When talking with parents of gifted children, the one thing they would like a school to do is to develop a policy on Gifted children in the school. It is almost as if this would solve all the problems their children experience in schools. Of course this is not true – but a gifted policy could go very long way towards making a gifted child’s experience of school a meaningful and happy one.
I don’t believe it’s going to far to suggest that a gifted policy is the last thing a school wants. It really depends on the quality of leadership offered by the Principal of the school and indeed, his or her courage in meeting this need head on. Once a policy exists, the school has to live by it and it can become a rod for the school’s back. This of course does no one any favours. Ordinarily, a principal has to manage so many competing demands – from staff, parents, students, Board of Management – that it is far easier to leave unmet those demands that are not perceived as urgent or legally necessary.
The fundamental problem in developing a policy is the absence of money to resource a policy. Exceptionally Able children have specific needs, many of which can be met, I believe, in a mainstream classroom with a well organised teacher with passion. But some needs ought really to be catered for beyond the classroom, in particular, organised enrichment activities for which their just isn’t time in the 40 minutes of a class period.
The myth still persists that exceptionally able children with perform well no matter what…and if they didn’t perform well, they weren’t exceptional in the first place. As long as this view exists, it can be very hard for a principal to justify the extra effort to draft and implement a policy for exceptionally able children.
On a related note, it is ironic that a gifted child can get help for their dyslexia, but not for the fact that they are ‘brilliant’ and their needs are not being met in the classroom.
The challenge in developing a policy, especially in the current economic climate in which Ireland has been placed, is for parents and schools to collaborate in identifying what can reasonably be done within the limitations of funding. A lot can be done with 1 committed teacher and a plan to help the gifted children in a school achieve their potential.
While gifted children, like all children, could benefit from specialised and individual tutoring, I do not believe that this is reasonable in the current climate and indeed, not always desirable. Gifted children will one day become adults who have to work with people of a range of abilities. School is a good place to learn how to do this.
Assessment of Current programmes
In the first instance, before drawing up a policy, a school should identify those programmes it already provides which may appeal to Exceptionally Able children. While Extra-curricular activities are not a substitute for classroom provision, there are extra-curricular activities that can make school a meaningful place for Exceptionally Able children. Examples with which I am familiar include Model United Nations, Young Scientist Exhibition and several Debating Competitions.
Developing a Policy for Exceptionally Able provision
The procedure for developing a policy for Exceptionally Able pupils will vary from school to school and depends on several factors. These include
• The resources available to fund a policy – although it should be noted that there is much that can be done for very little;
• The leadership and professionalism of the Principal either directly or through delegation to a coordinator;
• where are coordinator is involved, the leadership and professionalism of the coordinator and his/her ability to motivate staff;
• The size of the school – the number of teachers and pupils; the number of teachers is particularly important as small schools have a different working dynamic than larger schools;
• In very small schools, under 50 pupils, the attention that can come from specific provision can be a factor in the success of provision. Children want to feel normal but they also want to feel a part of something.
• The role of parents in a school or indeed the absence of such a role.
Interested parents should be encouraged to comment on the policy and offer advice and their experience in partnership with teachers.
Reason for Drafting an EA Policy
It is important that a school consider carefully the reasons for developing a policy in the first instance. Any provision must have at its heart the education and well being of Exceptionally Able children. A policy ought not to be developed simply to meet some perceived gap in a school’s documentation or to impress school inspectors. Nor should it be done to silence demands of parents. A policy has to have at its core a deliberate intent to ensure the Exceptionally Able children have the opportunity to achieve their potential.
It is important to ensure that all the stakeholders have an input into the policy. I am inclined to stop short of saying that pupils themselves must have an input into the policy. But their views would help inform a policy. And they certainly must have an input into the manner in which the policy is implemented, eg. Learning contract.
“My School recognises the importance of enabling all students to achieve their full potential. The School is committed to providing an environment which enables all children to progress towards achieving their potential”.
“My School recognises that by virtue of their ability Exceptionally Able children may require specific interventions to enable them to achieve their potential and to maximise performance. This policy outlines the school’s practice and procedures relating to the support of Exceptionally Able pupils”.
“This policy has been drawn up in consultation with management, teaching staff, parents and pupils”
The purpose of a policy should be considered in the light of the original reasons for drafting a policy. While it might be tempting to adopt a ‘change the world’ approach, this may not fit in with the existing school culture and management approach. Short of a radical appraoch, it may be better to begin small and gradually build a well informed and considered policy over time.
The purpose of this policy is to provide a framework for the identification and ongoing support of Exceptionally Able students to ensure that they have an opportunity to progress towards realising their full potential.
Gifted children often feel alone and as a result, odd, in school. A basic human need is a sense of belonging. The fundamental attitude behind a policy should be to ensure Exceptionally Able children feel included in the main business of the school – teaching and learning. Their should be an expectation that students (of all abilities) will endeavour to engage meaningfully as a member of the school community. For its part, the school must ensure it provides opportunities and encouragement for particiaption.
The School encourages and expects all students to involve themselves in the life of the School according to their abilities and subject to demand for specific activities.
It may not be possible to meet all the demands for specific activities. A school should not be tied into making a provision that it can not honour due to finance or administrative reasons. This serves no one.
