How to Ensure High Achievers Reach Their Full Potential in School
Donal Brennan, Headmaster of The Hampshire School, Chelsea, on enabling academically gifted pupils to reach their potential in mixed ability groups
Social mobility, equal opportunity and closing the attainment gap are all huge issues in the schools sector, and rightly so. The whole sector, from central government down to individual schools, is working to improve this; at the same time, however, it is absolutely vital that we do not ignore another, equally important group: the high achievers.
All schools will educate pupils of varying academic ability. Some will have lots of high achieving children, some will only have a few, but all schools will have them. The question is, while supporting those pupils who need additional assistance, how can schools ensure children of the highest natural academic ability do not plateau, and that these children leave school having reached the very peak of their potential?
At The Hampshire School, Chelsea, we have a great number of these pupils, and pride ourselves on developing them academically while enriching their school experience with exciting opportunities alongside their studies. There are a number of ways in which we do this.
Grouping children of mixed abilities together to work on cooperative tasks is often mutually beneficial. It does, of course, give those pupils that may need extra support the opportunity to question and learn from their peers, but it also adds another dimension to the learning of those more academic pupils.
Cooperative learning forces pupils to think about topics in a different way to that which they normally would
It forces them to think about topics in a different way to that which they normally would, to be able to respond to the queries of a peer who may not structure their questions in an orthodox way; it leads them to explore the corners of topics which they may not normally look into.
Furthermore, structuring activities in this way will lead to the development of soft skills such as communication and teamwork – vital traits in the modern world and essential complements to academic ability. This is active learning it its truest form.
Independent task setting
Giving pupils the opportunity to select the level they wish to work at is another effective way of helping them progress. At The Hampshire School, children attend mixed ability lessons where ‘mild’, ‘hot’ or ‘spicy’ activities are on offer. This allows for the children to try new flavoured topics and experience new challenges in lessons.
The differentiated learning tasks are carefully monitored and extension work is provided for those who are eager for even greater challenge. Independent task setting motivates children as there is a real sense of ownership and then achievement when the task is complete.
Giving pupils the opportunity to develop skills outside the classroom is a further component to enabling them to reach their full academic potential. As referenced above, soft skills such as communication are becoming more and more vital to employers, but this enrichment will also develop a confidence that will be taken into the classroom and into academic study.
The Hampshire School offers a comprehensive range of sports, drama and music classes, in addition to more academically focussed ‘gifted’ programmes, ensuring no stone is left unturned in the development our most able pupils.
No one method will be right for all pupils all of the time. It’s important for schools to not just challenge their most able pupils but challenge them in different ways
The key to all of the above, to giving children the very best chance of reaching their potential, is variation. No one method will be right for all pupils all of the time. It’s important for schools to not just challenge their most able pupils but challenge them in different ways, developing all aspects of their character and creating well-rounded citizens of the future.
We want our pupils to be as well-prepared as possible for the world they are going to enter, and at The Hampshire School this is something we pride ourselves on.
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