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Elizabeth Holmes

Improving practice to support more able pupils

Elizabeth Holmes outlines what schools need to consider to ensure teachers are equipped with the right tools to support more able pupils.

Supporting the individual needs of children is what great teachers do every day. It would be unthinkable to expect to go into a classroom and ‘deliver’ an education to all class members equally. It is the teacher’s role to determine the needs of each child and to aim to meet those needs, albeit with support. 

Discussions on additional needs

Interestingly, when discussions of additional needs come up, it’s rare for them to include how the most able child might be best supported. Typically the focus is on those struggling to achieve in the context they find themselves in.

Yet, an Ofsted survey published earlier this year found that schools are not doing enough to help the most able children to progress and reach their full potential. It’s a claim we’ve heard many times before, nevertheless, that workable solutions seem elusive, and high quality CPD for supporting the most able appear to be hard to find.

Ofsted findings

Where the most able are thriving, it seems this is because the curriculum is challenging and the quality of teaching in the school is good or better for all students. In addition, the negative impact of transition between primary and secondary school that some pupils experience is minimised.

Ofsted was unequivocal in its assessment of the situation. While 'pockets of excellence' exist, 'thousands of highly performing primary pupils are not realising their early promise when they move to secondary school'.

Perhaps worse is the claim that the most able students’ achievement is hit even more when they are from a poor background. Also, that the most able girls continue to outperform the most able boys. Progress of the most able looks set to stay as a focus for Ofsted and their expectation remains that schools will 'raise the bar higher for their more able pupils'.

Changes to implement

Without a doubt, teachers need access to great quality CPD aimed at stretching and nurturing the most able, regardless of sex or social class. If you’re planning CPD to cover these issues, these ideas may help for starters.

  • Define: have you talked, as a school, about what terms such as 'gifted', 'talented' and 'most able' actually mean? Do you have a shared understanding of these words?

  • Champion: is there anyone in your school with the skills and expertise to highlight the needs of, and develop strategies for supporting, the most gifted children? How can you raise the profile of the most able in your school?

  • Expect: expectations are everything. How can CPD work to raise them in all staff for all children across your school?

  • Collaborate: build stronger links with other schools and colleges. Where will pupils be going next? Where have they come from? The stronger the links the better for the students so that transitions are as smooth as possible. What needs to happen in your school to achieve this?

  • Aspire: if students will be moving on to university, how do they access information about the most appropriate institutions for them to apply to? Can this be improved? What messages do students get about academic excellence in your school? How well is aspiration to achieve supported and encouraged?

  • Include: ask the most able what learning experiences they would like to have. You may not be able to oblige, but asking and discussing will be an enlightening experience and will almost certainly lead to improvements.

  • Learn: are staff equipped to focus specifically on the needs of those who are most able and from disadvantaged backgrounds?

  • Involve: how are parents involved in the identification and support of children with particular skills and talents? Does the school work closely with parents?

These ideas are merely to trigger discussion in your school. If you are particularly great at supporting the most able pupils, do comment below. We’d love to share your success and strategies.

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