Educating talent

Frances Mwale, Farlington School’s prep headmistress, reflects on a recent conference exploring the needs of the young and gifted

On 28 January I attended the fourth National Conference for Able, Gifted and Talented in Independent Prep Schools at Moor Hall Conference Centre, Cookham. This was run by Learning Works, an organisation that provides special educational expertise, courses and resources. This includes working with teachers to support able, gifted and talented individuals in our schools, as well as with those who have learning difficulties. Having attended the first three conferences, I felt very honoured to be invited to run one of the workshops.

The main keynote speaker was Dr David George. Author of the book ‘Young, Gifted and Bored’ (amongst others), his work in schools and universities has done so much to raise the profile of issues surrounding the teaching of the more able. He was full of insight, wisdom, advice and gently humorous, anecdotal snippets. He also reminded us that British teachers are the best in the world!

There were notes of caution about hot-housing children. Indeed from my reading and research into the subject, it does children no favours to be fast-tracked in terms of their knowledge. They will learn facts anyway at the appropriate time. What we have to promote is learning to think, as well as focussing on how to be an effective learner. Making brain connections featured greatly throughout the day. Our aim in education should be to turn out well-rounded, happy, fulfilled people. Cramming a child full of knowledge is often to the detriment of their creativity.

My workshop concerned running off-timetable days, to provide opportunities for independent learning to take place. This is an area on which I led at my previous school. There everybody experienced three days in which lessons were abandoned, bells switched off and projects undertaken that would be otherwise impossible in the ways that days normally run. The outcomes surpassed what even I had anticipated: pupils built a plastic-bottle greenhouse; they podcast a radio programme; wrote, performed and videoed a pop song; built a woodland sensory trail and much, much more. It is at times when we are able to lift the lid off routine and directed learning, that the truly remarkable can take place.

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