The line-up for Australia’s 13th National Conference on Gifted Education, July 2012:


A report (in sub-standard English) of recent developments in gifted education in Russia:

Russia’s Ivanovo Region is opening an orphanage for gifted children: with Medvedevian support

El bachillerato de excelencia: igualdad o equidad?

8 razones por las que atender la Alta Capacidad y el Talento

Mi hijo tiene alta capacidad, se lo digo?

“Mama, no quiero ir al cole, me aburro!”

Desarrollar el talento, promover la excelencia: dos exigencias de un sistema educativo mejor

Gifted education in Spain – @Begabungs interviews @jtoufi

The Netherlands Education Ministry on transport for gifted students (in Dutch):

The fissure within the Leonardo Foundation, supporting Netherlands gifted education, is made public (in Dutch)

Talent I Skolen: – gifted education in Denmark

On gifted education in Norway (in Norwegian):

Stortingsmelding 22 og ‘De hoyt presterende elevene’ (in Norwegian):

PISA 2009 data on the proportion of high-achieving learners in Ireland:

Interview with Colm O’Reilly of Center For Talented Youth Ireland (CTYI):

The speaker line-up at yesterday’s MENSA Greece Conference on Gifted and Talented Children and their needs:

CBO is setting up a school for gifted children in Flanders:


Pauline Dixon, a UK specialist in development education, including support for disadvantaged gifted learners:

More ‘genius children’ coverage from the BBC:

A superb Heroes and Heroines Comic produced by Southwark’s gifted kids:

Hoping to find out more this morning about IGGY’s future plans:

Michelle Obama as ambassador for gifted education:

Shami Chakrabarti supports the gifted programme at her old school in Stanmore:  – a potential  GT Voice ambassador?

Gifted Jobs: IGGY Warwick requires a Sales and Marketing Manager: – Up to £45K, deadline 7 May

DfE want your summer schools top tips: – Mine is of course to run them for gifted learners

Competition to encourage more UK students to study in Hong Kong: prize is HK summer school:

Lampl says (at 53mins) Sutton Trust report on gifted education due out in June (Smithers qualifies):

Welsh Government’s launch of a new Training Pack for More Able and Talented equals a press notice but no pack:

Raising attainment of more able cited as area for improvement in 8 of sample of 30 primary inspection reports:

TES report on the School Games:

London Zoo Fish 1 Courtesy of Gifted Phoenix

Gifted Education Thematic

Twice Exceptional

Meet the Dugents: a twice-exceptional family:

Express article about a 2e learner in Wales: – unusually sympathetic for the Express!

NAGC chat transcript on the intricacies of 2e learners

Twice-Exceptional Newsletter 16 April 2012:

Twice Exceptional Newsletter, 22 April edition:

SEN Support Staff Scholarships can presumably be used for 2e training, if suitable courses are available

Free Asperger Syndrome and Giftedness Fact Sheet on our website (direct link)

The Saudi version of 2e ‘The Koran Memorisation Competition for Disabled Children’: – Words fail me….

Creativity and Innovation

The Creative Thinking Myth:

Douglas Eby on Jane Piirto:

4 Steps Towards Enhancing Our Own and Students’ Creativity:

The Seelig Innovation Engine Model to unleash creativity:

Guardian Review pulls no punches in demolishing Lehrer’s book ‘How Creativity Works’:

Adobe Report on the ‘creativity gap’ in 5 leading economies (including UK and US):

Who Creates the Innovator – A review of Wagner’s latest book (including intelligence/creativity relationship):

Helping A New Generation Nurture Creative Thinking and Innovation: The Creative Mind

Can Innovation Skills be Learned?

Intelligence and Neuroscience

Check out Cognitive Atlas: a work-in-progress knowledge base for cognitive science:

A post that rightly warns against the tendency of some gifted educators to misuse IQ stats:

Brain injury data used to map intelligence in the brain:

Excessive worrying may have co-evolved with intelligence:  (Complete with enlargeable photo of female person worrying)

Project ENIGMA ‘We found fairly unequivocal proof supporting a genetic link to brain function and intelligence

Heritability of IQ

Can you make yourself smarter? (An extensive NYT article):

@sbkaufman: “Brainy” is What “Brainy” Does (Psychology Today):

Time to put on your thinking caps (aka ‘mini-transcranial direct current stimulation devices’):

Willingham on Working Memory Training:

Shortcomings of the IQ-based construct of Underachievement

New centre at Oxford aims to understand how intelligence arises from brain’s circuits.

Neurobonkers blog (great name) on how UK media misrepresent neuroscience research:

Eysenck (1916-1997) Bad ass of assessment? 50 blogs on learning theorists in 50 days)

Gardner Multiple Intelligences or school subjects mirrored?

The limitations of IQ:

How fluid is intelligence? Hambrick inthe NYT:

Why Are We So Obsessed With Improving IQ? Psychology Today


Commentary and Research

Pushing the gifted adult conversation forward :

Social Reactions to Overconfidence  – Peers tend to believe they have superior social skills!

Stoeger and Ziegler: Deficits in Fine Motor Skills and their Influence on Persistence in Gifted Elementary Pupils:

Text anxiety in gifted learners:

Gifted education advocates should be more focused on equity issues says this blogger:

Check out this presentation : Raising Gifted Children

Belle Wallace: Who Are The Gifted? Where Are They? 1st of 6 articles:

Can ‘Genius’ be Detected in Infancy? – a helpful counterbalance to the wilder press coverage

New blogspot Goal Increased advocacy for culturally and linguistically diverse gifted learners

Read about teaching innovation through the arts in the Spring issue of CTD’s Talent Newsletter:

Evidence on Ability Peer Effects in (English) Schools: Lavy, Silva and Weinhardt:

Fascinating gender differences in impact of having many fellow pupils in top and bottom 5% by KS2 attainment:

Don Ambrose markets two forthcoming co-publications, one with Sternberg:

Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth have produced a retrospective 5-year Report:

Unwrapping Gifted: Differentiation LiveBinders

Final part of Borland’s ‘Problematising Gifted Education’:  Restatement of a position rather than anything new

The importance of increasing AP entry and success amongst minority student populations:

Busting one of the silliest but most common myths:you only use 10 percent of brain

More about the benefits of online learning for gifted learners:

First in a new series on Misdiagnosis and Giftedness:

Why Kenyans Make Such Great Runners: A Story of Genes and Cultures

Can you instil mental toughness (aka resilience)?:

Serving Gifted Students from Poverty, Part 3 of 3:

The value and impact of praise on [gifted] school achievement:

Stephanie Tolan: Who or What?

Gifted Parenting Support: Gifted Learners in Rural Areas:

An Evolutionary Perspective on Giftedness:

Going with the Flow: Student Engagement and Beyond:

Lots of excitement being generated about the potential of TED-Ed videos for gifted education:

The evolution of the geek infographic:

Elite Soccer Players’ Brains Excel At Planning And Problem Solving

How Geniuses Think – The Creativity Post

Being Black and Gifted is Nothing New: – on the work of Martin D Jenkins

Thanks to @MaryStGeorge for her thoughtful contribution to gtchat via her blog post “The Gifted Label”

Not All Highly Intelligent People Are Arrogant Pricks

Giftedness and liking…history from Innreach’s Blog:

Wise words on Creating Online Community for Gifted Advocacy:

“Eat it, Mills” – or how talent development adds to the underachievement problem

Excellent blog post on the gifted label: What’s in a Name?

@GingerLewman: Wanted to share my livebinder – iPad Apps for Gifted & High-Ability Learners

Red herring du jour: defining giftedness:  Broadly sympathetic with that position

Gifted Resources May Newsletter can be read online at

Gifted Exchange on incentives for early high school completion/college start:

Worried about identification for early-years gifted programmes? You will be after reading this!

US NAGC Conceptual Foundations Newsletter featuring article by Wenda Sheard, expat and UK NAGC trustee:

“It is not about intelligence. It’s not about talent, but the motivation to learn.”

Research questions Bell Curve: a few top performers typically carry the rest:  and

Post questioning long-held assumptions about the link between early US gifted education and the space race:

Coincidentally, a post on historical development of US gifted education that cites the influence of Sputnik:


The rapid expansion of AP courses isn’t entirely a good thing:

Delisle opposes Olszewski-Kubilius positioning of US NAGC  They must hold giftedness AND talent development in balance

Still a Square Peg and a Round Hole:

Moving Beyond Achievement: Nurturing Skills Necessary for Success in a Global Environment:

New blog post on acceleration for gifted

Just what is gifted and talented:  – Curate’s egg

London Zoo Fish 2 Courtesy of Gifted Phoenix

Related Education Issues

Fair Access to HE

GiftedPhoenix: HEFCE boss Langlands continues to highlight threat of AAB policy to social mobility despite BIS pressure:

DfE has published details of the Dux events at RG universities:  – schools have only until 27 April to register

OK I’ve been on my Dux Tour: Wish I could say all 20 RG universities had really pulled out all the stops…

Are your students thinking? How can I choose my “Dux” from Year 9?  – Thanks for the mention!

