Do we neglect our brightest pupils?

Many teachers will admit that, when it comes to tests and exams, the main priority is that all students pass. But do we do enough to stretch and challenge the brightest pupils in our schools? And when they achieve As and A*s consistently, what do we do to push them further?

‘Not enough’, suggests a recent article in the BBC, which highlighted that our students are out-performed by many other countries when it comes to higher-level maths tests. The claim was supported by The Sutton Trust , who carried out a report into ‘educating the highly able’, in conjunction with researchers at the Centre for Education and Employment Research, at Buckingham University.

The report discovered that just 1.7% of England’s 15-year-olds reach the highest level, in maths, compared to countries like Slovenia (3.9%), the Slovak Republic (3.6%) France (3.3%) and the Czech Republic (3.2%); in Switzerland and Korea the scores were even higher, with 7.8% of pupils reaching higher levels; in Hong Kong the figure hot 10.8%; and Shanghai topped the lot with 26.6%.

Some, however, suggest that the results were skewed.

“The pupils taking the tests are selected differently, “Chris Keates, head of the Nasuwt, told the BBC. For example,  “Shanghai may not enter a pupil sample generally reflective of the student population and use crammer sessions to prepare.”

But what does all this mean for our students in UK state schools?

“Skewed data or not, it certainly raises concerns,” says former Headteacher, Denise Grewcock. “I think it’s fair to say that, in the majority of schools, not enough is done to challenge the most gifted and able students on a day-to-day basis. We should be looking to improve this while still supporting our weakest and middling performers.”

‘Differentiation’ is certainly a word that appears on every teachers’ lesson plans and schemes of work, but providing high quality teaching and opportunities which allow all our students to reach their full academic potential can be a challenge.

The Sutton Trust says the brightest children should be identified earlier on, and suggests that their progress should be better tracked after leaving primary school. They also call for tougher exam questions to stretch students further and provide greater opportunity for them to demonstrate their full potential.

Another option is private tutoring.

“When my daughter starting exceeding her classmates in her maths GCSE assessments, we wanted to make sure that she was still being sufficiently challenged,” explains Lindy Clay, whose daughter went on to study Mathematics at Cambridge University. “The school simply didn’t have the resources to offer additional teaching to a student who was already top of her class, so we hired a private tutor who was able to really challenge her.”

With smaller class-sizes and more time available for one-to-one support, perhaps we would have more success in supporting our most-able students in state schools. But, with preparation time squeezed and demands placed on teachers to provide a curriculum that is accessible to all students within their class, it seems likely that the brightest students can run the risk of stagnating.

What are your views on this? Do you have a great teaching method that allows you to stretch your brightest while still appealing to less able students? Are you a parent or student that feels not enough is done in schools to support your learning? Either way, we’d love to hear your views.