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Identification and transition
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Identifying more able learners: beyond the numbers

Posted By NACE, 08 July 2019

Struggling to identify the more able group in your school? You’re not alone! Identification is a complex matter, requiring a holistic and whole-school approach which looks beyond percentages, across domains, and focuses on providing opportunities for learners to show what they can do. Read more…

What is the definition of more able?

In England and Wales, Ofsted and Estyn define the more able in terms of those whose progress and attainment significantly exceed age-related expectations.

NACE looks beyond this to include those who may be underachieving or whose skills and knowledge may extend beyond national measures of progress and attainment. This approach encompasses those learners already achieving and attaining to the highest grades/levels/outcomes, along with those who may currently be underperforming or who have barriers to their learning.

In Wales, a national definition of more able and talented (MAT) learners that aligns with the new curriculum is currently under consideration by the regional school improvement consortia – find out more here.

How do we identify more able learners?

This is a complex matter and a whole-school issue which should be discussed and agreed by all staff, taking account of the specific school context and intake, and subjected to regular review. It is important to encompass a range of methods, looking beyond test results and teacher assessment. Criteria and factors to consider include:

  • Nomination by self, staff, parents and peers
  • Teacher observation and assessment
  • Data and pupil tracking processes
  • Transition information
  • School intake and context, including social and economic factors
  • Checklists of characteristics (general and subject-specific)
  • Identification through classroom and extracurricular provision
  • Consideration of ability beyond core subjects/academic domains

School policy for identifying more able learners should include approaches to identify and support underrepresented groups and learners at risk of underachieving, including those with special educational needs and/or disabilities and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. It should also acknowledge that an individual learner may be highly able in one or several domains but not in others; for this reason it is important to consider each subject or area of attainment separately.

Ultimately, the key is to focus on the opportunities provided for learners to reveal their abilities. The process is ongoing: provide – identify – provide.

See below for additional support and resources available from NACE.

What percentage should be identified as “more able”?

The percentage of more able learners in a class or school will vary. NACE does not specify an actual percentage but recommends that every school has a robust – while ongoing and flexible – method of identifying its more able cohort. A focus on numbers or percentages can be misleading: X% of what?

Focusing on a percentage can fuel the common misconception that more able learners are “good at everything”. It also makes schools reliant on data to support the identification of more able learners; this carries the risk of overlooking the many highly able young people who may, for a range of reasons, be underachieving.

Who are the exceptionally able?

The term “exceptionally able” is used to refer to those who demonstrate or have the potential to demonstrate extremely high levels of ability, compared to their peers across the entire population. Displaying high ability across multiple domains does not automatically make an individual exceptionally able.

What is challenge for more able learners?

Embedding a climate and culture of challenge and high expectations in your school is likely to raise both expectations and attainment across the board. However, challenge means different things for different groups. As with all groups of learners, it is important to have a clear focus on provision and outcomes for more able learners, to ensure these young people have their needs identified and met effectively.

Challenge for the more able means:

  • A curriculum designed to allow more able learners challenging and enriching learning opportunities;
  • Teaching with planned opportunities for depth, breadth and pace in learning;
  • Learning which involves self-direction and independence;
  • Assessment practices which reliably pinpoint learners’ achievement and progress and inform teaching and support strategies.

Within the current focus on curriculum in schools and at the level of national policy, all schools can improve their ability to identify potential and enable learners to excel by developing an engaging and rich education, imparting high-level knowledge and skills, providing opportunities for learners to be challenged at the highest levels in and beyond the classroom, and encouraging creative and critical thinking.

What additional guidance is available from NACE?

Our members’ resource library includes lists of identification characteristics (general and subject-specific), school case studies of effective practice, and examples of school materials used to identify and respond to the needs of more able learners. To access these resources, log in or join NACE.

For schools working with the NACE Challenge Framework, Element 2 (“Identification and transition”) provides detailed criteria to ensure a rigorous and effective and approach to identification, including a strong focus on identifying and responding to underachievement. Find out more here.

Read more: Common myths and misconceptions about more able learners 

Tags:  faqs  identification  myths and misconceptions  Wales 

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