Revealing post by @xtophercook on relative chances of rich/poor admission to Oxbridge

New research on elite college admissions in the US:

Steven Schwarz says fair access is all about schools: Disagree. It’s a cross-sectoral issue

The Economist on Teach First HEAPS provision supporting HE progression for disadvantaged gifted learners:

Announcement on AAB cap in 2013-14 due by 30 April:

Apropos AAB cap, Willetts must catch up with Gove’s plans to make A level grades more demanding

Willets defines fair access as meritocracy, admitting ‘those who can perform best at any given university’

National Scholarship Programme guidance for 2013-14 to be released by HEFCE tomorrow (19 April):

BIS writing to HEFCE and OFFA seeking ‘a shared strategy for widening access’ to secure VFM: – some co-ordination then!

Overall, the Willetts treatment of the fair access issue manages to beg more questions than it answers:

RussellGroup: Our view on David Willetts’ HEFCE speech: liberated (AAB) places must go further next year

Mail continues to deride the Willetts line on fair access: probing at the fault line between DfE and BIS

Oxford’s UNIQ scheme:

HEFCE’s Provisional Allocations and Guidance for the 2013-14 National Scholarship Programme:

OFFA’s guidance on producing Access Agreements for 2013-14:

Anti-Willetts piece opposes his support of potential-driven fair access:  Worse, it was institution-specific potential!

Article on Cambridge University SU support for fair access:

When I found this website in development I thought PL might be developing a separate existence to the ST:

Become part of the Russell Group by recruiting lots more AAB students from independent schools:

Treasury fears have delayed announcement extending AAB market to ABB from 2013:

SecEd/ASCL guide for schools on meeting new ‘impartial and independent’ careers advice and guidance’ duty:

Sutton Trust release on Oxbridge advice: – Why are schools less likely to advise Oxbridge than 5 years ago? Mmm

Sutton Trust research begs question (again) whether staff should ‘advise’ or ‘discuss’ Oxbridge application

A whole gamut of non-educational reasons why children from poor backgrounds may never make it to Oxbridge:

Rather unedifying that schools blame HE and HE blames schools over Oxbridge applications issue. WORK TOGETHER!

Today is deadline for Dux awards registration: If you have reservations, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth

Stanford psychologist explains why meritocracy and diversity can be reconciled in HE admissions:

BIS on expanding uncapped recruitment to ABB HEFCE on same  NB ref to cautious estimates

What part should universities play in fostering academic talent?   A big one, jointly with schools and colleges

There may be trouble ahead – @guildheceo on what the latest student number control policies might mean:

Looks as though Stirling as well as Keele has joined US Common Applications system: and

Target Oxbridge to mentor African/Afro-Caribbean students in Years 11 and 12. Will poor benefit?:

Teach First HEAPS programme continues – though somewhat under the radar:

Are state schools biased against Oxbridge?

Social Mobility

British Sociological Association conference papers on social mobility: (pp37-38) All resoundingly negative

A new social mobility strategy from Clegg? – Don’t we already have one of those?

Interview with Alan Milburn on social mobility ahead of his Spring Report:

Milburn’s interview on social mobility in HE in the GMT e-newsletter: – with commentary by @tessa_stone

Preview of cross-party social mobility committee’s interim report out Tuesday: Doubt there’s anything new

So this interim report from the All-Party Parly Group on Social Mobility: – My verdict? Distinctly iffy

All-Party Social Mobility Group chaired by Hinds but members include the sainted Estelle, Field and Hodge

All-party Social Mobility Group has called expert witnesses including Barber, Lampl, Milburn, Woolf: (p3)

All Party Soc Mob Group convinced of importance of pre-HE attainment; dares not utter ‘contexualised’:

All Party Social Mobility Group sees nurturing outstanding talent as distinct area of focus (hooray!) (p9)

All Party SocMob Group priorities for nurturing talent : a. ‘needs blind/assisted places/selective’ (p32)

…and b.  ‘internships/HE exposure, Top Programmes (D of E etc)’ (p32) Latter is especially impenetrable

Before its final report, the All Party Social Mobility group should call on the #bridgegroup and #gtvoice for evidence:

Blears on the cross-party social mobility report:

More on the all-party social mobility report:

And a third treatment of the all-party social mobility report:

CYPN coverage of the interim report from the All Party Social Mobility Group on which I opined yesterday:

The Higher picks up on Lampl’s negativity re Government’s social mobility strategy:  Clegg won’t be happy

Narrowing Achievement Gaps

US post contemplating the case for ‘middle class studies’: – A topic in which England can lead the world!

DfE wants EoIs in the evaluation of the Summer Schools Programme for Disadvantaged Pupils: – deadline 17 April

Impact of the reduced subsidy for AP and IB exams on US disadvantaged gifted students:

Why does family wealth affect learning? Willingham:

DFE has published the technical spec for 2013 Schools Census: – the ‘ever-FSM’ Pupil Premium means increased complexity

Narrowing the gap targetry is needed in my view, but weren’t Coalition supposed to be anti-target? Dangerous precedent:

But effective Narrowing the Gap targetry must be differentiated by attainment, not just national benchmarks:

Children’s Society costing of FSM eligibility for all on Universal Credit omits cost of extra Pupil Premium funding:

Slightly worrying growth in attainment gap at Level 3 between FSM / non-FSM students

DfE SFR reports increase of 0.8% in FSM gap for 2+ A levels from 2010 to 2011: – Increasing A level demand will compound

Future First gets funding:

DfE to pilot Virtual Heads (a la looked after children) for Gypsy, Roma, Traveller children:

Academies Enterprise Trust will be spending Pupil Premium funding on online tutors – these in fact

Direct link to the SSAC Report on Universal Credit in which son-of-FSM options are explored: – Which is the least worst?

The Mayor London’s Mentoring Scheme for black boys seems to be in big trouble:

DfE Research: PISA 2009 How does England’s Social Attainment Gap compare with other countries and

JRF Review: ‘Widespread emphasis on raising aspirations…does not seem to be a good foundation for policy or practice’

JRF Aspirations report ultimately frustrates: more promising ‘area-based multi-strand interventions’ excluded:

JRF Aspirations-raising report raises important questions about the efficacy of interventions like Dux:

LKMCo blog post on the JRF Aspirations-raising report:

Performance-Based Scholarships: Emerging Findings from a National Demonstration (US):

Telegraph on the PISA social attainment gap:  – Data’s familiar but Telegraph accentuating the negative less so perhaps

The 80% of heads saying the Pupil Premium is being used to plug cuts will have to fabricate their published statements:

Twigg calls for clearer Pupil Premium accountability measures linking funding with achievement of specific pupils:

Evaluating the Pupil Premium – SecEd p9:

Australia is investing in pre-school tutors to tackle disadvantage:


Pupil selection and curriculum content: – Ultimately the issue was and remains progression to HE and beyond

On the beta of “Academies … can select pupils based on academic ability”

Bucks admits Truth that Must not be Spoken re 11+ bias: – Editor magics this into pro-academy spin

Love this grumpy report on a meeting of the Friends of Grammar Schools: – I see Mr Gove dropped in again…

Grammar schools help poor children to succeed? Hmmmm

Is it entirely a bad thing that Kent’s state GS are seen as a better option than any independent alternative?

That said, I still maintain that all GS should give priority to FSM-eligible candidates:

This answer on the criteria governing split site/satellite schools is as clear as mud: (Col WA427)

At last! The Great Expectations publication from David Jesson for the Schools Network via @dylanwiliam

‘Further work is in progress to extend these frameworks to more able pupils in all schools’ (Jesson):

Grammar schools vary considerably in quality. Some are outstanding, and some really rather mediocre:

Admissions and School Places

BHA Press Notice about its legal action against Richmond over that new RC secondary school:

Here’s the projections data I’ve found: (p16) Looks like births peak in 2014, then decline to 2030.

I’m posting this Fraser Nelson piece on school places because I’m genuinely unsure what to make of it:

Have you seen the full version of the GLA Projections Methodology they mention in the summary here (p1)?

I’m interested what happens when the numbers drop off again. I’ve been playing with this tool:


Welcome to the Academies ‘speed commission’:   though the commissioners are a bit usual suspectish and speed = 9 months!

This article on Left Foot Forward says the Commission will be independent: That should be in the remit

For me the biggest risk inherent in mass ‘academisation’ lies in wholesale disapplication of the National Curriculum:

Machin: ‘We do not yet have robust, academically rigorous evidence on [the impact of] coalition academies’:

Looks as though the enforced primary school battleground is shifting to Lambeth:

Not quite sure why the Government wouldn’t welcome the C of E as an academy sponsor with open arms? Indeed cherish it!

Ben Bradshaw questions due diligence processes for academy conversion citing West Exe Technology College: (Col 8)

More about due diligence over West Exe Technology College’s conversion to academy status in written PQ form: (Col 92W)

30 PFI schools have converted to academies – the list is here:  (Col 80W)

A fair amount of Downhills correspondence has been released in response to this FoI request:

A FoI has gone in requesting the Funding Agency report on financial management of the Lincoln Priory Federation:

Luton may or may not have three enforced primary academies: – The LA is denying it

In which @toadmeister ignores Machin’s plea – – and applies old research evidence to new contexts:

Blog on Academies Commission: – Wondering if proof’s in the pudding or the pie:

I must do my bit to advertise the reliance of Durand Academy on PR worth £200K: – Never believe the hype

More on the Seldon/O’Shaugnessy academies partnership  Positive Psychology’s worth £5m investment but SEAL is ‘ghastly’?

