Is talent a defunct concept?

August 15, 2013
Glyn Barritt

Claire Lowe’s think piece for Vision 2040, is inspired by the book ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed and her primary school’s badminton team!


Is talent largely a defunct concept? Does each and every one of us have the potential to tread the path to excellence?

If you visit Blackfield Primary School’s main hall on most mornings between 0800 and 0840, you will find a group of about twenty children hitting shuttlecocks to each other. A typical morning club you might say? Well at first glance, yes, but take a closer look and you’ll see that this is no ordinary age-restricted club.

The children taking part range between 7 and 11, and they are all keen to play every day. They aren’t part of a special gifted and talented badminton team; indeed, prior to joining had no special talent for badminton. Yet they have gone on to win every badminton tournament they have been entered for, our Year 3 and 4’s winning against Y6 children in competitions! And in the New Forest Schools badminton tournament, our A team came 1st and our B team 2nd.

Do you have special equipment, I hear you ask? Parents who were particularly talented in badminton and have passed on their skill with the feathers to their unsuspecting young? Not at all .. these children have simply been taking part in practice most days of the week and they enjoy it. They have two coaches who are skilled in badminton - one is a parent who played at county level.

Look more closely at mathematics achievements at Blackfield Primary and you will see that in 2012, 16% of our Y6 children achieved a level 6 in mathematics which in itself is an amazing achievement; however couple this with the fact that 24% of our Y6 girls and 18% of our Y6 FSM achieved level 6, then it leads you to consider what could be happening in practice and how can I as Executive Headteacher facilitate my schools to achieve the same success in reading as I can in Badminton and mathematics? What are the commonalities? Whilst I was considering this, I happened across Matthew Syed’s book Bounce which I read with relish over the Easter holidays.

Could it be that what my badminton team had been doing was what Syed refers to as purposeful practice - specific and never changing purpose … progress? And was it possible that the mathematics successes had been created because the curriculum allowed for a method of purposeful practice? This is an area that I wish to look at more closely across the federation, along with the notion of mindset, using Dweck’s recommendations of praising effort, not talent … and embracing failure as a means of realising potential – therefore working with belief and practice. I shall keep the group informed of progress and any findings over the next year.

------------- References -------------------------------------------------

Reading: Bounce by Matthew Syed 1 Matthew Syed Bounce, Fourth Estate, 2011 p104 2 Matthew Syed Bounce, Fourth Estate, 2011 p74


Claire Lowe Claire is Executive Headteacher of the Blackfield and Fawley Federation.  She has developed and encouraged a culture of deep reflection and all staff are encouraged to be leaders of learning in their classrooms.