Jack Sims, Head of Scholars at NACE-accredited Pangbourne College, discusses the value of challenging all pupils to aim higher and aspire for more

Teaching is the most incredible profession, as all teachers know. Ensuring that every single pupil is challenged to develop both socially and academically is a responsibility that all teachers must face. This is regardless of their background, ability, talents – a personal approach is fundamental.

Each school across the world will have selected those who are deemed ‘gifted and talented’, to use an older pedagogical phrase. These more obviously able pupils will naturally benefit from extra provision and care so that they reach their fullest potential. But, what if this recognition of ability was cross-curricular too? What if schools celebrated not only those who obviously excelled academically, but also those who had talents in individual subject areas or even socially – emotional intelligence, say, or entrepreneurial thinking? It could result in more acceptance across a school, as well as bringing out the leaders of tomorrow in all fields.

Naturally, high-quality teaching is the facilitator to this somewhat utopian vision. We all have them – pupils that display those aspirational qualities. Teaching to the Top is a phrase that some pedagogical experts fundamentally disagree with. Perhaps it is to do with the fact that it seems somewhat divisive at first glance. Setting a high expectation across a curriculum and allowing a good deal of personalised plasticity in teaching methods means that pupils can benefit from highly structured and planned lessons to enable them to reach those higher bars. Teaching to the top really should say Challenge for All – and this this should extend beyond the classroom.

“What if schools celebrated not only those who excelled academically, but also those who had talents in emotional intelligence or entrepreneurial thinking?”

Pangbourne College is a National Association for Able Children in Education-accredited school and holder of a NACE Challenge Award.  We recognise that by daring our pupils to regularly engage in more challenging work, and to dream of possibilities that they did not think were feasible at the outset we challenge all. Ultimately, the impact across our whole community can only be beneficial. Those more able pupils from across disciplines then become aspirational role models. They set the bar higher for others in the school, also having a knock-on effect for the rest of the class.

Some in education fear that perhaps some pupils could get left behind if teachers challenge every pupil, every lesson, but I disagree. It removes glass ceilings and equips pupils with the confidence and desire to drive themselves forward. When this is coupled with first-class pastoral care, exciting co-curricular opportunities and a caring community, I believe that this recipe only results in success.

If we celebrate each pupil for their talents, loudly and proudly, and adopt a mentality that focuses on exceptional teaching each day, that utopian vision actually is not too far away. No school will get it perfect at first but, with a collaborative effort, the generation of tomorrow will thank us for it.

Pangbourne College pangbourne.com

Further reading: Mayfield School on the positive value of making mistakes