Dunford on middle tier For me the ideal model combines inclusive network and market elements; excludes new field force

EFA Framework Document para 1.4: ‘The EFA is not responsible for managing the performance of schools’:

A ‘failure to distinguish between the autonomy of school leaders as expert educationalists and organisational autonomy’

A Dover Academy HT has been appointed by DfE as a ‘short term intervention troubleshooter….superhead’:

Guardian coverage of News International’s aspirations to establish an academy: – they weren’t welcomed with open arms

Leveson has published the emails concerning News International’s interest in academies and free schools: (KRM21 + 22)

Will we see the emergence of more academy chains specialising in AP institutions, or will they join existing chains?

Cawley’s appointment as Secford Exec HT after chairing consultation raises questions for Seckford:

DfE has issued details and a statement of the financial investigation into the Priory Federation:

SOLACE Report: the Championing Role of English Councils in Education:

Director of Policy Exchange says phase two of the Govian revolution is all about chains

Michael Rosen twists the knife over accountability and transparency in relation to failing/problem academies:

DfE’s FAQs on academy chains with helpful powerpoint slides:

Have I read correctly? Seems to be no body overseeing complaints about academies?

128 academies will have to pay back an average £118K LACSEG by July: (TES)

Christine Gilbert thinks school collaboration can fulfil the missing middle tier role: – devil’s in the detail

NAHT has agreed a match-funded pilot with Government to support schools at risk of forced academisation: (at end)

More from NAHT about their planned role in school improvement: – conference has to agree first

More Downhills papers released by Haringey in response to FoI:  – interesting

Free Schools

The NUT’s free schools dossier: – presumably release of impact assessments is to inform potential judicial reviews?

Direct link to NUT’s analysis of free school costs: – which they will no doubt revisit quarterly

DfE Q and A: ‘The S/S would not automatically turn down a [free school] proposal simply to protect other local schools’

It’s the ubiquitous Rob Cawley again: – Will he soar to great things or, Icarus-like, plunge down in flames?

Do you have to be pregnant to get into Field’s free school? – Isn’t that selective?

Lisa Nandy: my response to Andrew Adonis on free schools in NewStatesman

Gibb say that data on FSM eligibility in free schools now in Commons Library (Col 805W) but not yet in deposited papers

Leveson has probably asked DfE for full access to papers on the proposed Murdoch Free School in Newham:

Rupert Murdoch reveals meetings with Michael Gove over free schools

NUT take umbrage at the idea of a News International-sponsored free schools – they want an enquiry:

More on the London Academy of Excellence: – Insufficient excellence; insufficient focus on disadvantage. Fail

Kerry McCarthy on FSM in free schools data now in Commons Library: It’s STILL not online however:

Seckford Foundation plan one manager for every 12 children. One Senior Leader per 30 children.

The State of the NYC Charter School Sector 2012:

In case you haven’t seen – Shanker blog on the test-based evidence on New Orleans Charter Schools:

More on New Orleans charter schools:

NEPC study of US charter school spending compared with public schools:

he influence and impact of founders on US charter schools’ performance: – Food for thought for free schools?

We should keep an eye on this combination of vouchers and charter schools in Louisiana: – it will surface here soon

Here’s the charter schools paper from the NZ Education Policy Response Group mentioned in the article:

The intro gives context. ACT (tiny minority party) has agreement with National to introduce charter schools:

For me Ch4 is more important than Ch6. The former’s criticisms could be extended to the latter:

The NZ Charter Schools working group has its own website here:

London Zoo Fish 3 Courtesy of Gifted Phoenix

Independent Schools

Not sure what to make of this interview with Head of St Paul’s for Girls:  Is it a trifle smug and complacent?

Worthwhile (and much-needed?) HMC initiative to share schools’ pedagogical expertise with HE:

Martin Stephen says independent schools must evolve or face extinction:

Highlights of Independent Schools Council 2012 Census  As of now only 2011 census is on ISC’s site

Private sector being squeezed: poor schools close; better ones become enclaves of overseas students, or academies!:

Curriculum and Pedagogy

GiftedPhoenix: Willingham-style FAQs on learning styles:

OFSTED notes ‘increasing autonomy’ over curricular decisions ‘may present some contradictions’: (para 70)

RSA worries whether teachers are equipped to exploit their new-found curricular freedoms:

A necessary focus on support for gifted learners is still missing from debate on computer science in schools:

Isn’t Williams responsible for RE not being in the EBacc, since he failed to organise a Bishops’ ambush in the Lords?

A broadly pro ability grouping presentation on Slideshare:

Unusually sharp words from DFE on the decline in MFL GCSE numbers: ‘a national scandal’: National strategy forthcoming?

Is there a particular emphasis on local issues? – If you’re right, are we looking at early May announcement?

Why no answers on detail of the NC review process?

Paganism makes it on to the Cornish Agreed Syllabus for RE: – and why not indeed?

Flexible ability grouping:

NUT Guidance on the EYFS Statutory Framework:

Music education jobs under threat as announcement awaited on successful music hub bids, due early May:

Reaction to ICT disapplication exemplifies the downside of excessive curricular autonomy We need a ‘flexible framework’

Looks like the President of the ALL wants ICT-type curricular freedoms for MFL – Interestingly the ICT lobby is less sure

DfE is commissioning research on the effects of the EBacc: – EoIs to be submitted by Friday 27 April

A reminder of the weaknesses inherent in Chapter 8 of the Expert Panel report on mastery and NC levels:

The problem of preparing teachers to implement the Common Core State Standards: – Prophetic of upcoming issues here?

Sentamu returns to the charge over RE in the EBacc:  – High time the developed an alternative REBacc?

Direct link to the Tombs report for Politiea on the history curriculum: – Do not read if of a nervous disposition!

Reaction to lazy newspaper coverage of the Politeia Report on History:

DfE next steps for EYFS

If there’s such a thing as ‘maths anxiety’ is there an equivalent anxiety for each other subject? Unconvinced

John Holman says the Government won’t make post-16 maths compulsory – so what are the policy levers?

Interesting @theschoolsnet article showing they had an inside track on NC consultation: – Should publish full evidence

NC Review must reconcile contradiction between dumping primary NC levels + rectifying ‘lack of pace and ambition at KS2

Music education hubs due for announcement today. I’m assuming the details will appear here:

Music Hub announcement reaction in West Sussex: and Brighton:

Some of the new music hubs are more hubby than others:

Willingham on why learning to read English is hard (with map to prove the point):

Assessment and Qualifications

A conservative defence of A level reform built upon Robert Coe’s research:

EoIs for the administration of PISA 2015: – deadline 27 April

OFQUAL has published undertakings by the different exam boards to improve exam paper quality and reduce errors:

Harris Federation postpones IB for a year because of high cost and low take-up: – worrying sign

@mikebakeredhack asks the awkward practical questions about HE-led A level reform:

DfE’s Standards and Testing Agency seeks a ‘maladministration advisor’ ‘registrations by sole traders may be rejected’!

Julius Weinberg, VC of Kingston University, appointed to OFQUAL Board, along with Barnaby Lenon:

A whole mass of data showing the prevalence of qualifications equivalent to GCSEs in academies: (Col 535ff)

Background on the new KS2 Grammar Punctuation and Spelling Test for introduction in 2013:

FAQs on the 2013 Grammar Punctuation and Spelling Test: – includes provision for Level 6 (last Answer)

KS2 grammar, spelling and punctuation test under threat of NAHT boycott:

OFQUAL to impose partial ban on exam board seminars for teachers: – will that eradicate the content tips? Not sure

OFQUAL has published its report on Exam Board seminars but, mysteriously, it’s password-protected Why?

Direct link to Nuffield Foundation study of maths content in A levels:  – SCORE report not up yet:

@emoorse01: My take on Mr Gove at the Education Select Committee: Didn’t he imply ditching levels wholesale?

Glenys Stacey refers explicitly to A level grade inflation The Emperor’s now officially naked – there’s no turning back

The Stacey A level interview – Raises the question whether changing too much at once brings diminishing returns

KS2 English writing – moderation: Level 6 exemplification guidance:

@RealGeoffBarton: thoughts on the grammatical/stylistic characteristics of A* English students

Gove to Select Committtee Q225 ‘one area where I am very strongly persuaded…moving away from levels at primary school’

Ed Week report on US pilot of a PISA-based test for schools (using PISA 2009 instruments): – Is there an English pilot?

