Tes talks to…Ian Warwick

The TES reports that the idea that gifted children should be singled out for extra support is anathema to many. But this senior director of London Gifted and Talented warns Kate Townshend that, with resources being targeted towards disadvantaged pupils, we risk squandering young talent ‘on an industrial scale’

Warwick taught for 20 years in comprehensive schools before, in 2003, setting up and becoming a senior director of London Gifted and Talented, part of the London Challenge initiative that tackled under-performance in the capital’s schools. Since then, the organisation has worked with thousands of schools and teachers nationally to improve the teaching of able children, and he’s also written extensively on the topic in books, journals and magazines.

Yes, he’s an education consultant, but one who has spent a significant proportion of his life at the chalkface. His perspective on how we teach gifted children, in particular, is a rare one: he has seen what goes on in schools first-hand – being part of the teaching process – but he has also been able to step out of that and research the issue further away from the pressures of the classroom.

“We teach to the tests and worry that not all students are working at the level we require, rather than focusing enough on the very top-end students and the excitement and immersion that convinces students to want to study our subject further.”

He recalls an experience that illustrates the consequences of the current gaps.

“Near the end of a recent interview with a very smart student about her experiences in a genuinely outstanding UK school, she used the phrase ‘all hat and no rabbit’,” he recalls. “I asked her what she meant by this and she said that she had been looking forward to secondary education as she thought that she would have a chance to question experts and to see the bigger picture, but instead the ‘celebration of dullness’ she had experienced at primary school continued. Astonishingly, students like this don’t usually complain. They have accepted far too readily that, for them, boredom is the norm.”

So what can schools do to ensure that the skills and aptitudes of their most able students – from all backgrounds – are properly nurtured?

“We need to talk explicitly about subject mastery and not gloss over the big issues and complex concepts in our subject – that includes not dumbing down our language,” Warwick argues. “But it’s also about explaining clearly to our students the need to grapple with challenges and the struggle to attain. If parents (and sometimes schools) are anxious to ensure a perfectly paved road to success, we can undermine the whole point of learners as experts in development.”

Finally, Warwick is keen to remind teachers that their own passion for their subjects is crucial. “Teacher expertise is quite simply the key. Off-piste lessons that go beyond the syllabus requirements inevitably create a sense that there is so much more to learn, which is vitally important for igniting our students’ passion for learning,” he says.

Read the full article Tes talks to…Ian Warwick

What do you think? Should more time and help be offered to those that are more able? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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