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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 August 2005, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
Gifted pupils 'under-achieving'
pupil writing
There is a danger that gifted children can struggle or switch off
Many gifted pupils are under-achieving because teachers assume they can cope on their own, academics have said.

Research by Glasgow University suggests gifted pupils need support in a similar way to other special needs groups.

Teachers are unable to focus on them because they are constrained by the curriculum and targets, according to the co-author of the research.

Margaret Sutherland said teachers also needed to question their assumptions about what constitutes "intelligent".

The research was based on literature on early years learning and investigations into how Scottish and English children labelled as "gifted" viewed their experiences of learning.

Many appeared to have a more negative attitude to learning than their peers.

'Not safe' to fail

Gifted pupils were not allowed to fail, according to Mrs Sutherland, and this had both academic and emotional consequences.

"Teachers and the curriculum need to be more creative to incorporate these children," she said.

If a child fails at one thing, he or she can of course still be clever
Researcher Margaret Sutherland
"But teachers aren't allowed to fail either and are scared to try things out.

"I've known young people who have never been allowed to make mistakes, and when they do get something wrong, they cannot cope," she added.

She said failure was a part of learning.

"Being clever is not innate and a fixed state. If a child fails at one thing, he or she can of course still be clever.

"And to be constantly told that you have done well means these children are not challenged and many switch off to learning at school and fail to fulfil their potential, despite being bright," she said.

Margaret Sutherland and Christina Smith, authors of the research, also found teachers tended to assume that gifted pupils would succeed with or without support with difficult tasks, and children labelled gifted might struggle while teachers spent more time with those thought less able.

Mrs Sutherland said the focus should be on providing a variety of opportunities to pupils, then noting who shone through and showed potential. This would challenge all children.

Therefore education should be focused on the needs of the child and have a more inclusive approach.

But the traditional method of dealing with gifted children tended to label them then see how they could fit into the existing system, she said.

Christina Smith said the parallels with special needs children were evident, and that the method of dealing with them had not worked.

"What we are saying is that targets could be met anyway by a more inclusive and creative approach."

Focus on provision

The government says its forthcoming White Paper will include plans to stretch the most able pupils, and that schools should tailor teaching to meet their needs.

The National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth was set up in 2002 to focus on provision for those at the very top of the spectrum - the top 5%.

It now has just under 70,000 members, from every local authority in England.

Head of the Student Academy, Ken Sloan, said gifted and talented pupils were a group which required investment and support.

"We know that a young person identified as gifted will not necessarily fulfil their potential if they aren't given the right support and opportunities."

He said Ofsted had identified schools with excellent provision, but across the country it was generally patchy.

But the increasing amount of schools with members of the academy suggested schools were giving more attention to the needs of gifted and talented pupils, he added.

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