NACE response to Sutton Trust report “Potential for Success”
25 July 2018
NACE welcomes the Sutton Trust’s focus on highly able learners from disadvantaged backgrounds in its recently published report “Potential for Success: fulfilling the promise of highly able students in secondary schools”.
The report acknowledges the existence of good practice in provision for the more able, and the work of schools, charities and other organisations in this area, but recognises the need to robustly evaluate existing provision and build on this to ensure sustainable support for young people, regardless of background or locality.
This should not limit innovation and development within the more able field, but rather facilitate it, acknowledging amongst other things the origins of innovative and effective practice – in schools accredited with the NACE Challenge Award, for example, and in TSAs and MATs across the country.
NACE acknowledges that the identification of highly able learners is an area that will benefit from a robust national focus. Identification of more able learners uses both qualitative and quantitative measures – important to help ensure that able underachievers are not missed.
From our work with schools across England and Wales NACE can highlight practices which contribute to greater clarity when examining data, greater precision when planning, and greater rigour within quality assurance and school self-evaluation. Success in achieving rapid improvement or maintaining a highly successful school is dependent on whole-staff involvement. It is important that all members of the organisation have a meaningful share in data intelligence, including a focus on more able disadvantaged learners.
A focus on identifying and supporting more able learners will reduce the potential for inconsistency and provide support for young people at key points in their progression, including primary to secondary transition. Supplementing this with qualitative criteria will be important to help ensure that able underachievers, including those from less well-off backgrounds, are not missed. In turn, such an approach will support the monitoring of more able learners’ progress, take account of their achievements at all stages of schooling, and enable timely adjustments and interventions to meet their needs.
More able programmes and interventions
We welcome too the report’s focus on pedagogy and the importance of strong subject knowledge, access to high-quality teaching and range of programmes. This is an area that needs further attention, as we consider new ways for young people to gain access to knowledge and expertise that complement classroom activities. Research shows us approaches that work well to challenge all learners, and there is ongoing work in schools focused on how this can be applied systematically to able learners. In our own work we focus on approaches that do not put limits on children’s learning.
We also recognise the work schools can do to support all teachers in increasing confidence to provide effective challenge in the classroom for more able learners, including NQTs, and that the education system must play its part through support for initial teacher training.
Managing the process organisationally in a sustainable way
NACE agrees that schools should consider designated personnel to support this agenda, but we believe this should be managed at a senior level, and feed into wider school improvement. In the most successful schools, more able coordinators are recognised as middle or senior leaders, have the authority to make decisions and move things forward, and are able to “lead” rather than simply “coordinate”. They are also skilled and knowledgeable about high ability and its implications for teaching, and are often leading practitioners in their own right.
NACE’s role in the more able field
In 2008, NACE established the NACE Challenge Framework, a tool for whole-school review and improvement in provision for more able learners. The framework provides a structure through which to identify strengths and priorities for improvement. Over the past decade, the framework has been used by thousands of schools, many going on to have their provision externally audited through the NACE Challenge Award, and proven its value as a tool for effective whole-school improvement.
As an organisation with more than 1,600 member schools, NACE has access to a growing repository of effective practice in more able provision. “From excellence to evidence” is a central theme of our current work; initiatives to record and share the effective practice developed by our members include the NACE Research and Development Hubs, practitioner-led research supported by the University of Winchester, and our 420 NACE Challenge Award schools.
NACE welcomes the government’s Future Talent Fund, which will provide schools and other organisations with support to continue to develop their work, to highlight gaps in knowledge and to effectively evaluate and share good practice for more able disadvantaged learners.
Commenting on the Sutton Trust report, NACE CEO Sue Riley said: “NACE believes that all learners should be given the opportunity to realise their potential whatever their background and welcomes the Sutton Trust’s recent report. As a charity, NACE focuses on the more able in the context of challenge for all through a practical approach to supporting teachers and senior leaders to develop all aspects of more able policy and provision. Acknowledging the central role that more able provision has to play in the wider debate around standards, equity and opportunity will benefit young people, and in turn support economic growth.
"The reasons for underachievement are many and complex, even when it’s clear that a child is recognised as having the kinds of abilities which could lead to academic success – including personal dispositions, lack of cultural and linguistic capital, issues of teaching expertise and subject knowledge, and the effects of social and domestic circumstances. It is critical that all those involved in supporting young people work to remove these barriers and to understand the most effective ways of doing so, as well as developing the effectiveness of schools and teachers.”