More Able and Talented.
One of the greatest challenges in education today is to make sure that all pupils are continually building on their skills,developing knowledge and transferring their ability across the curriculum. As
we know all pupils begin at a very different baseline and often parental support during the toddler developmental stage defines whether a child begins life in school as more able. Am I suggesting that ability is a post code lottery? No! However I do believe that parents set the expectations for their child at a very early stage. Unfortunately during my career in less advantageous areas of society,I have seen extremely able children that could be deemed as being most able disappear from the academic radar in High School. This I believe happens for a number of reasons but the foremost reason and the hardest to control is peer pressure.
Pupils tend to allow peer pressure to determine their future as they develop into young adults. This is certainly not the only reason. I also believe that parental support can often depend on their own academic ability as to how much they can offer help and also financial support. Many pupils that achieve A* also have had personal tuition. This therefore limits the ability of financially struggling families who are desperate for their child to succeed.
One area that I feel is often disregarded when discussing more able pupils is that of well-being. This can be split into the most and the more able.
Most able: I have often found that these students can often have difficulty in socialising with their peers. As they get older they then become categorised and labelled by those that are jealous. What they sometimes have in common is the inability to conform to what is perceived to be the norm by their peers.These pupils require the same emotional support as pupils that have specific learning difficulties. Their greatest enemy can often be themselves. They put so much pressure on their young shoulders to succeed and struggle tremendously if they are faced with failure. They often measure failure in a totally different way e.g. having a lower grade instead of an A*. Many of the most able will manage but the true emotional test comes when suddenly they are facing failure or a sense of insecurity.
More able: The more able also require emotional support. They can often be under pressure from their own expectations as well as that of their parents. Parental pressure can be used as a force for good by pupils or as a weight that is too great to carry. These pupils need to understand what should be considered as failure rather than what they perceive to be failure. They need to realise that academic success is a means to an end and not the end itself.
Well-being is a crucial factor in the success of a child in school and that is why I believe we need to do more to tackle peer pressure. American High School films seem to set the scene for the intelligent pupil that can help with homework but is ridiculed behind their backs. Lisa in ‘The Simpsons’ struggles with her abilities in the face of her cooler brother. These are the prevalent images that continue to reflect the envy felt towards these pupils. We need to make sure that these pupils have a sense of worth that ultimately we are all different and the difference should be celebrated.
It is very difficult for any School to fully understand the mind and emotional well-being of each child but I firmly believe that it is essential in order to provide every child with the opportunity to succeed and enjoy life.
If a more able pupil lives in an area where academic ability is deemed to be secondary to the rules of that society then every School needs to consider how they can support the child and their family.
Academic success is not restricted to the most affluent pupils but a difference does exist.
‘Everyone connected with independent education expects success – the teachers, parents and children. There is no embarrassment about applying to Oxbridge or any Top Ten university, it’s the
norm. I accept that not all state schools have low expectations, but too many have an ‘us and them’ attitude towards top universities.’
I do not believe that we should focus too much on the differences between state and private education but in terms of well-being, the following comment epitomises the need to support more and most
‘While teaching methodologies may be slightly less progressive at my new school, perhaps the biggest difference from a teaching and learning perspective is the attitude of the students. As one student told me in my first week: “It’s just not cool to do badly.” Students are, in general, willing to take risks in front of their peers, teachers and the public; willing to perform, present, speak, debate and
challenge ideas. They have more academic, social and self confidence, which can make them more challenging in lessons than my previous students. This may be a result of their more privileged backgrounds. But it is also true that the school sets out to nurture and encourage this in a way that my comprehensive
school simply didn’t.’
Can we make every school respond appropriately
to the needs of the child?
‘Both of Tracie Watson’s children, Stephanie
aged 14 and Sam aged 16, are educated privately; at St Margaret’s School for
Girls and at Albyn School, both in Aberdeen.
“We weren’t happy with state school. My son was smart but didn’t ask for any attention so wasn’t getting any, the classes were so big. It wasn’t cool to be smart so we moved him when he was 10. At private school students are more supportive and don’t tease each other for doing well academically – it’s a far more encouraging environment.’
What seems to be a common thread in all these comments is the fact that peer pressure does have a definite role to play in the lives of intelligent pupils. This can be either positive or detrimental
to their continued success.
If all Schools accept that well-being is actually a crucial factor towards future achievements then it will be possible for all pupils to succeed.
If we celebrate the gifts of all pupils then perhaps peer pressure can have more of a positive impact.
Gifted pupils are described as such because of their talent in a certain field, sporting, debating, making, baking……the
list is endless. I believe that we should celebrate these gifts. If a pupil is able to assemble and disassemble an engine then surely this is a gift. If a child can take a lump of wood and produce something amazing then surely this again is a gift. As a Headteacher I am proud of the achievements ofall pupils in all areas of life. Quite simply I believe we need to reconsider the term gifted. If we keep this title for the select few then how do we celebrate the different attributes. If a child represents
their country in a hair dressing competition, is this any less an achievement than playing a sport? Too often achievements are unknown because some pupils do not want the attention
especially from their peers but if we celebrate non-academic achievement and place this on a pedestal could we begin the process of breaking down barriers that exist and reduce the jealousy that often leads to unwanted peer pressure?