As the school census looms (to be taken termly instead of annually from now on), the government is keen to see more ‘gifted and talented’ pupils identified, and is offering a sweetener to the many schools that have so far resisted labelling their pupils:
The government is arranging “e-credits” for schools to access extra lessons for an estimated 800,000 gifted pupils.
The £65m scheme is part of its drive to ensure all children in England with special talents are given extra help. It requires all schools to list their gifted and talented pupils in the census data it now collects each term.
…The government acknowledges that often the children who are identified are those who have had opportunities to develop their talents. So it is also trying to reach children whose parents either do not bother or cannot afford to provide such extra-curricular activities.
Well, are they talking about ‘gifted’ or ‘talented’? If it’s the latter, they are in fairyland if they imagine that the gap can be closed with the £80 per pupil that’s on offer. It would pay for, say, half a dozen piano lessons with a reputable teacher, or a few sessions with a good dance teacher or sports coach. Hardly enough to uncover, let alone develop, even the most dazzling talent.
In any case, tuition is only one part of the true cost: what about running shoes, oboe reeds or leotards, and all the other hidden extras? What about travel costs and the need to take time off work to get a budding Kelly Holmes or Yehudi Menuhin to competitions or auditions? The truth is that the lack of funding for young people with exceptional talent in the UK is a disgrace, and until we can do rather better than throwing 80 measly quid around once in a while, plenty more flowers are going to be born to blush unseen.
As for churning out ‘extra lessons’ for the ‘gifted’, it would be more to the point if the government revisited Article 29 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child –the one about having a duty to develop every child’s abilities to their fullest potential. If each child was at the centre of his/her own education, we wouldn’t need labels such as ‘gifted’, ‘special needs’ or anything else – and we might see some pretty unusual abilities emerging from beyond the narrow confines of the national curriculum and key stage tests.
Probably the best anyone can do by way of educating a child is to avoid killing pleasure and curiosity by hurling the dusty, grey stones of duty and ‘extra lessons’ at them, and follow the advice given by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner 36 years ago in ‘Teaching as a Subversive Activity’:
“Knowledge is produced in response to questions. And new knowledge results from the asking of new questions; quite often new questions about old questions. Here is the point: once you have learned how to ask questions – relevant and appropriate and substantial questions – you have learned how to learn and no-one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.”