New teachers taught to get the best from the brightest

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The Independent Online

Newly qualified teachers are to be offered training in how to get the best out of their brightest pupils.

Newly qualified teachers are to be offered training in how to get the best out of their brightest pupils.

The pilot courses to help teachers stretch potential high-flyers are to be launched by the government-backed National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (Nagty), based at the University of Warwick, next month. In addition, a series of courses for serving teachers in English and maths will start today.

The drive is being backed by ministers, who believe it is not enough just to send Britain's brightest students to summer schools (such as those run by Nagty) and that they must be stimulated when they return to their schools.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Deborah Eyre, the director of Nagty, said of existing post-graduate certificate in education (PGCE) courses: "They are very busy courses and most institutions give only one lecture on gifted and talented children and how to provide a programme of training for PGCE students which would help them develop some expertise in that area. That's not a very satisfactory answer to the situation."

The academy, which was set up with government funding two years ago, aims to cater for the top 5 per cent of youngsters in state and private schools and has enlisted 30,000 members. Membership entitles the children to take part in any of the academy's activities, including summer schools and accessing online resources.

Professor Eyre said: "I think for far too long we have had a laissez faire attitude towards talent. We make this bland assumption that gifted and talented pupils will somehow make it on their own. The education system is beginning to come to terms with the fact that their individual needs must be met."

David Miliband, the Minister for School Standards, said that the setting up of the academy, which had led to schools, particularly in the inner cities, to seek out their brightest students for special tuition, would herald a revolution in attitudes towards fostering talent.

"Until five years ago, bright students were far too often confronted by the very British mentality which says it is wrong to celebrate success and worse still actively to encourage it," Mr Miliband said. "The bright student was too often embarrassed by being labelled a smart alec. The result was at best day-dreaming, at worst frustration leading to trouble.

"Five years on there is a step-change. In five years' time, the impact of gifted and talented provision should be as important for school pupils in widening opportunities, removing barriers to excellence and putting learners in control as the Open University was to university students."

Next month's pilot courses for trainee teachers will start with 15 trainees undertaking three-week courses in maths at Warwick and Canterbury. These will be extended to science teachers next year and design and technology the year after.

A course for serving science teachers will start today at Sheffield Hallam University and another for English teachers will start at the academy later in the week.

Professor Eyre said that in English, for example, teachers could stimulate bright children's interests while reading literature demanded by GCSE and A-level syllabuses. "For instance, with Pride and Prejudice, you could get them to do a project comparing its view of women with those of other contemporary authors," she said. "You could also look at the role of women in society at that time, something to develop wider thinking on the part of the pupil."

Efforts to identify gifted and talented pupils should start early, she added. She told of an educational psychologist who presented a four-year-old with three bricks, one red, one blue and one green. "Find me a different one," the psychologist said.

The child took a long time to select a yellow brick, prompting the psychologist to think the child was not gifted. But when she asked the girl why she had chosen it, the girl said: "I was looking for one with six letters." This showed she was thinking laterally. The academy has selected 18 "ambassador" schools, chosen for the strides they have already made in teaching their brightest pupils. Each school is given £5,000 to provide at least three training events a year to help neighbouring schools improve their provision.