The demise of G&T?

Written by: Gordon Collins | Published:

As budgets tighten, gifted and talented programmes are becoming largely forgotten about in state schools...

I have been a self-employed careers advisor for over 20 years, and now primarily work in top independent schools.

I have in the past done a lot of work with the gifted and talented (G&T) cohort in the state sector, but now only work in one state school.

The G&T stream needs special attention, especially in the increasingly underfunded state sector, where they are in danger of not making the most of their innate ability.

There are political issues with the concept of G&T and I know many teachers feel uncomfortable with identifying pupils and with any extra support being offered.

In the past, when money was more available, there was abuse of the system, with some schools wanting to maximise the G&T stream to win additional funding.

I have seen G&T pupils for specialist careers work simply because they were good at food technology or sports, and in one unforgettable instance because the boy had behaved well the week before and seeing me was a bonus.

I have also been told by a G&T co-ordinator in the past that they did not believe in any extra resources, being given to this group and that if they had their way the money would just go to the general school population (why they became a G&T co-ordinator is a good question).

In broad terms, they have got their wish and few schools offer anything but lip service to G&T nowadays, to the huge detriment of the most able students.

However, some schools, often through sheer willpower, still run an effective G&T programme, and I would like to write about my experience of one of them.

I work with the G&T stream in a well-run comprehensive girls’ school in London. The students come from a wide range of backgrounds, from recent immigrants through to professional families. The common element is that the school has identified that they are academically gifted and would benefit from extra support.

In the same way as I work with independent schools, I undertake psychometric tests with the students, and then give an in-depth feedback interview to which parents/guardians are invited. The interview uses the test, personality and interest questionnaire results to paint scenarios for the pupils and parents, raising aspirations, and making them realise what they have the potential to achieve.

It focuses on the range of possibilities, and stresses the implication of choice at all stages i.e. choosing A levels, degree choices, higher and degree Apprenticeships, the options of studying in the EU and in some cases the possibility of scholarships to US colleges.

Although there is a format, the interview is free ranging and is a discursive experience which takes parents and pupils with me on a journey.

The process works very well, and it would be great to offer it to more state schools but to do so you need a well-run G&T programme and an enthusiastic teacher.

You also need careers advisors willing to give a lot of time for no financial return (I run it on a cost-only basis).
I have tried to find sponsors but to no avail – careers work is not sexy and neither unfortunately is G&T.
Major companies, as part of their community support agenda, would rather see their staff painting walls and doing gardening (badly) than give money to less publicity-friendly, but much more useful, activities.

Strange as it may seem, I have had a number of schools refuse my service even when I offered to just charge costs, a common refrain is that it is too onerous admin wise, is too complicated, or “elitist”.

I fear that in many cases this meant that they simply could not be bothered and did not see G&T as important.

The priority for them is to turn the D/C students into C/B students than spend time catering for the needs of the very bright.

We complain that not enough state school students go to Oxbridge, or other very competitive institutions like Imperial College London, University College London and the London School of Economics. Despite the percentage of students from poorer backgrounds going to university, there is a huge class bias in terms of where they go and what they study.

The battle to increase participation has been won, despite fee increases, but we need to concentrate on where and what is studied.

I would argue that it is still largely the case that the middle class go to traditional institutions, the poor to ex-polytechnics, that the middle class do science, economics, medical sciences and technology, and the poorer students do humanities and social sciences.

To change this dynamic you need much more specialist high-quality careers advice. If the only way this can be done is by people giving their time for free, then it is not going to be a solution.

I do not expect (although would really like) the government, of whatever persuasion, to fund specialist careers work with the G&T stream but would wish for a more enlightened attitude by corporate sponsors and, may I dare to say, a more open-minded attitude by some schools themselves in recognising that they have a duty to help the G&T group just as much as other groups in need of support.

  • Gordon Collins is a careers advisor. This article is the author’s own view and does not represent the views of the schools he works in. Email the author at gordon.ceslondon@gmail.com


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