Schemes of Work for Gifted and Talented pupils: An Overview

This document is intended to offer help to individuals, or groups of teachers, who wish to devise their own schemes of work for the more able pupils in their class or school. The guidance is not curriculum or phase specific but covers the main issues to be considered, and questions that might be raised, whatever the subject area or the age of the pupils.

What is a scheme of work?
A scheme of work (SoW) defines the structure and content for teachers in their subject. The SoW includes teaching and learning objectives, a timeline which may be more or less detailed, and other details such as opportunities for assessment and resources.

For which pupils is this intended?
The term ‘gifted and talented’ refers to pupils who achieve, or who have the potential to achieve, more highly than their peer group. This may be in the academic subjects (gifted) or the performing and creative arts and sport (talented). Within the national programme for gifted and talented there is an expectation that each school will identify a representative group of the school population to be included on their register. Gifted and/or talented pupils will be found both in top ability sets and in mixed ability classes.

What is the benefit of devising a scheme of work for more able pupils?
Many able pupils are well served in ordinary classrooms by teachers who are skilled in differentiating the general curriculum content to include high challenge activities. However some pupils are not provided with opportunities to display their abilities, or refine them. Such low level work can lead to underachievement through lack of engagement and boredom. All pupils are entitled to an appropriate and enjoyable educational experience and gifted and talented pupils are no different to others. In addition to meeting pupils’ personal needs, teachers who pay attention to the gifted and talented when planning specific lessons report that they themselves become more skilled at devising challenging activities and questions. They also note that they do not restrict these to the identified pupils. There are two benefits from this – previously unidentified pupils begin to work at a surprisingly high level, and the whole class experiences the modelling of good questions and answers. So teaching and learning both improve.

How do I plan for challenge within my curriculum subject?

Scheme of work for use with G&T students
This depends on the class, the subject, your own expertise, and time and resource constraints. You’ll need to pose and answer a few questions before deciding which is the most appropriate strategy for you and your pupils. And it’s helpful to have a framework for those questions – the one we have chosen below is that most commonly used in the G&T literature here in the UK although there are others which are equally helpful.

Strategies for challenge
We can increase challenge through: • Acceleration – working through the curriculum content of the next level; • Enrichment – combining different subject areas, or different areas within a subject, or working outside the statutory curriculum. Often called ‘broadening’; • Extension – working within the curriculum content but using higher order thinking skills. Often called ‘deepening’; • Independence – removing some of the support and providing elements of choice; and • Reflection – planning time for pupils to discuss and evaluate their own work. In actual fact most schemes of work for gifted and talented pupils use a combination of two or more of these strategies. Let’s explore each in turn and then see which are the most suitable for your situation.

In primary and secondary schools the most common way of increasing challenge is to accelerate pupils through the curriculum. This might be for an individual pupil, or group of pupils, who work within the ordinary class but at a more advanced level than everyone else; pupils who are timetabled to work with older pupils; or whole classes who work through the syllabus at a faster rate than the rest of the year group. Acceleration helps to meet targets, for example for early entry at GCSE, or KS2 pupils achieving level 5, but may not always be the most appropriate strategy for individual pupils. Recently there has been some controversy in the education world, most notably in mathematics, about the wisdom of offering able pupils the same content as everyone else but in a shorter period of time. The disadvantages are said to be: • Able pupils cover lots of content quickly and at a surface level rather than spending time discovering the depth of the subject; • Some subjects require maturity acquired through experience; • It is difficult to ensure continuity and progression unless the policy for acceleration is planned as a whole school; and • Where whole classes are accelerated, there may well be pupils included in order just to make the size of the class viable, rather than because acceleration is appropriate for them. On the other hand, the advantages for the teacher are obvious. There is no need to devise a scheme of work as one already exists – that for the next year or level. For that reason we will not discuss acceleration further when considering a scheme of work – the planning becomes an organisational exercise, rather than one concerned with teaching and learning.


Scheme of work for use with G&T students
Teachers who are passionate about their subject often enrich the curriculum with stories, activities, information and resources and interesting snippets drawn from their own enjoyment and experience. Since part of our role as teachers is to apprentice pupils into the community of scientists, mathematicians, historians, dancers, musicians etc, it’s important that all pupils understand that there’s more to the subject than what’s in the National Curriculum. Gifted and talented pupils are particularly well placed to make links outside, between, and within subject areas. A scheme of work which enables this widens their understanding and allows for their own interests to be pursued. And sharing their work with the rest of the class enriches other pupils’ experiences too. However there are disadvantages, the most obvious perhaps being the teacher preparation time needed. Enrichment can also be pretty lonely too, if pupils are just sent away to do endless projects.

We talked above about apprenticeship. The term ‘cognitive apprenticeship’ is sometimes used to describe the way we want pupils to think about their subject – to think and act like mathematicians, scientists, artists etc. Extension provides the opportunity to do this, through offering activities which require pupils to use higher order thinking skills such as those described by Bloom. In his taxonomy, Bloom suggests that there are six different sorts of thinking: two lower levels which he calls knowledge and comprehension; the middle level of application; and the three higher order thinking skills which he calls analysis, synthesis and evaluation. A scheme of work which offers challenge by expecting pupils to analyse, synthesise and evaluate as well as learn, understand and apply their knowledge, has the huge advantage of deepening their understanding. And there aren’t really any disadvantages to that, except perhaps for teachers who lack confidence/competence in their subject and find it difficult to devise such tasks.

All pupils like to be given choices – by offering choice to gifted and talented pupils, we remove some of the scaffolding that may be necessary for the rest of the class, acknowledging that these pupils are capable of making their own decisions and encouraging resourcefulness and resilience. Choice can take different forms – choosing different content where the syllabus allows it, the form of presentation of work, the order in which tasks might be undertaken, or perhaps different forms of assessment. The main disadvantage for the teacher is in finding the time to monitor and support varied programmes of work.

It’s important that all pupils have an opportunity to talk about how they think and what they find the best way of working. Able pupils especially can be encouraged to reflect in depth about the ‘how’ and ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’ of the subject, and to set their own targets and self-evaluate. Reflection differs from the four strategies above in that it has to be combined with one of the others – it isn’t possible to devise a scheme of work solely around reflection but a scheme of work which includes opportunities for pupils to peer and self-assess can be very challenging.

Defining learning objectives


Scheme of work for use with G&T students
Kerry and Kerry1 suggest that a preferable phrase for ‘learning objectives’ is ‘learning intentions’ as this more closely reflects the teaching and learning situation. They suggest that intentions operate in five domains: • • • • • Knowledge Understanding Skills Attitudes Social/affective

The strategies above offer opportunities to devise intentions in one or more of these domains.

Some questions to ask
Do I know what high ability looks like in my subject so that I can promote it in my scheme of work? This is the key to planning activities to support such abilities. The NC website has lists of characteristics for each NC subject ( and it’s a good idea to print off the list as an aide memoire for planning. After all, how can you spot or support high ability if you don’t offer opportunities for it to be displayed? How can I adapt a previous scheme of work? You may already have a scheme of work that you think meets the needs of most of the pupils in your mixed ability class but can see that the most able are not really challenged by it. How can you ‘tweak’ it to make it suitable for all? You could: • to your existing plan, add a column headed ‘extension’. For selected whole class activities devise a question or group of questions that require the pupils to analyse and/or synthesise and/or evaluate. The learning intentions for the pupils who undertake these activities will differ in the knowledge, understanding and skills domains, so you will need to add those in. These activities are not additional tasks for pupils to do, they are alternatives. The pupils are not doing more work, they are doing qualitatively different work within the same curriculum content. You may well find that you don’t need additional resources but can use the same ones in a different way. The vocabulary list at the end of this article suggests the sort of language that you might find useful in devising activities. • to your existing plan, add a column headed ‘choice’. Look for activities within your scheme which offer opportunities for pupils to choose. The learning intentions for such activities are likely to be similar in the knowledge, understanding and skills domains to the originals, but differ in the attitudes and effective domains. These activities are not additional tasks for pupils to do; they are alternatives. The pupils are not doing more work; they are doing quantitatively different work within the same curriculum content. You may well find that you need additional resources.


Kerry T and Kerry C, ‘The centrality of teaching skills in improving able pupil education’

Educating Able Children, NACE Journal 4 (2), 13-19, 2000


Scheme of work for use with G&T students
• to your existing plan, add a column headed ‘enrichment’. Scan through your plan for activities which are intended to consolidate previous learning. For pupils who need less practice or consolidation, offer opportunities for them to link outside or across subjects or within different topics of the subject instead of doing more practice. These activities are additional tasks for pupils to do, not alternatives. This strategy is often known as ‘curriculum compacting’ – squeezing bits of the curriculum to make time for additional challenging activities. There are knock-on effects however – it is important to plan time for the pupils to feedback or present their work in some way. The learning intentions for such activities are likely to be different in the ‘knowledge, understanding and skills’ domains from the activities undertaken by the rest of the class, and may also differ in the ‘attitudes’ and ‘effective learning’ domains. You may well find that you need additional resources. • use a mixture of the above. What about devising one from scratch? Perhaps you are going to be teaching a top set and want to devise a scheme of work which is more challenging for the whole class (although, or course, you are likely to have a range of ability in a top set too). You could: • plan a complete curriculum topic using Bloom’s taxonomy. Use analysis, synthesis, and evaluation as a vehicle for the acquisition of knowledge skills and understanding rather than spending periods of time on these. The curriculum coverage will be the same as previously, but the thinking will be different! • plan for a topic that is not normally taught within the curriculum, perhaps something topical, and hence combine enrichment with independent activity. A good way to start is by drawing a collective mindmap or other graphical representation of what pupils already know about the topic, and would like to know, then offering choice about which questions they would like to explore. Collectively devise a framework for investigation, with more or less input from you depending on the sophistication of your pupils, and plan time for presentation of findings combined with evaluation (peer and self). If you have colleagues in another subject department in the school who would welcome the opportunity to work with you, it’s sometimes easier to choose a topic which is not in either existing scheme of work.

Questions to ask before you begin
• • • • • • • • • • Do you have a clear idea of what constitutes high ability in your subject? Who is this for – individuals? Group? Whole class? Is this a new scheme of work or an adaptation of an existing one? Are you intending to link to any existing schemes of work (eg QCA) or examination syllabuses? How long are you planning for? Single lesson, sequence, half a term? The longer you plan for, the more flexible you will need to be. Where does this fit within school year? Are there other events that you can capitalise on? What’s the big picture – the main intentions and content? What prior experience relevant to this topic will the pupils have had? What are the formal assessment requirements? Which will be the main strategy for challenge you will be using – enrichment or extension?

After your first draft
• Does your SoW offer opportunities for pupils to succeed whatever their learning style? • Does your SoW have progression and continuity?


Scheme of work for use with G&T students
• • • • • Is it flexible in case things don’t turn out as you expect? Have you planned time for reflective plenary discussion? Are there opportunities for identifying ability as well as supporting it? What are they? Are there opportunities for pupils to work independently? What are they? Are there opportunities for pupils to set their own targets and reflect on their work? What are they? • What resources will you need? • Are there any time-limited aspects that you need to plan ahead (for example visits, use of computer labs etc) • Are homework activities planned as an integral part of the SoW?

And finally…
It’s important to take notice of what pupils say they like about the classrooms in which they thrive. They like to feel secure – they like a classroom in which it’s fine to take risks and make mistakes. They like to feel appreciated – they like a classroom in which ability, whether intellectual or not, is celebrated and not treated with sarcasm. And they like debate and to be able to ask questions, not just answer them. Enjoy!


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