Developing aspiration among students with high potential

Reading time: 3 minutes. Relevant event: SSAT Aspirations Show 2018

Holly Henderson, English teacher, Bristnall Hall Academy, shows the benefit of abandoning the ‘gifted and talented’ label

As a school in an area of high deprivation, our highest attainers lacked one major thing: aspiration. Our drive as a school centred on developing their aspirations and goals, in which led to the need for an upheaval of our current gifted and talented programme into something that would make them believe in themselves and their abilities.

The first stage of this journey focused on what we believed was lacking from the old system: a clear, data-driven approach to selecting students for this programme. Gifted and talented was rebranded as ‘high potential’ and given a new prominence within school.

Identifying the students was the next challenge. At first, we decided that the best way to identify students was to look at KS2 prior attainment. This gave us a foundation for referring to the students as ‘high potential’, as they had shown the ability to attain top grades – and it could not then be questioned by staff who might not necessarily see the students in this way based on current attainment. The focus was on their potential, which changed the way we viewed their extracurricular provision.

Using KS2 attainment to identify high potential avoided staff questioning the selections based on students’ current attainment

The next step on this road to embedding high potential into the fabric of the school was telling the students. Parents were integral to this. Our students get a lot of their beliefs and aspirations from home, so we needed to explain this new name and the principles behind it to everyone involved.

Talk to the students before the parents

Parents were invited to a special evening at school and we met with the students beforehand to explain the event. The students were also issued with a gold star badge, to encourage them and make it easy for staff to recognise them. The parent information evening also helped to ensure that the students felt encouraged, special and indeed crucial to the school. The evening’s responses were very positive.

We have repeated this process each year, building on the principles we set out in year one and sharing success stories with the parents as we progress. These meetings have always been very well attended, and in later years have included everything from former student talks and visits from red-brick university outreach officers.

This led us on to development our extracurricular provision. The students desperately needed more: they lacked firm goals and visions for the future, and we really needed them to see this for themselves. So over the past two years, we have revamped the provision for high-potential students. It includes a range of interventions, some of which have been crucial in increasing the progress and attainment of the HP students, as well as their self-belief and motivation.

For example, we are constantly adding to the list of universities we are involved with, from local universities such as Aston University and University of Birmingham to Oxford and Cambridge. Not only do university staff visit the school; the HP students also visit the universities. The idea behind this is variety. Not every HP student will go on to university, but they should all have the opportunity to decide whether it is for them.

Not every high-potential student will go on to university, but they should all have the opportunity to decide whether it is for them

This was an essential part of developing our students’ self-worth and giving them options for the future that they may not have believed possible before. The best part of this is that, as we are a school with a high proportion of pupil premium eligible students, most of this could be offered to our students free of charge. This meant that the students who needed the support went, rather than the ones who could afford to go to university.

As well as visiting these places, and having speakers from them into school, we have tried many interventions to develop their provision within school too. Students have been actively encouraged to explore topics outside their usual day-to-day. This has been through Latin and other clubs, the ‘brainbox’– a resource consisting of advanced reading materials – and a particularly successful ‘dine-In session’.

Dine-in session

This was one of our first interventions and one we have continued each year. Students are invited to attend small group sessions on ‘grade 9’ topics and are then given an evening meal as a bonus for attending. Many of the students have attended these and benefited greatly from what our staff have to offer them in this context.

The exceptional student takeup on all these extra ideas has been a reflection of their previously untapped desire to achieve. They have become proud of their badges and are excited by the prospect of more, not just from school, but in their lives in general. And, most importantly, more investment in their futures.

The SSAT Aspirations Show 2018 on 6 July will give young people the chance to feel they have control over their own futures through exploring their potential future pathways. The day will give your students an opportunity to engage with people from different industries and learn about the challenges faced and methods to overcome them. Find out more.

Read more on the SSAT blog: Post-16 pathways: stop telling us which way to walk!

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