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'Watch out' for the gifted and bored

Gifted and talented children should receive the same levels of extra support as pupils with special needs, says a new study.

It said teachers need to be more vigilant in identifying children with talents, rather than using exam results to make judgements about ability and intelligence.

"The Gifted Child: a conceptual enquiry", an analysis of gifted children published in the Oxford Review of Education, said the scramble to label pupils based on test scores has meant that children who display certain aptitudes, talents or a passion for learning have not been recognised.

The report, by Ruth Cigman, who teaches philosophy at London university's Birkbeck college, said: "The entitlement to education is clearly not fulfilled by trying to teach a child something she mastered some years ago.

"It seems reasonable to suppose that the boredom and frustration characteristic of many gifted children are evidence of need."

Dr Cigman reviewed a number of studies of how talented pupils were being educated and whether their needs were being met. She concluded that pupils who are unusually bright in at least one area should be classed as gifted.

But the Government and the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth have defined gifted children as "the top 1 per cent or top 5 per cent of pupils in terms of their academic ability".

Dr Cigman said: "Quantitative definitions of giftedness are currently favoured by the UK Government, though it is far from clear how potential, as opposed to actual, ability is to be measured.

"At the very least, there seems to be substantial scope for error and, since differentiated provision is at stake, also scope for injustice.

"Giftedness must not be statistically related to performance."

Instead, she said, teachers should watch out for children who stand out because they do not fit in well with their peers, or who show high achievement in a specific area, or an apparent obsession with acquiring knowledge or skills in a particular subject.

"Even if the education junkie is not getting the highest grades, teachers should be on giftedness alert," she said. "They should be on the look-out for boredom, rapid learning and high, if erratic, achievement.

"Lovers of learning should generally be grouped with gifted children, whether or not they are achieving exceptionally highly. To do so may mean giving them opportunities to do precisely what they want to do - namely, devote themselves wholeheartedly to learning."

Professor Deborah Eyre, director of NAGTY, denied it measures talent by quantitative measures alone. "The gifted and talented programme is about finding children's specific strengths and aptitudes, and finding ways we can enhance them," she said.

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