Whereas NUT would boycott phonics test if results go in league tables, NAHT would boycott if pass rate set too high:

NAHT also voted to disrupt new KS2 SPAG test: and (along with ASCL) oppose loss of of AS Levels:

Black & Wiliam: Formative feedback key to better learning (50 blogs, 50 days on learning theorists)


There’s no one correct way to rate schools:

Campaign for Science and Engineering suggests STEM kitemark for schools With gifted education element I hope

How might OFSTED react to a flipped classroom? – Perhaps we should ask them…

New blog on some league table findings, including progress measures, intakes, GCSE entries

The author of the US study exploring the possible import of OFSTED -style inspection responds to his critics:

Interesting parallels between this Harvard work in the US and the development of Destination Indicators here:

Jay Greene on PISA-type comparisons and the dangers associated with selection on an unvarying dependent variable:

DfE confirms publication of Destination Measures in July: so correcting what Gove said to Select Committee

DfE’s Destination Indicators brief fails to clarify if HE indicators will show RG/Oxbridge separately:

I’ve little time for ‘what right have they to inspect us’ sentiment re OFSTED, but hands off left-handed ticks!

Pearson on unlocking the power of education data: – Big questions as critical variables like FSM and NC levels disappear

309 schools inspected under new Framework 6-20 Jan 2012: 45% primary + 58% secondary inadequate/satisfactory (Col 1239W)

It’s not just GS that should be judged on A*/A GCSE grades as per Jesson Gibb told Sel Ctee DfE is considering

Pro-OFSTED leader in the Independent: – Not sure the system is right if it arouses this level of antipathy…

So, allowing for risk assessment, it’s clear new OFSTED inspection regime is tougher  – and set to become tougher still

HMCI Wilshaw continues his rehabilitation process with the profession by adopting a more emollient tone:

TES on the mysteriously invisible Jesson Schools Network Grammar Schools study:

Wow – TES editorial gets close to agreeing with what I just said about OFSTED: – wonders will never cease

NAHT on OFSTED survey results and plan for School View: – NB 90% unhappy with tone /content of OFSTED announcements

Progress on US national assessment instruments linked with the Common Core:

Strong government rides roughshod over opposition; becomes weaker, offers concessions: – opposition exacts revenge

China’s blocking publication of national PISA scores; Schleicher gives an over-simplified explanation of Asian success:

Teachers and Teacher Education

The new-style NPQH will have all the in-vogue bells and whistles: – but what about the CONTENT?

Don Foster asks if about evidence that graduates with 1st class degrees make better teachers: (Col 11) – Answer No-ish

National Scholarship Fund for Teachers Round 2 Handbook: – same priorities (why not let schools decide?) Apply by 17/5.

Regional breakdown of funded training places for the national SENCO award, Sept 2009- March 2012: (Col WA371)

NUT Survey of SENCOs:

Today’s School Workforce SFR has a really handy table (12) giving headcount of secondary teachers by subject and KS:

Given the state of graduate unemployment, it would be seriously worrying if teacher training places weren’t filled:

Useful account of current US debate on performance related pay for teachers

Interesting re Teach First costs, which I hadn’t seen before, via @jpjsavage

Interestingly Lampl’s just said a. teacher effectiveness is a priority and b. TF isn’t scaleable

Education Select Committee calls for more research into qualities that support effective teaching: (Para 42)

Education Select Committee misses a trick in not connecting prospective teacher spotting to social mobility  (para 46ff)

Education Select Committee parrots the universal but rather uncritical endorsement of Teach First: (paras 64-66)

Education Select Committee Report very supportive of universities’ role in ITE:  (Para 67ff)

Education Select Committee critical of CPD – much taken by what they saw in Singapore but few new ideas: (para 92ff)

Charlotte Leslie calls for a Royal College of Teachers: – aka a new engine of bureaucracy to replace the GTC?

One comment only on teacher performance pay: it’s a blind alley and a bonanza only for economists of education:

Teachers and Performance Pay – Big Practical Obstacles to Overcome

Sadly it was only a matter of time before payment by results made the Atlantic crossing: – I repeat, it’s a blind alley

OFSTED analysis of responses to its consultation on inspection of initial teacher education:

New blog post: @beckyallen and Simon Burgess argue that teacher selection is the wrong way round:

Here: Impact of Teach First on recruitment not very clear.

Evaluation of US pilot incentivising effective teachers to transfer to low-achieving schools:

Creating a Comprehensive System for Evaluating and Supporting Effective Teaching – Darling-Hammond et al:


First e-bulletin from the Education Funding Agency:

Is Administration Leaner in Charter Schools? Michigan study says they spend relatively more on admin; less on teaching

Will Mitt Romney endorse vouchers as Republican education policy? When will they resurface here?

I believe the capital constraints on free school expansion will help push school vouchers back on to the agenda:

Chapter and verse for DfE turning down the Truss idea of a funding premium for maths A level: (Col 16)

Various Year 5 Milwaukee voucher evaluations:  and various NEPC critiques of same:

Yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate on School Funding: (Col 189WH)

Education Funding Agency e-bulletin 2 –

Central Government

The YouGov survey for NUT highlights concern at limited consultation over – and evaluation of – Government initiatives:

Wilby bemoans the loss of what used to be called the ‘checks and balances’ in the education system: He may have a point

The post that says there will be no SEN White Paper (and what there will be instead):

If you make it into Michael Gove’s office, you can enjoy a painting by one Bernard Cheese: (Col 329W)

Direct link to new NAO Cross Government Review on Implementing Transparency:

Guido and his acolytes have got hold of the Gove balloon story:

So DCMS could go to BiS who could then had over universities to DfE?

Back to the Future, or the nostalgic strand of Coalition education policy:

The conclusions and recommendations of the Public Admin Select Committee on Strategic Thinking in Government:

HEFCE has given its website a makeover:

Lib Dem proposal that education policy should be devolved to a partially elected Educational Council: Bureaucracy-heavy

DfE has published an updated ‘Myths and Facts for Schools’ document:

The Economist calls Govian reforms ‘brave’, ‘novel’, ‘risky’ and ‘bold’ –  – Yes Minister

This handy Dods supplement to The House magazine covers the No 10 operation in detail, even including contact numbers:

Here’s the Teaching Agency Business Plan for 2012-13:

The National College Business Plan for 2012/13:

Here is the 2012-15 Business plan for the Education Funding Agency, just published by DfE:

DfE has published the 2012-13 Business Plan of the Standards and Testing Agency:

14 DfE Free Schools and Academies Education Advisers’ named contracts are now on Contracts Finder (search on DfE):

Prophetic piece in the Telegraph just ahead of today’s elections:  – Interestingly omits Johnson from ‘the NI crowd’

Uncorrected evidence – Gove to Education Select Committee 24 April:

Other Reviews, Research and Reports

AERA’s 2012 Annual Meeting has an interesting theme: – You can search online for papers here:

Eurydice Report on Entrepreneurship Education in schools across Europe:

New McKinsey study on Mobile Education:

A range of new ADCS studies on the role of local authorities in school improvement:

Twigg, Devolution and Schools and Labour’s consultation document:

Direct link to new OECD study on socio-economic stratification between public and private schools: – covers vouchers

IEA Study: Policy, Practice and Readiness to Teach Primary and Secondary Mathematics in 17 Countries (excludes England)

EU (EENEE) study on equity issues in the economics of education:

This Schott Foundation Report of inequitable education in NYC should inform the London Mayor’s Education Inquiry:

Social Research Unit series of cost-benefit reports for children’s services, Investing in Children:

London Zoo Fish 4 Courtesy of Gifted Phoenix

Online and Social Media

Is blogging and tweeting about academic papers worth it? A UCL academic reports:

How to set up and run a MOOC: (Part 1 of 6)

A critique of the Minerva Project to create an elite online university from an unsurprising source:

Very useful list of 50 Best Sources of Free Education Online

Willetts speech today on open access research with support from Mr Wales: – More power to their elbows on this

Willetts pe-empts his speech later on open access to research:

The full Willetts speech on open access to research: – Sound, but he’s clearly not a Twitter user!

Willetts Speech on Open Access: Analysis

Why academic publishers’ days are numbered: – How close are we to open access educational research?

The World Bank and the EU lend their weight to the drive for open access academic research:

PA claims academic publishers earn their cut by ‘filtering’, ‘signalling’ and ‘amplifying’ research. No way Jose!

