Friday, 6 March 2015

Against Tristram`s "gifted and talented"

Just as the Tories offer, in Rafael Behr`s words, educational "policy by nostalgia" with their renewed support for grammar schools, Tristram Hunt shows enthusiasm for another policy testifying "to the power of nostalgia above evidence", a "gifted and talented" fund. The shadow education secretary needs to be very careful, especially as he has no experience of state school education, or, indeed, of this policy in action!  Of course, the country needs to "make the most of the talents of all our young people" but how can that be achieved by identifying only a small proportion, the so-called "most talented in primary and secondary schools", and giving them special treatment? By definition, many with less obvious talents will not be among those chosen, but don`t they deserve the opportunity to have their talents stretched? The policy is fraught with problems.   
          At primary level, with so much ability still untapped, and therefore unidentifiable, who can tell accurately which pupils are to be described as "gifted and talented"? Don`t all children have the potential to develop at least some abilities which are superior to those of their peers? Labelling in secondary school can be as equally dangerous; not only is there the possibility of missing out worthy candidates, there is the undoubted damage caused to those who are not deemed "special", who are denied the extra opportunities, who don`t get chosen for the educational trips or extra lessons and such like, and whose self-esteem suffers as a consequence. What about their aspirations? Another problem is that even members of the "chosen" can fall victim to arrogance and laziness.
          The answer has to be that all pupils need to be challenged, whatever their abilities, and taken on to the next level, not just the ones achieving level 5 at the end of key stage 2, or whatever. All children have talents and deserve an educational system which will stretch them to the limit, but designating some as more "gifted and talented" than others, and consequently worthy of an education with increased funding, is unfair. It certainly should not be featuring in an education policy of a political party determined to provide equality of opportunity for all.

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