Master classes for most gifted pupils 'a failure'

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The Independent Online

A Government programme to raise the performance of the country's most gifted pupils has failed to produce any major improvements, David Bell, the chief inspector of schools, says today.

In an article in the National Union of Teachers' journal, Education Review, he says the scheme has had only a "limited impact" in the classroom and that schools have failed to ensure enough pupils from minority groups are selected for the special programmes.

Under the Government scheme, inner-city schools are given extra cash to put on master classes for their most gifted and talented pupils - dubbed "g and t's" by their teachers - who are usually the top-performing 5 per cent. Mr Bell, who is the chief executive of Ofsted - the education standards watchdog - says the programme has so far failed to stretch the pupils and raise their performance.

Its key success has been in managing to make them feel a part of the school. Previous reports had indicated exceptionally talented pupils often played truant and were part of "withdrawal groups". He adds that the lack of improvement in attainment often reflects the fact that teachers do not see stretching their most talented pupils as part of everyday lessons, and that specialist training, set up as part of the Government's Excellence in Cities initiative, "is only slowly affecting classroom practice".

"In a few secondary schools, teachers are developing a broader range of strategies to stretch gifted pupils, to give them more and demanding work," he said. "[But] schools are not always careful to check that gifted and talented boys and girls and pupils from ethnic minority groups are represented with due regard to the proportions in the school. Improved provision has broadened the range of learning opportunities for gifted pupils out of school hours and done more for educational inclusion than it has for raising and maintaining high standards."

John Bangs, the head of education at the NUT, said: "I am not surprised that David Bell should have found the gifted and talented scheme is stalling. Most young people have particular talents. In an otherwise good scheme, the 'g and t' strand always looked like arbitrary decisions were being made. The scheme has appeared to be a token of the Government's anxiety about the attitude of better-off parents towards comprehensives in inner cities rather than an attempt to meet the needs of pupils."

In his article, Mr Bell also supports the setting up of more learning-support units - "sin bins" - within schools to teach unruly pupils.

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