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This SEP publication is designed to support science teachers, those with responsibility in science departments, and Gifted and Talented coordinators in schools. All schools are now expected to identify their most able students – the ‘Gifted and Talented’, and to demonstrate that the special needs of this group are being addressed, following inspection findings that indicated that, in general,

“very able pupils in maintained primary and secondary schools are often insufficiently challenged by the work they are set” 1
Those comments were made by the Inspectorate in 1992, and as recently as 2004 the Chief Inspector of Schools has reported that

“Consistently high-quality provision for gifted and talented pupils, for example in secondary schools, remains the exception rather than the rule.” 2
Meeting the learning needs of the most able is now a focus of school inspections, and schools will be judged on how they ensure that their highest attaining students are facing appropriate intellectual demands. Schools, and individual departments, need advice on how best to provide for this group of students.3

All schools are now required to identify their ‘gifted’ students, and to ensure that they are being challenged to meet their potential. This guidebook is intended to offer practical advice on how to meet the learning needs of the most able in science.

The guidebook provides an overview of some key issues in gifted science education:

  Who are the learners who may be considered gifted in science?
  What is the nature of giftedness in science education?
  How can schools and teachers plan appropriate provision to meet the needs of this group?

These are major topics, and the present slim publication is only able to offer an introduction to some of the key thinking about gifted science education. References are included to allow those interested to follow up these topics in more detail.

Part of the impetus for this publication derived from a concern among some in science education, both in universities and schools, that the needs of the most able learners were not easily addressed within science lessons constrained by the English National Curriculum (with its ‘whistle-stop’ tour of myriad science topics, but little time to explore issues in any depth). This led to a collaborative project between the Universities of Cambridge, Reading and Roehampton: APECS- Able Pupils Experiencing Challenging Science ( The focus of the project was a University of Cambridge Faculty of Education Seminar Series on Meeting the Needs of the Most Able in Science which demonstrated that there was quite a good deal of useful relevant thinking around, although little actual research exploring how the most able can be challenged in science. Teachers need practical advice, supported by a solid research base, and this guide is intended to offer the ‘best current advice’ in a currently under-researched field.

In particular, it draws upon a project supported by SEP (the Science Enhancement Programme), to design and implement a programme of after-school enrichment activities for Y10 (14-15 year olds). The ASCEND project (Able Scientists Collectively Experiencing New Demands) was a collaborative project involving the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education working with the Confederation of Secondary Schools in the City of Cambridge. Students from four of the City schools came together in the Faculty of Education to work together on a series of activities designed to complement school science provision. Funding from SEP supported the development of new teaching resources (made available with this publication) as well as the logistical support for the research/development project. The project was staffed by science graduates studying in the Education Faculty, who acted both as teaching assistants and also as research assistants recording their observations on the sessions.

Figure 1: Students were carefully observed during ASCEND

Figure 1: Students were carefully observed during ASCEND

We also recorded some of the dialogue between students working together, to provide a record that would allow us to consider the level at which the students were working. Although space does not allow the inclusion of detailed accounts of all our observations, a few ‘bites’ have been included to give a feel for the way students were able to engage in and respond to the activities.

Figure 2: ‘Miked-up’ - digital recorders were used to capture some of the dialogue during ASCEND sessions

Figure 2: ‘Miked-up’ - digital recorders were used to capture some of the dialogue during ASCEND sessions

The nature of science was used as the main theme for the ASCEND project. Original teaching materials prepared for these sessions are available on the accompanying CDROM. It is hoped that these activities will be useful as examples of activities that can be incorporated into school provision more widely. Although ASCEND was a collaborative venture, run as an after school enrichment programme, it may well be that schools will wish to adopt or adapt some of these teaching resources for use in other ways when working with their gifted scientists.

By providing the rationale for activities, and an indication of what the students at ASCEND made of these particular activities, it is hoped that the guidebook will provide science departments with ideas on how to develop their own materials and activities suitable for their own most able science learners.

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   CD-ROM guide