No more gifted and talented

Written by: Tony Eysele | Published:
Tony Eysele, Headteacher, ACS Cobham International School

Forget ‘gifted and talented’ programmes – every child should be challenged and enriched, says headteacher Tony Eysele

All parents want their children to become confident; it’s a trait that has the ability to carry them forward and embolden them, but is embedded and shaped from a young age.

Schools and teachers play an important role in nurturing children’s self-esteem as they learn, which in turn helps them feel confident and achieve the best they can.

Selecting and streaming children through gifted and talented-type schemes, where the success of a few depends on the perceived failure of the many, does not help develop these traits.

It provokes anxiety, even among those who benefit from it, and resentment among those who don’t. It is neither a sensible, sensitive or creative approach to developing confidence or success in our students.

Every child deserves the right to find their education challenging and enriched, schools can encourage this through personalised learning, extensive extra-curricular opportunities and celebrating individual talent and skill, rather than selective programmes with a narrow focus.

At ACS Cobham, we have shunned gifted and talented programmes. They introduce another label that stigmatises children – it is either a burden which they are expected to fulfil, or neglectful of those not deemed “talented”. Neither of these help young people feel confident.

Instead, we, as education professionals, must ensure there are opportunities for those who are particularly gifted in certain subject areas to receive additional attention, just as there are for other children who require more support.

This type of individualised, student-centred learning provides opportunities for every child, no matter their talent, skills or difficulties. In class, extra challenge is provided to those particularly able in a subject through individualised class or homework tasks for instance, and one-to-one sessions for those needing extra support.

As part of this approach, at ACS we have launched the Challenge and Enrichment Club during lunch-times, aimed at any student who wishes to explore new interests and extend their learning. The optional club covers a range of topics and aims to interest children across the board, not just those who are deemed academically bright.

So far, we have covered a number of science-based topics, including robotics. We have observed that no one student dominates based on academic strength, but that students work together on projects and recognise each other’s particular talents.

Ultimately if students can be challenged as part of the club, and overcome small adversities, it will improve their confidence right across the curriculum. It’s an inclusive way of challenging and enriching all students.

Every child has an arena in which they excel, and as teachers and students identify this both in and out of the classroom, confidence and resilience grows.

As the head of an international school, I see day-to-day how a culture of tolerance in school helps students to appreciate people as individuals, and their respective talents and gifts. Valuing each student as an individual, recognising their talent and where they excel, and celebrating that, is a part of our school’s ethos and greatly develops confidence in students.

We discuss the concepts of failure, resilience and “growth mindsets” with students in class and at assemblies and have follow-up sessions as part of a pastoral programme.

Students learn that nobody is perfect, that it is okay to ask for help, and how to embrace challenges as opportunities. We help students to understand that failing is just as important as succeeding, if not more so.

Letting them make mistakes while we boost their spirits instils over time a can-do attitude, a strong sense of self-belief and the realisation that school is a good place to try things out. Our children develop confidence not because we tell them they are great, but because of all that they achieve – big or small.

Finding what it is that every single young person excels in isn’t an easy task, but there is always an arena where every youngster will shine no matter how small or large an impact that might have. To help build that resilience and confidence, students must be given as many opportunities as possible to broaden their horizons and find the things they enjoy doing and are good at, too. This can happen on the playing field, in the library or during a science experiment, and schools help this by providing opportunities and nurturing individual interests, talents or skills.

Extra-curricular activities can also play an important role in developing confidence – not only do schemes like Duke of Edinburgh help build leadership qualities, communication and team work, there is also an element of overcoming challenge – again helping to build confidence.

At the end of the day, we must all aim to develop every students’ natural level of confidence – it’s not all about being the captain of the sports team or taking the starring role.
And by creating an atmosphere of acceptance and promoting empathy, schools can help students become quietly and comfortably confident, adaptable and self-assured.


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