Google search education – help your students become better searchers:

EdX – the Harvard/MIT partnership that will provide free online courses worldwide:

The Virtues of Blogging as Scholarly Activity @mweller in The Chronicle –

The Edublogger is conducting a survey of the educational use of blogs:

A truly excellent and comprehensive guide to running a Twitter chat:


Progress on the RNCF’s Assisted Boarding Network: – placing vulnerable children in boarding schools

I keep forgetting to commend Donald Clark’s Plan B Blog for his very useful series on educational thinkers:

Done! 50 blogs in 50 days on learning theorists -Greeks to Marxists to present Psychologists

Deloitte offers to help HE provide a personalised student support service commensurate with higher fees:

Building excellence in education For me not necessarily teacher-led but essentially collaborative, networked, inclusive

I’m having trouble deciding whether this US article on university dress codes is a parody:

What’s the average admin cost of a truancy fine recouped via courts or child benefit? Bet it’s more than value of fine:

Academic repression of Emo subculture in Saudi Universities:  – Overly boyish female students thrown in for good measure

Shocked to see the great @DrPaulKelley has left Monkseaton – Parents unhappy new Exec HT wants to drop 2 GCSEs

At my school the be upstanding ritual was a superbly disruptive opportunity to scrape furniture across the floor:

Goading the Stodgy Middle:  – Applying this to education would bring on apoplexy in many of my acquaintance

Catholic Education Service in trouble for pushing anti-gay marriage petition on pupils

Brilliant Pink News editorial on the CES and anti-gay petitions including a telling ‘roles in reverse’ scenario:

Hope CES gay marriage investigations bring greater clarity on overlap between ‘religious’ and ‘political’ teaching:

Stiff Brook/FPA letter about CES anti-gay marriage petition:  ‘this naked attempt…to induce bigotry and intolerance’

The Welsh verdict on the anti-gay marriage petition circulated by the CES:  – schools not CES in the firing line

Educating Essex Deputy Head moves school…all the way to Brentwood:

BHA: no uncontested application for new school from a faith body rejected; just 6 of 39 non-faith applications approved

Direct link to NCB’s Beyond the Cuts report estimating children’s charities face cuts of £405m over 5 years:

This report on public sector delivery is well worth a read if you can see through the symbolic merry-go-rounds:

Brief report and a topping photo marking the first meeting of Camden’s Partnership for Educational Excellence:

Government has offered Sandwell £1m if it will drop its legal challenge over BSF:

The official position on BSF judicial review out-of-court settlements:  (Col WA426)

Priority Schools Building Programme announcement due this month (May): (Col 1239W)

Ever read a post and think – at last, a clear, succinct, balanced explanation? Try this on the economy by Colin Talbot:

US study on whether schools open too early: – Ironically undertaken in Wake County (North Carolina)

Saudi Arabia is planning an ‘independent higher authority to evaluate school education’: – A kind of OFSTED plus?

This makes an interesting read for Pearson watchers and education observers alike:

2011 CERP Literature Review on 1:1 Tuition online and offline:

Michael Rosen on schools for profit models: Asks questions re funding of Pearson School Model. Anyone have the answers?

Glatter reminds us of limited school effects and downside of a ‘no excuses’ culture: – prescribes various panaceas

Estelle Morris rehashes the ‘standards not structures’ mantra (which I too hold dear):

My alert system has only just picked up Twigg’s speech to the NASUWT:

Q: What ‘s the correlation between shared ‘religious culture’ of a church school and its performance? – A. Exaggerated

Q. Do students with water do better in exams because they’re hydrated?  A. It’s probably a proxy for wider preparedness

Interesting argument for the rejection of evidence-based practice  which misunderstands the nature of national standards


May 2012

On International Comparisons of the Performance of Gifted High Achievers

This post considers how PISA and other international comparisons data can help to make the case for national investment in gifted and talented (G&T) education.

It is timed to anticipate the PISA 2009 results for reading, maths and science, to be published on 7 December 2010. It incorporates a review of a new report from Hanushek, Peters and Woessman on ‘US Math Performance in Global Perspective’ which draws on data from the 2006 PISA round.

The publication of PISA data is now a major international event. If previous rounds are anything to go by, PISA 2009 will generate exceptionally heavy media interest around the world.

In those countries where performance improves, there will be much backslapping and self-congratulation. Relatively new governments will claim the responsibility, conveniently disregarding the significant contribution made by their predecessors.

But if improvement has been modest, there is every chance that one’s international competitors have improved at a faster rate. In those countries where performance declines, relative to other countries or relative to the country’s own performance in the 2006 round, relatively new governments will be shifting the blame onto their predecessors – and will nevertheless remain under considerable pressure to announce major new programmes to reverse their negative trend.

High achievement in PISA 2009

The PISA 2009 Assessment Framework sets out in exhaustive detail the nature of the exercise. It confirms the inclusion of an updated assessment of reading literacy and unchanged assessments of maths and science, all undertaken at age 15. For reading literacy there are five levels of proficiency; for maths and science there are six levels.

The level 6 descriptor for maths says:

‘At Level 6 students can conceptualise, generalise, and utilise information based on their investigations and modelling of complex problem situations. They can link different information sources and representations and flexibly translate among them. Students at this level are capable of advanced mathematical thinking and reasoning. These students can apply this insight and understandings along with a mastery of symbolic and formal mathematical operations and relationships to develop new approaches and strategies for attacking novel situations. Students at this level can formulate and precisely communicate their actions and reflections regarding their findings , interpretations , arguments, and the appropriateness of these to the original situations.’

The level 6 descriptor for science is as follows:

‘At Level 6, students can consistently identify, explain and apply scientific knowledge and knowledge about science in a variety of complex life situations. They can link different information sources and explanations and use evidence from those sources to justify decisions. They clearly and consistently demonstrate advanced scientific thinking and reasoning, and they use their scientific understanding in support of solutions to unfamiliar scientific and technological situations. Students at this level can use scientific knowledge and develop arguments in support of recommendations and decisions that centre on personal, social or global situations.’

Comparative data about the performance of the highest achievers in different countries can potentially tell us a lot about the effectiveness of their education systems in providing challenge and support to their G&T learners.

One can also analyse the composition of the high achieving cohort in each of the three fields – by gender, ethnic and socio-economic background – to draw inferences about the relationship between equity and overall achievement. There is evidence from previous rounds to suggest that high equity systems tend to secure larger percentages of high achievers, a critical point that both the US and the UK need to take on board (and on which I commented briefly in this earlier post).

High achievement in England and the USA

Readers with good memories will also recall that I drew on the comparative data about students achieving the highest PISA benchmarks, in addition to data drawn from the TIMSS and PIRLS studies, when analysing the ‘excellence gap’ in England.

My overall conclusion was that:

‘…the UK/England is above average in educating its high achievers and not atypical in terms of its excellence gap, but… lags far behind the world leaders – typically the knowledge-based economies that invest most heavily in gifted education.’

It will be fascinating to see whether or not the new PISA data will reinforce this conclusion – and whether it will support similar analyses of the performance of high achievers in the US.

One such analysis – the aforementioned study by Hanushek et al – has just been published. It met with relatively little attention in the G&T community, preoccupied as it was with the impending NAGC Annual Convention in Atlanta. but it reinforces powerfully the messages only recently conveyed by the National Science Board in its Report ‘Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators’ which I summarised in this post and which were prominent at the Convention.

The authors begin by noting the US Federal Government’s commitment to STEM education. While noting that the emphasis has been placed on supporting more disadvantaged students to achieve basic achievement levels, they cite the conclusion from their own earlier studies that:

‘countries with students who perform at higher levels in math and science show larger rates of increase in economic productivity than do otherwise similar countries with lower-performing students…In short, the U.S. cannot afford to neglect high performers in our quest to bring up the bottom. Performance at the top end is no less important, and improvements at both ends reinforce each other, helping to accelerate the growth in productivity of the nation’s economy.’

They choose to concentrate on maths, rather than science or reading, because their own earlier studies show that maths achievement is particularly significant to a country’s national economic competitiveness – and because there is relatively greater international consensus over the content of the maths curriculum and the order in which concepts are introduced.

They have devised a methodology to review the performance of high-achieving maths students in each US state and in 10 selected urban districts compared with the 50+ countries engaged in the PISA 2006 maths study. This involves linking performance of high achievers on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) assessment of Grade 8 maths in 2005 and high achievers on the PISA assessment of maths (Grade 9) a year later in 2006.

In the 2005 NAEP assessment, 6.04% of 8th Grade students achieved the advanced level (NAEP assesses performance at three levels – basic, proficient and advanced). Hanushek et al use PISA 2006 data to estimate the percentage of students from other countries who would have achieved the advanced level had they taken NAEP 2005, by calculating the PISA score that secures the equivalent performance level.

I am not equipped to judge whether this methodology stands up to rigorous scrutiny. This note from the US National Center for Education Statistics would suggest that there are some significant comparability issues between PISA and NAEP which Hanushek et al do not address and which might be sufficient to call their findings into question. I leave others who are better qualified to judge.

The results

Let us for the time being give them the benefit of the doubt, for their findings ought to be seriously worrying for US educators and the US Government:

  • Overall, 30 of the 56 countries undertaking PISA 2006 secured a higher percentage of advanced students than the US. Taiwan topped the table, with 28% of students achieving this level. Hong Kong, South Korea and Finland followed. Fifteen countries achieved more than twice the US figure; the other 15 include the UK (23rd);
  • 18 states exceed the US average. Massachusetts and Minnesota are some way ahead of the rest – their performance would lift them into the top twenty countries and so they would out-perform the UK. The lowest-ranked states – Mississippi, New Mexico, West Virginia and Louisiana – are out-performed by countries such as Serbia and Uruguay. Results for many states are equivalent to those of developing countries;
  • The research also isolates the achievement of white US students and those whose parents have a college degree, so as to test the hypothesis that the poor US showing is attributable to underachievement amongst minority ethnic students and households with lower levels of parental support. But the percentage of high achieving students from all backgrounds exceeds the US figure for white students in 24 countries (including the UK) and 16 countries exceed the US figure for those with a degree-holding parent (although the UK is not one of them). So even when selecting a favoured sub-group from the overall population of high achievers, the comparison is unfavourable to the US;
  • Thirteen states exceed the US average in respect of white students, with Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Jersey leading the field. In the case of students with a degree-holding parent, fifteen states exceed the US average, and Massachusetts and Minnesota lead the way. Mississippi brings up the rear in both cases: the percentage of advanced achievers from college educated families in that state is equivalent to the percentage of high achievers from all backgrounds in Uruguay and Bulgaria;
  • Performance in selective urban districts ranges from Austin and Charlotte – which are broadly comparable with the UK – to Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington DC. The latter are also outperformed by Bulgaria and Uruguay, but just outscore Chile, Thailand, Romania, Brazil and Mexico.

