Challenging The Gifted And The Talented by Sophie Baber
In 2010, the Government’s Gifted and Talented programme was scrapped. In many quarters, and particularly amongst parents whose children had been in said programme, there was absolute uproar. This move brought with it concerns that the education system was lowering its standards to meet the needs of the average and as a result was settling for mediocrity. The belief was that through this decision, schools were going to fail a generation of gifted minds and with this, turn their backs on one of our country’s greatest resources.
The notion of Gifted and Talented has always held significant interest for me and in 2006, I was lucky enough to be asked to join a team of educators to look at the Gifted and Talented provision in the province of Ontario, Canada. This trip brought with it one very stark realisation: one of our greatest failures in our education system was our obsession with testing and pigeon-holing our pupils within a narrow curriculum. The reality was, we had barely changed our teaching methods since the Middle Ages, when text books first appeared. In fact, whilst the theories surrounding educational methods may have moved forward, the belief that there are those children ‘who can’ and those ‘who can’t’ still exists today.
Anyone in the position of employing others will know that a high IQ and a first from Cambridge does not necessarily make a successful person. So if test results, position in the year and natural ability are not a guarantee, what is important? The reality is that there is no one answer, but there are some key features:
There is absolutely no doubt that the saying, ‘Practice makes Progress’ rings true; the more we practise, the more we progress. Practice takes time and dedication, so this also tells us that there are no shortcuts. Note that practice does not make perfect. There is no such thing and if we hang on to this fallacy, then children are likely to give up when they realise that they can never be good enough.
Desire plays a huge significance in success. How good do you want to be? If the aspiration to achieve is converted into absorbed practice then the ten thousand hours of hard work transforms an activity from a chore into an experience that fills one with pride and joy.
As parents and teachers, we play a significant role in supporting our children along their journey to success. A ‘Tiger Mother’, would have us believe that our homes need to run as mini dictatorships. In this style of parenting, good is never enough and children are driven forward with rigorous determination by their extremely ambitious parents. The flaw in this plan is that the goal is meaningful to the parent, but not necessarily to the child. While success may be achieved, it is often short lived. In fact one could argue the achievement is only success in the sense that it is perceived by others to be so. It is extrinsic. One may earn a lot of money or have a long job title, but there is little intrinsic value. True success comes when an individual has experiences that are meaningful to them.
So breathe a sigh of relief! We do not need to act the tyrant in our own homes, nor do we need our children’s teachers to take on this role for us. Instead, our job is to inspire, encourage and nurture. Yes, tend carefully to our precious charges, but listen to them and trust that they know what will make them fulfilled, happy and successful. Respect their individuality. Their journeys may be different than the ones we planned, but it is our differences that make us special. Go with their interests and provide opportunities for them to excel in their chosen field. Foster in them independence. It is empowering and embeds a ‘can do’ attitude in children, when they know that their team believe in them. Don’t put a lid on what children can do. Just because they are not yet able to read War and Peace doesn’t mean that they never will. Challenge isn’t about supporting the top one or two children, who perform best in formal testing. It is about providing every child with the opportunity to excel.
So, when you read your child’s Half Term Grades or reflect upon Parents’ Evening discussions, remember…
This is another step along the road to your child discovering their own gift or talent.