Exceptionally Able pupils have equal access to all aspects of the curriculum and school life. The School promotes a culture of success and encourages respect for all achievement whether academic, cultural or sporting.
A school should think carefully about the definition it employs as the definition will determine who may or may not ‘qualify’ for support. While in an ideal world every Exceptionally Able child, and indeed every child, would have access to every opportunity, it is simply not economically possible to finance 100% provision for each individual need.
“An Exceptionally Able pupil is one who ranks in the top 10% of his/her peer group in terms of academic ability. The school recognises that this can change from one year to the next….”
While this definition is workable I would urge some caution since the top 10% of a child’s peer group is not necessarily gifted.
A talented pupil is in the top 10% in a non-academic area such as sport, visual or performing ability, mechanical ability, leadership and social awareness, creativity and arts and drama. This includes any pupil who could be recognised as gifted or talented but who is presently not reaching his or her full potential.
Schools should have regard to the particular social and emotional characteristics of gifted children which exist independently of their school performance.
The School uses a range of strategies to identify Exceptionally Able pupils. The identification process is ongoing and begins when the child joins the School.
Identification procedures used by the school may include
information from parents or guardians,
information from primary school teacher,
nature of classwork class work (creativity)
tests, or other assessment.
Identification from teachers in the School is a vital component of identifcation. It this important therefore that Exceptionally Able children can demonstrate their potential through their participation in class and in extra-curricular activities.
I don’t think it is helpful to identify students based on examination performance though it is understandable that a school without specific resources needs a clear definable basis upon which to choose children for provision. Exam performace can be helpful once it is understood that Exceptionally Able children can underperform for a host of reasons.
A school needs to think carefully about whether it will accept an assessment of Exceptionally Ability provided by an independent Educational Psychologist. While it seems perfectly reasonable to accept such, the school may not have the resources to provide every assessed child with support. This is because there is no Department of Education funding for Exceptionally Able children.
Twice Exceptional Children – those with a learning difficulty but who are also Exceptionally Able – qualify for Department of Education funded support but only on the basis of their learning difficulty.
Programmes for Teaching, Learning and Curriculum
The Department of Education does not provide specific funding for the support of specialist programmes for Exceptionally Able children in schools. However, the School recognises that there is much that can be achieved despite this. Additionally the School has, as a matter of course, several activities that can make a significant contribution towards Exceptionally Able Children achieving their potential.
In the first instance, students identified as Gifted are expected to understand the obligations of the school in relation to the delivery of the State curricula.
Opportunities for extension and enrichment are provided by teachers within the context of classroom instruction. To meet the needs of Exceptionally Able children the School promotes use of a variety of strategies including differentiation, learning centres, flexible groupings, competitions, clubs, pull out groups (choose which ones are relevant).
This is the bit that may require teachers to step up their activities to meet the needs of the school’s children.
The College also assigns mentors to Exceptionally Able children to oversee their development within the school. (This is an ideal provision).
Students identified as Gifted and wishing to avail of the School Programme will be expected to accept a ‘contract of learning’. This contract may include
curriculum and performance targets for individuals so that they can achieve at the highest level and always aim to make further progress. Students will take an active part in this process.
Extension activities, that are more demanding of their abilities, or enrichment activities that provide new and different ways of working will be provided.
Opportunities for Exceptionally Able pupils to work together may be provided, particularly in the context of competitions and extra-curricular activities.
There will be opportunities for performance, or to display talents during the school year, for example during Prize Distribution, Arts and Sports Awards and Transition Year Awards ceremony.
The school provides an extensive range of curricular and extra-curricular activities suited to the needs of Exceptionally Able children. These include Chess Club, School Choir.
Students may also identify other activities which, if possible, the School could support.
If appropriate, adult mentors in specific areas may be approached to facilitate input on specialised topics.
Twice Exceptional Pupils
The School recogises that some pupils may be Twice Exceptional, that it, be gifted but also have a learning difficulty. In this situation, the school will liase closely with parents in ensuring appropriate support for such pupils within the context of the College’s SEN programme and this policy.
Implementation of an EA Policy
This section should outline who will be responsible for and coordinate the implementation of the policy.
A senior teacher with responsibility will act as coordinator for Exceptionally Able pupils and will:
• Maintain a register of Exceptionally Able pupils in consultation with other staff.
• Monitor the school’s provision for pupils identified as being gifted or talented.
• Monitor the progress of pupils identified as being gifted or talented.
• Be responsible for giving information to parents and teachers and the Board of Management.
• Co-ordinate the hand over of information for students in transition (coming from or going to another school).
• To liaise with the Guidance Staff regarding the progress of Exceptionally Able pupils.
• Review the policy in the light of practice and modify when necessary.
• Evaluate the policy annually.
The Principal will coordinate the implementation of this policy in collaboration with the learning support coordinator.
The School may, from time to time as appropriate, assign staff training days to provide support to teachers in the implementation of this policy. www.sess.ie
Evaluation and review
This policy will be reviewed by the Board of Management in consultation with parents, students and teachers every _____________ years.
And the Gold Standard?
The gold standard of gifted provision is individual IEPs with tailored educational experiences delivered by specially trained expert teachers of gifted and talented children. Not unlike providing olympic teams athletes with the best coaches..