An annex to the report contains a briefer analysis for science and reading performance, though the authors attach significant health warnings and will only say that the US is outperformed by many countries on these assessments too, although the difference is not so pronounced as in maths.

In relation to science, some of their concerns about comparability and statistical error rather call into question any self-congratulation in the UK about achieving the 3rd best score on this measure, outscoring the US significantly but being outscored in turn by Massachusetts as the leading US state, as well as Finland and New Zealand . The lowest performing state on this measure is Hawaii, which scores alongside Greece and Portugal.

In relation to reading, they can only approximate the statistical comparison summarised above ‘because PISA was maladministered within the US in 2006, no PISA results are reported for that year’. However, on this measure, the US and UK score very similarly, both outscored by 14 countries. Massachusetts comfortably exceeds them both, scoring on a par with Finland, which sits just behind Korea and New Zealand. New Mexico and Oklahoma are the poorest-performing states, sandwiched between Chile and Latvia respectively.

Why are there so few high achievers in the US?

Hanushek et al are rather coy about causation, but they provide data to show that over-concentration on basic performance levels as a consequence of the No Child Left Behind legislation is not to blame: the percentage performing at advanced level has increased noticeably over the period in question.

Indeed, whereas the percentage stood at 6.04% in 2005, it had risen to 7.9% in 2009. The authors make no reference to the likely impact on their international comparisons – and it will be interesting to see from the PISA 2009 data whether other countries have improved at a similar rate.

It will also be important to look at the socio-economic background of the high-achieving cohort – it is surprising that the authors have not done so directly in this analysis, rather than relaying on the broader proxy measure of having a parent with a college degree.

But, in terms of causality, they opine that:

‘the incapacity of American schools to bring students up to the highest level of accomplishment in mathematics is much more deep-seated than anything induced by recent federal legislation’

They suggest a multiplicity of factors may be at work, such as low aspirations and expectations, a sizeable minority ethnic population and significant immigration into the US but:

‘some of our findings point specifically to problematic elements within the nation’s schools. That even relatively advantaged groups in American society—white students and those with a parent who has a college education—do not generate a high percentage of students who achieve at the advanced level in math suggests, we submit, that schools are failing to teach students effectively… We see no sign that NCLB has been harmful to the highest-performing students. But we do fear that this policy environment leaves the impression that there is no similar need to enhance the education of those students the STEM coalition has called ‘the best and brightest’.

In conclusion…

The situation in the US does appear dire – or at least it was so in 2005/2006. But the UK cannot afford to be any less concerned. Although some 9.0% of its students achieved the advanced level in science, that places it way behind the world’s top performers and headed by the likes of Estonia and Iceland, as well as some of our main European competitors such as France, Germany and the Netherlands.

While some of the highest rated countries, like Finland, have universally high educational standards and (until recently at least) an approach to pedagogy which rules out targeted support for gifted learners, several others – Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea, the Netherlands – are countries that continue to invest significantly in the education of their gifted high achievers.

We urgently need a research study that examines this correlation more closely – to produce hard evidence of the impact on international comparisons of high achievers’ performance of sustained educational support for gifted learners.

There is certainly a prima facie case for arguing that it is very much in our interests to ensure that they convert their potential into high performance and so generate economic benefits for our countries in an increasingly competitive international environment.

Nations that realise this belatedly will be at a significant economic disadvantage and may never be able to catch up the ground they have lost.


November 2011

On the Relationship Between STEM Education and Gifted Education – Part 1


Part I – STEM & G&T Education in the USA


Recent Federal Activity

Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) education has been a prominent issue in the United States for several years. The STEM Education Coalition’s website provides an impressive list of relevant reports produced between 1996 and 2008.

More recently, the White House has sought to co-ordinate activity to support STEM education through the Educate to Innovate campaign launched in 2009. Educate to Innovate has three broad objectives:

  • to increase STEM literacy so that all students can learn deeply and think critically in STEM subjects;
  • to improve the performance of American students in relevant international comparisons “from the middle of the pack to top in the next decade”; and
  • to expand STEM education and career opportunities for under-represented groups, including women and girls.

In September 2010, the President announced an expansion of Educate to Innovate through Change the Equation, the name given to a new not-for-profit organisation established by the business community to help in ‘elevating STEM education as a national priority essential to meeting the economic challenges of this century’.

Change the Equation also has three stated goals:

  • to improve STEM teaching at all grade levels;
  • to inspire student appreciation and excitement for STEM, especially among women and under-represented minorities; and,
  • To secure a sustained commitment to improving STEM education.

To coincide with this announcement, the President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST) – a group of 20 of the USA’s leading scientists and engineers established by Obama in April 2009 – published a Report to the President setting out wide-ranging policy proposals for improving STEM education.

The press release marking publication singles out some of the most significant recommendations aimed at federal government, including that they should:

  • recruit and train 100,000 great STEM teachers over the next decade who are able to prepare and inspire students;
  • recognize and reward the top 5 percent of the Nation’s STEM teachers, by creating a STEM master teachers corps;
  • create 1,000 new STEM-focused schools over the next decade;
  • use technology to drive innovation, in part by creating an advanced research projects agency for education;
  • create opportunities for inspiration through individual and group experiences outside the classroom; and
  • support the movement for shared common standards in maths and science.


The National Science Board

Not to be outdone, Some four months previously, another body, the National Science Board – the Governing Board of the National Science Foundation and Policy Advisors to the President and Congress – had published its own report which is the main focus of this post.

The NSB has 25 members from university and industry appointed by the President. The Board is responsible, along with the Director, for administering the activities of the National Science Foundation, established in 1950 to, inter alia, ‘recommend and encourage the pursuit of national policies for the promotion of research and education in science and engineering’.

The NSB had formerly published, in October 2007, a ‘National Action Plan for Addressing the Critical Needs of the US Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education System’ . This sets out wide-ranging recommendations including the formation of a National Council for STEM education and development by the NSF of a ‘national roadmap’ for STEM education.

It subsequently offered a set of recommendations on STEM education to the incoming Obama administration in January 2009 which includes the proposal that:

‘The Federal Government should ensure that we are developing the talents of all children who have the potential to become STEM innovators or excellent STEM professionals.’

This is further developed in the NSB publication ‘Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators: Identifying and Developing Our Nation’s Human Capital’ which effectively joins together the G&T education and STEM agendas in the USA, pointing to the importance of ‘STEM innovators’, defined by the Report as:

‘those individuals who have developed the expertise to become leading STEM professionals and perhaps the creators of significant breakthroughs or advances in scientific and technological understanding.’

The focus of the Report can probably be traced to the fact that one of the current members of the National Science Board is Camilla P Benbow from Vanderbilt University, a psychologist and gifted education specialist perhaps best-known for her involvement with the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY).

The Report draws on the work of an ad hoc Task Group led by Benbow which was formed in August 2008 and an expert panel discussion held in August 2009. The Task Group was asked to identify strategies to increase the number of future STEM innovators and set out recommendations for how the NSF and federal partners might support their development.

The Arguments Advanced in the NSB Report

The Report begins by tracing interest in the development of American scientific talent back to the Second World War and the Sputnik wake-up call delivered by the Russians in the 1950s. It argues that this national sense of urgency was dissipated by the 1970s but needs urgently to be revived, given the strength of international competition.

It quotes PISA 2006 data showing that US 15 year-olds above the 90th percentile were rated only 30th in the world on maths literacy and 13th on science literacy. Furthermore, in the 2007 TIMSS study, the percentage of US 8th graders achieving the advanced benchmark in maths (6%) was dwarfed by Taiwan (45%), South Korea (40%) and Singapore (also 40%).

It also draws on data showing that the best qualified US students have for decades been disinclined to pursue undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in STEM subjects. It references the well-known evidence base for the argument that US G&T education is neglected, including the NAGC’s ‘State of the States‘ review and the 2007 Achievement Trap report, which drew attention to the underachievement of gifted learners from minority ethnic and socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Report cites survey and research evidence to support the contention that ‘intellectual talent often generates attitudes ranging from ambivalence to outright hostility’, going on to highlight the significant scope that exists to improve the identification and development of STEM talent:

‘More often than not, across the educational ecosystem, we see a patchwork of individual, often ad hoc provisions implemented and funded at the local level: these approaches have been instrumental for many of today’s STEM innovators and should continue. In addition, a coherent, long-term, state- or Nation-wide plan to develop the next generation of leaders in STEM is also needed. Our Nation has too often left to chance the fate of those with exceptional talent rather than ensuring widespread, systematic and appropriate opportunities to flourish.’


