Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Brightest British children 'failed by state school teachers who fear promoting elitism'

Bright children in state schools are being failed by teachers who refuse to give them extra help for fear of promoting "elitism", a Government-backed report has found. A significant number of schools have failed to enter their most talented pupils in an official programme designed to push the very best children, it concluded.

Labour's so-called Gifted and Talented scheme - launched in 1999 - was set up amid concerns that middle-class parents were abandoning the state sector for private schools. It was designed to answer critics' claims that bright children struggle in the comprehensive system because they are dragged down by classmates. Under the scheme, covering all pupils under 19, primary and secondary schools are asked to nominate the best pupils for extra support to make sure they fulfilled their potential. This was originally defined as the top five per cent of pupils but has since been changed to ten per cent. Those nominated are provided with after-school classes and weekend tuition in order to ensure they are sufficiently challenged.

But a study by ACL Consulting, commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, found fundamental opposition to the scheme among schools. The findings suggest that many pupils may have been held back from achieving their potential as a result of a reluctance on the part of teachers to give them the opportunities the Government intended for them.

The report come just days after figures published by the Conservatives showed one-in-seven pupils named among the brightest failed to get five good GCSEs at 16. "Many schools were initially unwilling to provide... details of their pupils who were within the 'top five per cent'," said the report. "Although this resistance was gradually eroded over time, there was doubtless still a substantial core of schools unwilling to play their role in the process."

The Conservatives said the findings showed that Labour policies to get the best out of the brightest children in state schools were failing "It's vital that the brightest children are properly stretched," said Nick Gibb, shadow schools minister: "Ministers told us that the gifted and talented programme would ensure that this happens but the evidence suggests it isn't working."

Nick Seaton, the chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: "The Government is clearly failing the brightest pupils. "When you have teachers who for ideological reasons are unwilling to put forward the brightest youngsters for special treatment, it's obvious that a scheme like this can't do anything but fail. "Research shows that many thousands of children who are shown to be very bright by their key stage two tests do not go on to achieve the top A-Levels they should do. The reason is that they are simply not stretched between 11 and 16. All this is bound to lead to a decline in our capability as a nation and will damage us economically."

ACL Consulting is a consultancy group which works for public sector organisations involved in education, training and economic development. Warwick University initially won the contract to run the Government's Gifted and Talented Scheme, set up to nurture the ability of England's most able children. The contract came to an end in 2007 and the scheme is now run by an education charity called CfBT.

In the latest report, consultants tracked the impact of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth, established by Warwick in 2002 to spearhead the scheme. It said 4.75m pounds was spent on the academy every year by the Government - the "same amount of money as a 1,100 pupil secondary school would receive annually". The unit received around 2m more in donations by the final year of its contact. But the study said it failed to establish itself "as the key point of reference" for schools promoting the needs of talented children. "It is interesting to speculate on the cause of this unwillingness," it said. "If it is because of a misunderstanding of the place of special support for gifted and talented young people - perhaps a confusion of 'elitism' with 'special needs' - then that is arguably not NAGTY's fault, however it would then indicate an important development need that many schools and their senior managers should look to address." The report added that the academy offered little for youngsters who had great potential, but were performing below what they were capable of.

Ministers no longer set a quota of five per cent of pupils to take part in the scheme. But they do recommend that as many as 10 per cent of "gifted" pupils - usually defined as the elite in terms of academic subjects - and 10 per cent of the most "talented" with potential in other areas, such as sport or the arts, are given extra help.

The report concluded that the NAGTY had done much to raise the national profile of education for gifted and talented pupils but said its legacy was "thin, and value for money therefore limited". Margaret Morrissey, of the campaign group Parents Out Loud, said: "Parents tell me that they are very concerned the brightest children do not get enough attention and subsequently go backwards in ability. "Many brighter children are also used by teachers to help the less able pupils, and in some are even being used to take the lessons themselves. "The only minority group the Government is interested in helping are the underachievers. They don't ever give the brightest kids the help they need. "The best pupils then get bored and switch off. And if an 11-year-old switches off, they don't come back. You've lost them and they will be mediocre for the rest of their school lives."

