Muddled attack

6th June 1997 at 01:00
Dr Peter Marshall's attack on my work is extraordinarily muddled (TES, May 9). His claims to have replicated the 14-year study described in my book Gifted Children Growing Up, and yet come up with different results, are wrong on both counts. Not only did he use different methodology on a very different sample, but he seems to have reached one similar conclusion - giftedness is not an illness.

Some of his errors are fundamental, such as stating that half my sample were the children of National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) members. In fact, they were a third. The other children made up two matched comparison groups, except that one group had identical ability to the NAGC children and the other was taken at random. All three groups were in the same school class. Nor was the original sample size 140, but 210, and every conclusion was supported by the statistical analysis of hundreds of variables.

Marshall's postal questionnaire and "group interviews" would hardly encourage the depth of confidence which my partly open-ended interviews offered in individual sessions of many hours each with the children, their parents and their teachers in homes and schools all over the country. In addition, every child completed a wide variety of psychological tests.

I did not conclude that "most" children identified by their parents as gifted are "very sensitive, frustrated, lonely and miserable" or "come from unhappy homes". Emotionally, whatever their abilities, the children were naturally affected by their home circumstances. For some, though, parents and teachers blamed very high intelligence for any consequent social problems. But by far the most important of my findings was educational. Children of high potential were seen to underachieve without appropriate teaching and learning materials.

PROFESSOR JOAN FREEMAN

21 Montagu Square London W1

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