The NSB’s Recommendations

The Report recommends a set of policy actions and a research agenda for three ‘keystone recommendations’. While I accept that much remains unknown in the territory, I am not sure it will serve the US to invest too high a proportion of its scarce resources in generating further research studies. I have the ex-policy maker’s preference for concrete action to change the situation described in the report, so I will concentrate solely on the policy recommendations.

First, the NSB argues that the country should provide opportunities for excellence in the form of ‘co-ordinated, proactive, sustained formal and informal interventions to develop the abilities of its most talented students’ by:

  • encouraging the adoption of supportive policies at state and district level on differentiated instruction, acceleration and enrichment and transition between schools;
  • improving access to and the quality of dual enrolment, college-level coursework and enrichment programmes;
  • supporting high-quality STEM-focused professional development for teachers, including non-subject specialists working with younger learners;
  • giving federal support to programmes with a proven record of success in stimulating potential STEM innovators;
  • through the NSF, encouraging stronger partnership between universities, museums, industry, content developers and providers, research laboratories and schools to ‘deploy the Nation’s science assets in ways that engage tomorrow’s STEM innovators’;
  • creating NSF-driven programmes that provide portable merit-based scholarships for talented students to take part in challenging enrichment activities.
  • increasing online access and online learning activities in rural and low-income areas; and
  • creating a national database of appropriate formal and informal learning opportunities and promote these nationally to parents, educators and providers.

Second, the US should cast a wide net to identify and develop all abilities amongst all student demographics by:

  • improving the availability and ‘vertical coherence’ of existing talent identification;
  • expand existing tests and identification strategies to ensure that spatial talent is not neglected;
  • increasing access to above-level testing and other identification activity, especially in disadvantaged urban and rural areas;
  • encouraging initial training and professional development of teachers in talent identification and development; and
  • encouraging early childhood educators and paediatricians to improve awareness of early giftedness and how to respond to it.

Third, the country should foster a supportive ecosystem that celebrates excellence and innovation through a positive and inclusive culture by:

  • establishing a national campaign to increase understanding and appreciation of academic excellence so transforming unhelpful stereotypes;
  • encouraging through professional development the creation of positive school environments that foster excellence;
  • increasing schools’ capacity to engage their learners in peer-to-peer collaboration and connections between students and the scientific research community;
  • holding schools – and potentially districts and states – accountable for the performance of their highest achieving students at each grade;
  • arranging for the NSF in partnership with the Institute of Education Sciences to hold a high-level conference that brings together scientists and educators to discuss teacher education and pedagogical best practice in fostering innovative thinking in children and young adults.


What Impact will the Report Have?

The Report concludes:

‘The Board firmly believes that the recommendations set forth in this report will help to ensure a legacy of continued prosperity for the United States and engender a renewed sense of excellence in our education system, benefiting generations to come.’

Well, maybe, but this is clearly a crowded area in US policy-making with a whole host of federal interests involved. Arne Duncan’s statement on the publication of the President’s Council Report acknowledges the contribution and involvement of the NSF amongst others.

But it is not yet clear whether the NSB will be successful in persuading the federal Government to invest in G&T education, albeit with a STEM focus.

I am not well-versed in how these things are handled on the other side of the Atlantic but, had I been the federal official charged with developing national STEM education policy, I could have wished for a somewhat clearer report with:

  • some prioritisation between the different recommendations and a clearer delineation of responsibility for their implementation;
  • greater clarity about how these recommendations relate to other parts of the Presidential agenda for STEM as set out in the publications referenced above; and, above all,
  • some realistic costings showing how the recommendations can be achieved within a finite budget .

For I fear that, while much of the Report makes eminent good sense, it is insufficiently specific about how its recommendations can be delivered.

Time will tell whether the Report will influence directly the content of US national policy on STEM education. If it can do so, it is perhaps the best hope for the reform of US G&T education, especially if the vital connection between STEM support and narrowing the ‘excellence gap’ can be sustained.



November 2010

Celebrating the PENTA UC Programme in Chile

The Centre for the Study of Talent Development (Centro de Estudios y Desarrollo de Talentos) is based at the Santiago campus of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile).

It is also known as PENTA UC, after its principal service: an intensive enrichment programme which began in 2001 and currently supports about 950 11-18 year-olds, some 70% of them drawn from ordinary state schools in and around Santiago. The vast majority (93% at the last count) graduate from the programme, many to take up undergraduate places at the University.

PENTA UC is designed to complement students’ normal schooling. Participants enrol on five courses and three workshops annually, spread across Friday afternoon/Saturday sessions and a two-week summer school. This is equivalent to some 300 hours a year.

I first encountered PENTA UC in World Conference seminars given by its staff. But I did not appreciate the level it had reached until I came across its website while researching an article on G&T education in the Americas.


Potential participants go through a structured identification and selection process with two slightly different routes depending on whether they are nominated by their school or by their parents.

The Centre invites all teachers responsible for co-ordinating the school-based nominations process to a training day designed to help them identify the students most likely to benefit from PENTA UC. The co-ordinators cascade their training to other teachers, so ensuring that nomination is undertaken by each school as a whole.

Alternatively, parents can nominate their children direct to the University. Both routes converge when nominated students attend the a selection day. They take a range of tests to assess their general cognitive skills and motivation. Final selection takes into account the students’ family income. Most students are admitted to the first year of the programme, but older students can be admitted to subsequent years if there are vacancies.


PENTA UC seeks to strengthen students’ learning skills, support their personal and social development and improve their self-confidence and self-esteem. It is designed specifically to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to overcome their difficulties and so fulfil their academic potential.

Students are offered a broad curriculum, including subject-specific and cross-curricular courses, skills development (including IT skills and English language training) and personal development workshops. There are also opportunities to develop wider interests through activities such as drama, chess, sports, art and music.

Students choose their own courses, guided by their nominated co-ordinator, who also acts as the link with their families. The co-ordinator monitors students’ progress, providing support where it is needed and ensuring the right level of challenge is maintained throughout the programme. The co-ordinator will sometimes work directly with individual students to address significant concerns.

The academic programme is largely determined by the topics offered by teachers. PENTA UC currently employs 109 teachers, 40% of them drawn from the University Faculty. The remainder are subject experts drawn from the wider community.

All courses are planned and developed with the involvement of Centre staff, to ensure a consistent pedagogical approach. Most take place on the University campus – students have access to its laboratories, computer rooms, library and sporting facilities.

A typical semester programme will include courses in maths, physics, chemistry, astronomy, architecture, biology, language, history, psychology, philosophy, economics and sociology. Many courses include field trips to locations where the students can experience the practical application of ideas they have studied in the classroom. Outstanding students even have the opportunity of early access to undergraduate courses.


The programme is divided into two main cycles, one for older and one for younger students. The academic year comprises two semesters and a summer school.

Each semester, students attend courses weekly from 15:00 to 18:00 on Fridays and from 9:00 to 12:00 on Saturdays. There is also a Saturday workshop from 12:00 to 14:00, giving a weekly commitment of eight hours in total, for a duration of 15 weeks. This is equivalent to 240 hours of study.

The Summer School takes place in the first half of January (this is the Southern Hemisphere). Students attend an intensive course from 9:00 to 13:00 from Monday to Friday supplemented by cultural and recreational activities on some afternoons. This amounts to 60 hours in total.

Each year of study includes:

  • An induction day for all newly-admitted students and their families with a formal welcome ceremony, a tour of the university campus and a ‘course fair’ where students get details of the courses and workshops available in the upcoming semester prior to choosing those they wish to attend. There is also a separate parental briefing, intended to secure their commitment to students’ continuing involvement in the programme.
  • A ‘learning fair’ at the end of the second semester when students present the work they have undertaken to fellow students, their parents, teachers and headteachers and the wider community.
  • A graduation ceremony for students leaving the final year of the programme. Each student receives a diploma: 2007 was the first year in which students graduated who had attended throughout their time in school.

Support for teaching staff and other services

All newly-appointed lecturers and experts receive initial advice about course design, development and evaluation, as well as more generic guidance on meeting the needs of gifted students. Detailed handbooks are available for all staff (and also for students).

Classroom observations are undertaken each semester and all course leaders receive feedback from a supervisor about what they do well and how they might improve. There are also more general training courses each semester, as well as opportunities for course leaders to provide more general feedback.

In 2008, the Centre introduced a ‘PENTA UC Honours Scholarship’ which meets the entire cost of completing an undergraduate degree at the University. To be eligible for this award, students must have attended the programme for at least five years, come from a low-income family and achieve a score of at least 750 on the university selection test.

Since 2003, the Centre has offered advice and support to other universities wishing to set up their own programmes on the PENTA UC model. Similar undertakings are now in place at five other institutions.

The Centre opens up its summer school to a wider student intake which uses the same screening process as the year-round programme. The summer-only students attend courses alongside the regular students.

