How a school can help their Gifted

Identify those that may become "at risk"

Seek out the gifted children in your school that need help and avoid problems before they start.

Seek advice from parents, other schools, professionals

What is normal for these children? What help can you expect from other organisations and the community?

Treat each child as an individual and create a balanced programme

What is meant by a "balanced" programme? A look at strategies used by Bell Block Primary school and Inglewood High demonstrates it is possible to offer Primary, Secondary and Tertiary courses.

Different schools deal with their gifted children in different ways: Some ignore them. Most acknowledge they do not have the resources to effectively educate their gifted children but they are willing to try. In New Zealand we have yet to put into place a national system that permits schools to identify their gifted children! Read about definitions of "giftedness" here...

"Talented" and "gifted" - what's the difference? There is plenty of evidence that gifted children should be differentially treated, either by acceleration, enrichment, or ability grouping. But how you decide to define giftedness will influence how you later identify gifted children. Is there any real difference between being "talented" and being truly "gifted"? Some schools consider the top 15%, 10% or 5% of their students to be gifted or talented. Does research support the lumping together of these groups?

Children in the top 3 percent of the population have atypical developmental patterns and require differentiated instruction. Children in the top 10 percent of the population are not statistically or developmentally different from children in the top 15 percent, and it is not justifiable to single them out for special treatment.

It is similar to the situation where the moderately intellectually impaired, highly intellectually impaired and profoundly intellectually impaired all have quite different challenges and associated needs. So it is with the moderately gifted, highly gifted and profoundly gifted. They should not be lumped together.


Advice will be varied and even contradictory depending on the source: In New Zealand, schools outside of the main centres will have difficulty seeking professional advice about gifted children from psychologists or skilled and experienced academics.

There are no teaching resources specifically aimed at gifted children from the Ministry of Education. At the moment schools are on their own, being offered little in the way of meaningful assistance in terms of extra staffing, funding or training from the Ministry.

Yet the Education Review Office (ERO) is looking for evidence that schools are indeed "adding value" to these children. This seems like an unrealistic and unreasonable expectation in light of the fact there is little research on gifted children in New Zealand and limited resources to help a school identify and effectively meet their needs.

A school must be creative and self-reliant. Teachers must be careful not to blindly follow definitions or assume children fit into stereotypes...even after advice or professional development sessions from "experts". Always get to know your children before deciding what YOU think is best for THEM...

Some teachers assume a gifted child will be "immature" or have some other deficit to "balance" out the areas he/she is talented in. Not all people work like that...some are frustratingly good at lots of things and may make some of us feel inadequate or threatened...after all, isn't the teacher supposed to be the source of all knowledge? We must not assume we know best just because we are adults or teachers.

On the other hand, if a school decides to offer professional development to staff, and bring in a paid outside expert, don't forget that some staff may already have excellent experience in this area and can offer guidance for free. Be aware that some "expert" advice is of poor quality or too simplistic. Some "qualified" advisors (they have completed courses and/or papers) simply regurgitate theory or stereotype children. Avoid these people if you can!

Parents/care-givers: Will be able to highlight problems the child has with the level the class is working at and relationships with other students. Particular strengths and learning difficulties can be identified from observations at home. Favourite past-times and topics can be recorded for use in developing an individual programme for the student. Likely career interests, academic or recreational interests may be justification for setting particular learning objectives or achievement goals and methods of learning. Goals may include developing practical skills (eg, the arts or sport) or academic exam based courses (eg, languages, history, science).

Educational Psychologists/Academics: May highlight problems the child is likely to face in the near future and suggest particular strategies to avoid or cope with these. The advantages and disadvantages of particular methods of learning or assessment may be discussed. Professional develoment for staff may be available.

The community: Schools may wish to be part of a city-wide or regional programme and share expertise and resources with each other. Organisations such as the Nexus Research Group, various Colleges of Education, the Association of Gifted Children, etc may be able to offer assistance in implementing programmes in your school.

Getting the balance right is a matter of trial and error for most parents and the school. At the heart of all our efforts must be the well-being of the child. Teachers, the Principal and parents may have different ideas of what is best for the gifted student. Who is right? Who will know best?

A good school will treat each child as an individual and create a balanced programme that caters for:

  • Intellectual development (usually by acceleration, enrichment, ability grouping or a combination of these)
  • Physical well-being (via the schools Physical Education programme but also protection from bullying)
  • Social and emotional development (may include release home to complete assignments to avoid excessive homework, inclusion in school camps and dances)

If a parent perceives that a school cannot "get it right" for their child the family may decide to withdraw their child from the State system and teach them at home (parents: you must apply for an exemption from the Ministry of Education).

A common myth among teachers is that it is bad to let a gifted child "move up" a year level and be in a class with children a year or two older. There is a belief that the gifted student is better off staying with children the same age as them, as if it is "normal" for people to seek out others of the same age. This is not true since in society it is "normal" for us to live, play and work with others of various ages. What should be the deciding factor is how the student responds to classmates and the level of work. Parents can let the school know how the child has responded from behaviour and comments at home.

Partnerships with other schools or organisations may benefit your school (and student) in many ways:

  • Courses may be offered outside of the traditional curriculum areas
  • Existing staff are not required to be the source of knowledge for "extra" courses
  • Specialist materials and classrooms are provided by the partner
  • The time out of regular school can provide the student with refreshing break from routine.
  • The partner may use assessment tasks that can demonstrate to the Education Review Office that the programme has benefitted the student.

A school must be creative and self-reliant. Bell Block Primary School (New Zealand) uses a combination of acceleration and ability grouping. As a trial a few years ago, the Correspondance School provided the language and science courses that the students participated in. Students could even work from home for a few hours each week to complete the assignments. In a new trial for 2002 and 2003, one of their students spends half of the week at the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (WITT) completing a series of 8 week Science, Mathematics and Computing courses. In an attempt to widen the net, Inglewood High School is surveying teacehrs adn students to provide an opportunity for studens to demonstrate any hidden talents in the areas of sport, performing arts, etc.

For more ideas relevant to your type of school click here

New Zealand's history of neglecting gifted children... Working Party report summary

What does it mean to be called "gifted"... definitions of "Giftedness"

How to identify gifted children... some common features to look for

Consequences for parents and teacher... practical suggestions

What can Primary and Secondary teacher do? Giftedness in school

Real examples for Primary schools and Secondary schools. Acceleration, dual enrolment, and the conflicting needs of the school versus the student. Case studies

up arrowback to top

Case Studies NEXT >>




         All rights reserved