A DCSF spokesman said: "This is an evaluation of a historic institution which no longer exists - the Gifted and Talented programme has progressed significantly. The National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth was designed only for the top 5 percent of learners aged 11-19. Since September 2007, the new Young Gifted and Talented Learner Academy (YG&T) has been available for all learners identified as gifted and talented by their schools and colleges. "Schools are resoundingly on board. Our latest data shows that 95 percent of secondary schools and 78 percent of primary schools are identifying over 800,000 gifted and talented pupils. "This is not elitism. It is about ensuring that all learners receive the challenge and support they need to reach their potential."


Voucher scheme for Scottish schools howled down

A radical proposal to overhaul Scotland's education system and give disadvantaged youngsters priority access to top independent schools was unveiled yesterday. Reform Scotland, an independent think tank that believes parents should have more choice in their children's school, claims Scottish government statistics show almost half of second year pupils are not able to read and write to the expected standard. It wants to stimulate more competition between schools to improve standards.

It is proposing an "entitlement" scheme whereby parents would be given a credit equivalent to the cost of educating their child in their local authority area. They could use this at any school where a place was available. If a private school charged more than the entitlement, parents could not "top up" the difference. However, children who receive free school meals - a key indicator of disadvantage - would be given a supplement from central government, on top of their entitlement. This would give children in some local authority areas, such as Shetland, an entitlement to an education of at least 10,000 pounds.

Geoff Mawdsley, director of Reform Scotland and one of the authors of the Parent Power report, said the scheme should not necessitate any additional cost for mainstream pupils. However, he admitted that the think tank had not assessed how much extra cash would be needed from Holyrood to provide for the deprived children. He said the new system would "extend opportunity and promote social mobility" and warned that, without it, "countless numbers of children ... will be failed by an education system that does not meet their needs." The group wants to pilot its scheme with deprived youngsters and then extend it further. This willwould mean that, initially, the disadvantaged pupils willwould be given priority over mainstream pupils.

According to the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), such children have lower exam results and are more likely to drop out or truant. Reform Scotland claims that, despite the cash invested in state schools, they are "failing those who need them most." The OECD, in its 2007 Programme for International Student Assessment, found that countries where schools compete for pupils have better results.

The report drew criticism from teachers' leaders who accused the group of failing to understand the education system. Jim Docherty, acting general secretary of the Secondary School Teachers Association, said the plans were "drivel from beginning to end. This idea has been floating around for years", he said. "It betrays a total, utter, complete lack of understanding of how the public education system operates. It is nothing more than the Thatcherite `parents should have the right to choose' writ large." He said the vast majority of schools were at capacity so the proposals would not work - and the idea that some schools were better than others was "completely erroneous" anyway.

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of the School Leaders Scotland union said an entitlement scheme was "hugely complex" and would be very difficult to implement. He also said that there were numerous underlying issues which determined whether children succeeded or not, rather than simply the school they attended.

However, Liz Smith, Scottish Conservative schools spokeswoman and former private school teacher, said the proposals were "giving families much more freedom of choice on which school to send their children to". "They are talking about a radically different approach from what exists just now," she said. "It praises some of the aspects of the state sector but to get rid of the monolithic state they are trying to build in much more flexibility."

The report also suggests that local authorities could relinquish the power to run some schools, making them independent. And it wants to give local authorities complete control over pay and conditions for teachers, effectively ending plea-bargaining. Mr Docherty said such a scheme would result in 32 disputes every year, as opposed to one. Mr Cunningham also dismissed the idea, warning: "Anyone who tries to muck around with the pay and conditions within that frame in Scotland does not understand workforce planning."

A Scottish Government spokesman said the administration agreed with Reform Scotland that recent steady progress had to be accelerated, which was why it was working on the Curriculum for Excellence. He added: "While we remain unconvinced regarding some of the more radical elements of their proposals, Reform Scotland's report is thought-provoking and we welcome all contributions that promote real debate on the best way to ensure every school becomes a good school."


No comments: