School Improvement

Define and identify more able puplis

By Fay Gingell on 05 Feb 2017


Improving outcomes for more able pupils, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, is high on the agenda for many schools.

I have been researching this area as part of a CPD module that I have written for The Key’s CPD Toolkit (this resource from The Key is worth investing in, I found it invaluable in my previous role as Head of School).

The starting position for improving outcomes for more able pupils is without doubt ensuring that you have an agreed definition in your school – that all staff know who these pupils are – and that you have a comprehensive range of methods of identification.


We were all pretty comfy with ‘gifted and talented’ terminology, or at least we were comfortable in knowing what the definition meant. The terms gifted and talented faded slowly after the Blair/Brown government, and in some ways they needed to. It doesn’t quite seem right that we separate success into academic subjects - ‘gifted’ pupils - and success in more practical disciplines - ‘talented’ pupils: both should be equally valued and essentially recognised as the same.

Fast-forward to the 2014 curriculum, new assessment systems, and the new government: the DfE has no statutory definition for more able pupils, schools are encouraged to agree on their own. This is certainly worth a discussion as a whole staff, and needs to reflect the context of your school.

Some key elements to consider when discussing your school’s definition are:

  • Reference to potential. Above average ability is a given, but children who have the potential to achieve exceptionally should also be included. This is especially important when we’re thinking about more able pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with SEND
  • Consider skills/personal attributes as well as traditional school subjects. We are rightly placing ever-increasing importance on developing skills such as critical thinking, innovation, imagination and collaborative working. These skills cross subject boundaries and if pupils demonstrate excellence in them they should be recognised
  • Bear in mind that more able pupils do not form one homogeneous group. They are as diverse and individual as all pupils: their exceptional abilities and talents will be equally as rich and diverse.


NACE (National association for Able Children in Education) points out the complexity of identifying more able pupils. It is vitally important to have a range of methods of identification. Cognitive tests (such as verbal and non-verbal reasoning) are one such method, however they are time-consuming and have been found to appeal more to certain styles of learning.

Assessments linked to the national curriculum are useful in the sense that they are standardised and work to an agreed numerical boundary; however they are only available for a small amount of subject areas and bring with them the usual complexities of exams – performance on the day, teaching to the test etc.

Teacher nomination is naturally subjective; however teachers know their pupils well and will be able to comment on skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking. Having some agreed criteria might help mitigate the subjectivity of teacher nomination to some degree. Stephen and Warrick (2015) have devised a useful list of subject-specific skills and qualities that you would expect to see in more able pupils (though the subjects are limited to maths, English and science). Subject leaders and department heads might find it beneficial to devise their own list of subject-specific attributes to support the identification of more able pupils. This activity would be even more effective if completed at a local cluster meeting.

EYFS home visits are fantastic for giving staff the opportunity to see new pupils in a comfortable environment, and to talk with parents about any particular abilities pupils may have. Early identification means that children can be stretched when they begin school. Consideration should of course be given to the young age of these pupils.

Informal observations during enterprise weeks, talent shows, sports events, and school productions will also give teachers opportunities to see pupils demonstrate a range of skills and the potential of excellence.

One Education can support you to develop your provision and improve outcomes for your more able pupils. For more information contact the School Improvement team on 0844 967 1111.

Authored by Fay Gingell.

Please get in touch or visit this page for more information.

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