Practice and provision for gifted and talented students: a comparative study of primary schools in England and Scotland

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Wednesday, 6 February, 12-1 pm (Conference Room, 2.15 Chrystal Macmillan Building)

Esthir Tzivelopoulus, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh

Practice and provision for gifted and talented students: a comparative study of primary schools in England and Scotland

Educational provision for gifted and talented pupils in primary schools is under-researched (especially in Scotland) and so far an empirical comparison of school practices in England and Scotland has not taken place. The aim of this thesis is to investigate and compare how selected primary schools in Scotland and England have approached the development of policy and practice for the educational provision of gifted and talented pupils, by exploring how primary practitioners conceptualise giftedness, how they interpret and restructure national or local authority policy and what processes they follow to identify and provide for these pupils.

An analysis of the national policy background in these two jurisdictions preceded the empirical investigation of the approaches adopted in five selected schools.  One independent and four state-funded schools were purposively selected taking into account the number of pupils enrolled, the amounts eligible for free school meals and pupils’ achievements in literacy and numeracy in order to allow for meaningful comparisons to be drawn between each school and illuminate the topic studied from a variety of angles. Those schools’ policies were investigated first and then each was case-studied for a period of approximately 15 days. Data were collected through various methods, namely semi-structured interviews with teachers and head teachers, teacher- and pupil-observations and analysis of relevant documents (e.g. self-assessment or external school reports, pupil assignments, photographs). The analysis of the data collected through multiple methods and from multiple perspectives facilitated the comprehension of the often contradictory values and beliefs regarding gifted and talented education expressed by participants.

The analysis of the data showed that there are considerable differences not only between schools in England and Scotland but also within each case. Despite a heightened awareness of giftedness, teachers in this study still held stereotypic views about gifted and talented pupils (e.g. that they are privileged from nature and do not need additional support or that they have difficulties in their social life). Scottish teachers did not engage with the questions regarding the nature and terminology of giftedness as much as their English counterparts did, while teachers from the independent school rejected the concept of giftedness altogether. Identification of pupils as gifted and provision for their needs was very closely related to ability grouping and setting practices. A number of teachers equated identification processes with the procedures they adopted in order to group their pupils ‘homogeneously’ and suggested that this is one of the most effective ways to cater for all pupils’ needs, even though in many cases no differentiation of instruction or tasks was observed. The complex pattern of opinions about and attitudes towards gifted and talented pupils observed illuminates the degree to which teachers hold contradictory beliefs about the nature of giftedness and the dilemma to cater either for the ‘more vulnerable’ or the more ‘privileged’ pupils’ needs.

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