Challenge all learners


Ensuring that the brightest pupils fulfil their potential goes straight to the heart of social mobility, of basic fairness and economic efficiency.


A report published by Ofsted “The most able students, Are they doing as well as they should in our non-selective secondary schools?” – June 2013, focussed on the progress of high ability students in both selective and non-selective schools.

  • 65% of high ability students attending a non-selective school do not gain A/A* in Maths and English GCSE.
  • 27% of high ability students attending a non-selective school did not gain a B grade in Maths and English GCSE.

The gap continues to grow at Level 3 provision, and even further in applications and admissions to Russell group Universities. The report notes that “In too many lessons observed by inspectors, teaching is not supporting our highest attaining students to do well.”

The key findings through inspections were:

  • In many schools, expectations of what the most able students should achieve are too low.
  • Schools do not routinely give the same attention to the most able as they do to low-attaining students or those who struggle at school.
  • In over two fifths of the schools visited for the survey, students did not make the progress that they should, or that they were capable of, between the ages of 11 and 14. Students said that too much work was repetitive and undemanding in Key Stage 3. As a result, their progress faltered and their interest in school waned.
  • Students did not do the hard work and develop the resilience needed to perform at a higher level because more challenging tasks were not regularly demanded of them. The work was pitched at the middle and did not extend the most able.

If children are pushed to achieve this will:

  • Inspire and motivate them
  • Enable them to fulfil their potential
  • Maintain their engagement

Why does it matter?

It allows us to provide a differentiated curriculum with children aiming for their best. It ensures that all students are suitably engaged in their learning and hungry for improvement. Higher expectations are for the benefit of all: “a rising tide lifts all ships”.

What characteristics are seen in lessons where learners are challenged?

  • Teachers ask open ended questions and where necessary set open ended tasks
  • Pupils are encouraged to develop higher order thinking skills (HOTS)
  • Pupils are encouraged and given responsibility as leaders & facilitators
  • Teachers help pupils to develop skills which critique their own and others work
  • Pupils are encouraged to have a go and not fear mistakes
  • Teachers give expert guidance on what exemplar (eg A*) answers/responses look like; this approach is adopted for pupils across all groups
  • Pupils literacy skills are constantly tested orally, in writing and with reading
  • Teachers use specific techniques such as “SOLO” (Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes) (About SOLO taxonomy)
  • Teachers ‘flip the classroom’ so that pupils prepare work at home and arrive to lessons ready to apply their knowledge; this ensures no time is wasted
  • Pupils are encouraged to experiment
  • Feedback on pupils work makes it clear how to improve including next steps
  • Teachers make time in lessons to give this feedback

A Smithers, and P Robinson, Educating the highly able, Foreword by Sir Peter Lampl, Sutton Trust, 2012;