It has also recently developed a school-based programme for younger gifted pupils, designed to strengthen their mathematical, language, creative and analytical skills.

The Centre offers a variety of courses for serving teachers, including a distance learning option and an innovative internship model which involves teachers attending PENTA UC as a student for a semester, then using the experience to develop gifted programmes for introduction in their own schools.

There is also a a regular programme of lectures and workshops for professionals and a counselling and guidance service for students and their families.

A small-scale research programme is maintained with support from post-doctoral students recruited from outside Chile. Studies typically inform the evaluation and development of the PENTA UC model in the light of wider thinking about effective gifted education worldwide.

Final thoughts

Much of this post has been sourced from materials translated by computer from Spanish. I apologise for any mistakes in the detail which arise from this process. Readers wishing to access further details in the original language can find the main website here.

Those of us who have been involved in researching, designing and managing similar centres and programmes worldwide will recognise as familiar most of the elements of PENTA UC. But it is comparatively rare for all of them to be secured and sustained in a single organisation – especially one with the longevity of PENTA UC. We can potentially learn much from its experience.

It would be wrong to regard Chile as a developing country – it is relatively wealthy compared with many of its South American neighbours – but disadvantaged students in Santiago typically face significantly higher levels of deprivation than we experience in the bigger cities of Europe, the United States and Australasia, where the majority of similar entities have been established. Moreover, PENTA UC is making a real difference to the life chances of poor Chileans, while many similar operations in richer countries benefit disproportionately the wealthy middle classes.

PENTA UC will not be perfect by any means: I am sure that its leaders have already identified several shortcomings that they wish to eliminate as the Centre prepares to enter its second decade. Such commitment to honest self-evaluation and improvement is laudatory.

I don’t want this review to sound patronising, but to have introduced and sustained so sophisticated an operation in a country of just 17 million inhabitants seems to me a really tremendous achievement that deserves to be widely known and even more widely celebrated.


September 2010

The Transatlantic Excellence Gap: A Comparative Study of England and the USA

Part 1 – the USA

My first post identified the excellence-equity polarity as critical in determining gifted education policy.  Currently the star of equity appears to be in the ascendant on both sides of the Atlantic.

I have been re-reading ‘Mind The (Other) Gap: The Growing Excellence Gap in K-12 Education’ (February 2010) by Plucker, Burroughs and Song from the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP) at the Indiana University School of Education.

I did so in the light of two recent developments, one in either country:

  • in the United States, Arne Duncan’s July 2010 speech at the Centennial Conference of the National Urban League;
  • in the United Kingdom, Michael Gove’s appearance before the Education Select Committee during which he set out his vision for the Coalition Government’s education reforms.

It struck me that, in setting out their commitment to bringing about greater educational equity, neither politician overtly mentioned the excellence gap, although it was certainly implicit in their respective comments.

I fell to wondering whether the US Democrat or the UK Coalition Conservative would actively address this issue – perhaps after appropriate advocacy – and by what means they could do so, given their respective policy priorities.

What is the Excellence Gap?

Plucker et al applied the term to differences between the achievement of advantaged and disadvantaged students performing at the highest levels. They considered sub-groups based on gender, ethnicity, socio-economic background and English language proficiency and used NAEP data for grades 4 and 8 in reading and maths..

I will focus here on differences attributable to socio-economic background (while acknowledging the complex way in which this interacts with the three remaining variables – and others).

On both sides of the Atlantic the socio-economically disadvantaged population is typically (but not invariably) defined in terms of eligibility for free/subsidised school meals.

The key findings from the study are that:

  • Whereas No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has had some success in narrowing achievement gaps for many learners, this is not true of high achievers. The claim that one often hears used to justify gifted education – that the rising tide raises all ships – is not true of the NCLB.
  • There is no substantive evidence that the NCLB focus on lower achievers has actually increased the excellence gap, although the majority of states surveyed by the NAGC felt that NCLB had diverted attention and resource away from gifted education.
  • In some cases where the excellence gap appears to be shrinking, this is attributable to a dip in performance at the higher level – rather than all achievers improving their performance with lower achievers improving at a relatively faster rate.
  • Federal involvement in narrowing the excellence gap is negligible. It is cited as one of several aims of the Javits Program, but Plucker et al do not offer any evidence that Javits has brought about any substantive improvements, so ‘damning Javits with no praise’.
  • There will be a further study (not yet published) on whether and how state policies and interventions reduce the excellence gap. One can hypothesise that, because richer districts are more likely to invest in gifted education, this is likely to widen the gap, but there is no data to substantiate this.

The Relationship with McKinsey’s ‘Top Gap’

The CEEP report references the 2009 McKinsey study ‘The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools’.

In this report, Mc Kinsey identify a ‘top gap’ – a term which they deploy in two different ways:

  • the gap between the number of top performers and the level of top performance in the US and the comparable number and level in other countries; and
  • the gap in the US between the proportion of Black/Latino students and the proportion of all students within the highest achieving group.

Had they wished, they could have applied this second usage to socio-economic as well as to ethnic minority achievement gaps.

They go on to quantify the enormous economic costs of achievement gaps but, unfortunately, they do not separately estimate the economic costs of closing either version of the ‘top gap’.

Had they done so, this would have been highly pertinent to my earlier posts on the Economics of Gifted Education.

Recommendations from the Excellence Gap Report

Plucker et al offer a set of straightforward recommendations:

  • The US Government should make closing the excellence gap a national and state-level priority – and should consider the effect of all new policies in addressing this priority;
  • The US Government should determine the optimal blend of national, state and local interventions to narrow the gap; this will involve more research into effective strategies. (They do not argue specifically for an extension of Javits, presumably because they have reservations about its track record in achieving change);
  • There should be financial incentives to encourage states, districts and schools to tackle the excellence gap – and realistic targets for them to aim at; and a few obvious ‘quick wins’ should be secured at state level; and
  • High achievement ceilings should be built into the assessment processes supporting the common national standards currently being considered – and largely adopted – by different states.

Duncan’s Speech to the National Urban League

Arne Duncan gave this wide-ranging speech on 30 July in Washington DC. It sets out his view of how the various Federal education policy interventions will act to close achievement gaps.

There is the usual reference to giving ‘every child…the opportunity to fulfil their tremendous academic and social potential’, but Duncan also made a nod in the broad direction of gifted education:

‘Together, we must make it – not just OK – we must make it cool, we must make it hip, to be smart’.

‘We have to both strive for excellence and help those at the bottom who have furthest to go. That’s our commitment.’

He argued that several policies would help to achieve these ends including:

  • Improving access to early learning;
  • The Teacher Incentive Fund – to encourage the best teachers to schools that serve predominantly poor and minority pupils;
  • Federal school improvement grants – the Turnaround Program
  • Funding for parental engagement and compulsory community and parental involvement in school improvement;
  • Funding for community colleges, universities serving minority populations and student support;
  • The adoption of common core standards

He defended Race To The Top against criticism that it does not help disadvantaged and minority students by arguing that it has caused several states to change laws that restricted the growth of charter schools serving these populations. He also cited controversial legal changes that permit teacher evaluation to be tied to pupil achievement.

But he also announced a new Excellence and Equity Commission, to be based in the Office for Civil Rights in the Department for Education.

The Department’s press release makes clear that the 15-member Commission will consider the full gamut of inequities in K-12 education and how they contribute to the achievement gap, offering recommendations for how these inequities should be addressed.

Duncan himself highlighted the Commission’s role in making school funding more equitable, by considering how to remedy the large variance in district-level educational investment. He also confirmed that he wanted more federal Title I funding to reach schools serving low-income children.

So Will Duncan Address the Excellence Gap?

Well the answer probably depends on how vigorously this is advocated. There is a big difference between paying vague lip-service to gifted education and being convinced by the hard evidence.

But tackling excellence gaps is potentially politically significant to any Government that is committed to strengthening social mobility and avoiding ‘deficit model’ thinking in respect of its disadvantaged and ethnic minority learners.

The best way of demonstrating that poor and minority students can make it to the top is by supporting more of them to do so – rather than concentrating exclusively on eliminating the ‘long tail of low achievement’.

The arguments advanced by Duncan are vigorously contested, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We must judge his reforms by examining the longitudinal data to see whether excellence gaps are reduced – and without a drop in the performance of those students who are already high-achieving. One would hope that is part of the CEEP’s future work programme.

Gifted education advocates in the US may well need to target the new Excellence and Equity Commission, ensuring that it gives due attention to the excellence gap as part of its remit.

The CEEP’s next report on effective state-level interventions may provide useful evidence for them to consider. They might also engage an economist to calculate the financial cost to the country of ignoring the excellence gap, using the methodology established by McKinsey.

What do you think? Will Duncan and the Democrats give the excellence gap the attention it deserves – or will they inevitably fall back into a deficit model vision of educational equity which focusses exclusively on meeting the needs of low-achieving learners?

In part two we will ask the same question of the UK.


August 2010

Short posts on various international organisations

I have added pages on:

It’s not easy for a non-member to find reliable information on the recent activities of any of these. If you have access to more detailed information, please add it in the comments below.