The Gifted Phoenix Manifesto for Gifted Education 1

I have been calling for some time for an global, organised approach to advocating to meet the education needs of gifted children. It’s a big dream in part because it is global and  in part because there are many different views within the ‘global gifted community’ about how we should approach the task of meeting the needs of gifted children. That’s before we get over the personalities and the self-promotion!

Most of the arguments for providing for the needs of gifted children centre on the fact that gifted children have different educational needs (with the attendant socio-emotional issues) – therefore they should be addressed. Most of these arguments begin with efforts to demolish the myths of giftedness.

All well and good. However, I would have thought by now the global gifted community would have figured out that not everyone is buying our arguments – although it is more likely they aren’t even hearing them. It is perhaps a little understandable as it seems the global gifted community spends quite a bit of its time preaching to the converted. Sadly, few of the converted are the education decision makers.

While we can all get a bit high horsey about how various arguments exclude certain of the realities of gifted children and giftedness, none of this matters a tot to those who don’t know giftedness. Consequently, we need a more tailored argument to help them realise the value of meeting the needs of gifted children. We can always fill them in on the details later.

Yes, I used the ‘value’ word. There is nothing absolute in this. A particular policy may have an economic value to one individual while another may see it as having a social or educational value.

Consequently I asked Gifted Phoenix if I could have his permission to repost here his Manifesto for Gifted Education. He kindly agreed and I have reposted the Manifesto post here in full with the original emphases.

Gifted Phoenix’ Manifesto is a new departure in the argument for meeting the needs of gifted children. Equally important to the argument itself is the fact that it can travel beyond the choir to phrase the requirement for gifted education in the pragmatic language of the decision makers. Whether we like it or not, education is managed politically and economically. Educational ideas and principles come a distant third in this reality. We can not ignore some arguments simply because we may feel they compromise our lofty principles. If an argument is valid, true and just, and if it helps us achieve our goal of ensuring inclusive education for gifted children, then we must use that argument.

On Sunday 24th March at 9pm GMT I am moderating a special Twitter #gtie chat on the Manifesto. Once you’ve read the Manifesto below, have a read of Gifted Phoenix’ post on The Economics of Gifted Education. Both the Manifesto and the ‘Economics of Gifted Education’ should stand out as two of the most important statements on gifted education this year, if not for some time.

The Gifted Phoenix Manifesto for Gifted Education

Gifted Phoenix

Gifted Phoenix

I woke last night with the conviction that I should draw up a basic credo, setting out some core principles derived from the experience of writing this blog.

I have set aside all questions of terminology, definition and identification because they are inherently divisive and attract disproportionate attention. Let us suspend disbelief for a moment and assume that we can work together through broad consensus on such matters.

There is a strong economic focus because that is a current predilection – and because the economic arguments are too rarely advanced and often underplayed. They deserve to be paramount in our current financial predicament. I plan to revisit soon the economic case for gifted education.

So…What do you support? Where do you disagree? What have I missed?

Why Invest in Gifted Education?

Gifted education is about balancing excellence and equity. That means raising standards for all while also raising standards faster for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Through combined support for excellence and equity we can significantly increase our national stock of high level human capital and so improve economic growth.

High achievers are needed to feed the STEM pipeline and contribute to other areas of the ‘knowledge economy’ which is becoming increasingly important as a consequence of globalisation.

While STEM and IT have an obvious value, it is a mistake to assume that some fields do not contribute to human capital. There are important spillover benefits to society from many fields where the contribution to economic growth is less pronounced. We should avoid the temptation to prioritise STEM above all else.

Excellence in gifted education is about maximising the proportion of high achievers reaching advanced international benchmarks (eg PISA, TIMSS and PIRLS) so increasing the ‘smart fraction’ which contributes to economic growth

Equity in gifted education is about narrowing (and ideally eliminating) the excellence gap between high achievers from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds (which may be attributable in part to causes other than poverty). This also increases the proportion of high achievers, so building the ‘smart fraction’ and contributing to economic growth.

Countries that invest systematically in developing high level human capital recognise that this process begins in compulsory education or even in pre-school education. It cannot be delayed until higher education and employment. They have well-developed national gifted education programmes to secure system-wide engagement in maximising high achievement.

We can estimate:

  • The financial benefits of narrowing the excellence gap and
  • The impact on economic growth (GDP) of increasing the smart fraction

The cost of gifted education can be offset against these significant benefit streams to justify the investment and quantify the net value.

There are also microeconomic benefits to gifted education – the personal rate of return on high achievement – as well as a potentially significant contribution to social mobility on the equity side. There are many other strong arguments in favour of investment in (potential) high achievers built on educational, ethical and personal development grounds.

What Needs Doing? How?

What form should a national investment in gifted education take?

There should be integrated support for learners, educators and parents/carers, to maximise the benefits from synergy between these streams.

Five areas of engagement should also be synergised: learning, professional development, advocacy, research and policy-making.

System-wide solutions should not be exclusively ‘top down’ because they tend to be overly prescriptive, demotivating and inhibit innovation.

But neither should solutions be exclusively ‘bottom up’ because they tend towards competition (rather than collaboration), fragmentation, patchiness of provision and the recycling of mediocrity.

Solutions must draw on the best of both top-down and bottom-up strategies through a middle way that:

  • Provides a universal, unifying ‘flexible framework’ that sets common standards and applies to every setting;
  • Nevertheless gives settings sufficient autonomy within a common framework to innovate, develop and implement diverse approaches;
  • Effectively promotes and supports system-wide collaboration, within and across the three populations and five areas of engagement mentioned above.

A Twenty-First Century learning environment is multi-faceted and multimedia. Whether we are learning in school or as adult lifelong learners, we no longer rely exclusively on didactic teaching in a classroom environment.

School teachers are facilitators, helping gifted learners to synthesise different strands into a coherent learning package. Out-of-school learning must be fully integrated with the school experience; bolt-on enrichment has limited value.

Enrichment, extension and acceleration are overlapping concepts. All three can be combined effectively in different proportions according to learners’ needs. Gifted learners have relatively little in common and widely different needs. It follows that personalised provision is essential.

Social networking and social media can play a very important part in efficiently supporting system-wide collaboration by linking together the wider gifted education community – not just educators but parents/carers, learners, governors, researchers and so on.

Open access to research helps ensure that our collective stock of knowledge about effective gifted education can be shared freely, rather than being rationed or confined to subsets of the community. The existing stock of research must be made more accessible.

Freely available learning opportunities and professional development resources should also be systematically curated and disseminated. Different parts of the gifted education community can develop new learning, knowledge and understanding through their interaction with these resources. Service providers can advertise their wares to potential customers and identify opportunities for partnership and collaboration.

It is not always necessary to develop solutions specific to gifted education if effective generic solutions are already in place. There are strong arguments in favour of integration rather than silo-based provision.

But generic improvements to the education system – eg raising the quality of teaching, investing in school improvement – will not inevitably bring about improvements in gifted education, or such improvements may be less significant or take longer to accrue than those achieved through targeted intervention.

Success depends on active engagement across the system. It involves confronting ideological resistance and striving to find mutually acceptable ways forward. Support for gifted learners must never be at the expense of other learners within the system but, equally, gifted learners have an equal right to such support.

Success also depends on inclusive collaboration amongst the gifted education community. We must set aside fundamental disagreements over the nature and direction of gifted education to achieve the common purpose outlined above.

We must move away determinedly from the disagreements, factions, cliques, petty rivalries, self-promotion and empire-building that characterise the community and work co-operatively together for the benefit of all gifted learners. Everyone’s contribution must be welcomed and valued.

Despite the benefits for national economic growth, this is a global endeavour. We must work across national boundaries, avoiding the temptation to focus exclusively in our own jurisdictions. No country has a monopoly on good practice; every country can learn learn from the experience of others.

The gifted education community is a very broad church, but there is greater strength in unity than in a fragmented approach.


Gifted Phoenix has posted a ‘postscript‘ to his post and you can visit that directly on his blog. Don’t forget The Economics of Gifted Education.

See you Sunday 24th on Twitter #gtie at 9pm GMT.


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