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Role of School

Sum on a blackboardFor most children school is where they start to really develop their own personalities away from their families; interacting with others from different backgrounds without parents' interference. School forms a large part of a child's life and whether a child is considered exceptionally able or not, a good experience of school can set the tone for both good work practices and general self esteem issues for many years to come. The role of the School in any child's life, therefore, is critical to a child's development. It follows then that teachers have also a key role to play.

The role of the school for a gifted child should be to create a learning environment which will identify those children who are exceptionally able early on, recognise the value of the child's ability and help him or her to realise their full potential. Early indentification by the school of a child's abilty is paramount to a good outcome as it enables appropriate educational strategies to be implemented for as long as possible. The sad fact is that Irish Schools are way behind when it comes to identifying and providing for gifted children. Compare the situation to the UK, the United States, Canada and Australia who all have gifted education programmes at a primary and post primary level. In fairness to schools, there is no training or policy directive that encourages this to happen in this country, although that is changing with the pubilcation of the Exceptionally Able Students, Draft Guidelines for Teachers.

“Students who are classified as exceptionally able belong on a continuum of students with special educational needs. In every school there will be a group of students who require greater extension of breadth and depth of learning activities than is normally provided for the main cohort of learners. Exceptionally able students are not a homogeneous group, and often their identification can pose a problem for teachers.”

But guidelines are just that, guidelines. Our children need a more concrete commitment from the Department of Education & Science. Many parents for instance would like to see every school put a policy in place regarding gifted education. That said, it is sometimes too easy to point the finger at individual schools. We, as parents, need to lobby the Department of Education & Science around this area if we are to see real change. There are lots of good schools out there and great teachers who are trying their best in a difficult environment, where lack of resources at the most basic level often hinders their support of differentiated education.

The legal situation in Ireland around the provision of resources for special educational needs for the exceptionally able is very muddy indeed and doesn't help the situation. The first piece of comprehensive legislation dealing directly with education in Ireland was the Education Act 1998, which governs the legal responsibilities of the government with regard to all aspects of education, including special needs. The Act is useful in that it defines certain key terms such as:

"special educational needs" means the educational needs of students who have a disability and the educational needs of exceptionally able students" {Part 1 Section 2}

However, when the EPSEN Act - The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, 2004 was drawn up the “exceptionally able” where omitted from the bill, leaving this group of children in a legal limbo.

Currently, all of the resources for special educational needs are focused on the lower end of the spectrum, on those children below the 10th percentile and while it is a vital that this support continues, there is no extra provision for children at the 95th percentile without an additional diagnosis of a learning or behavioural difficulty. Education professionals all agree that children at the top end of the spectrum equally need interventions in order to support their educational and social/emotional needs.

“Identification of the Gifted and Talented can pose a problem to teachers and education professionals because they are not a homogenous group. The typical picture of the highly able child is of a hard working pupil who diligently completes work and perhaps is known as the class “swot” or “brain box”. In reality the picture is more complex than that. Alongside the gifted achievers are those who – despite their gifts and talents – persistently underachieve due to boredom, lack of interest or crippling perfectionism, young people who are cognitively advanced enough to play games with complex rule structures and yet not socially mature enough to deal with the frustration that occurs when their peers cannot grasp their game; children whose giftedness may be masked by the fact that they are not being educated in their first language or also who have a disability.”
From “Gifted and Talented In and Out of the Classroom”, A Report for the Council of Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) February 26th 2006

An excellent presentation entitled Understanding the Needs of Exceptionally Able Students in Post Primary Schools and Developing an Appropriate Response by Tom Daly is now available for download from the SESS site.

Often these children find school very difficult; their heightened sensitivities, their outside interests and even vocabulary setting them apart from their peer group, leaving them isolated and the targets of bullying. In the absence of appropriate interventions they may seriously underachieve and possibly stop engaging within the classroom. This is why it is vital that all teachers at whatever level, primary or post primary, have access to information and training around supporting gifted and twice exceptional children. For those teachers interested in gifted education training the ICEPE is currently running two Gifted and Talented courses:

Teaching Gifted and Talented Students:
Rising to the challenge of highly able learners

"Suitable for teachers and other professionals working with youngsters in both primary and post primary settings, this course provides a comprehensive understanding of gifted and talented students and offers an examination of the essential topics teachers and others need to know about the education of these students. Among the topics covered are motivation, underachievement, peer pressure, social acceptance and dual exceptionality; gifted and talented students who also have a learning disability and therefore have complex special needs. Assessment skills and identification issues across the age range are also addressed. Social and emotional issues are explored and best practice guidelines for effective collaboration with parents and the students themselves are presented. There is an emphasis on whole-school planning and development to meet the diverse needs of gifted and talented students within an inclusive school context. From an evidence-based perspective we focus on how teachers can most effectively tailor their instruction to meet the educational needs of exceptionally able or talented students. By the end of the course teachers should be able to differentiate instruction, design individualised lesson plans for gifted students, and will have a much greater understanding of the needs of gifted students. "

The Essentials of Teaching Gifted and Talented Students: A Practical Introduction
"This short course introduces 5 hours of practical techniques and strategies for teaching gifted and talented students in mainstream classrooms. It provides a compact but intensive exploration of whole-school perspectives and individual approaches for meeting the needs of highly able learners. The course is aimed at both primary and post-primary teachers, and will help them devise flexible teaching strategies to support the most able learners in their classrooms. School principals with an interest in gifted and talented education will also find this course useful and stimulating. The course will also act as a springboard to stimulate thinking and discussion about whole-school practice in gifted and talented provision, and how to embed best-practice in current provision. The approaches presented in this course are not confined to able learners, but can be used in mixed-ability settings to provide challenges for all learners and help raise standards of achievement for all students."

Disclaimer: This is not an expert site, it is run on a voluntary basis and as such is based on opinion and experience but we hope that it acts as a signpost for educational resources and other support services for Irish families with exceptionally able children. By using this website you accept that any dependence by you on such information, opinion or advice is at your own risk.

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