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Abstract There is at present no policy for Gifted & Talented Education in Northern Ireland. This paper unravels the implications of this in terms of the quality of our education system in preparing our students for 21st Century life, the consequences of students needs not being met and the potential future impacts on our economy if this continues. Although some slow progress is being made, it is argued that change must happen at a Governmental level for any lasting progress to be meaningful.

Key words Gifted, talented, education, selective, Northern Ireland, policy, 21st century skills, identification, provision, collaboration, learning, personalization. Introduction Within the field of Gifted and Talented (G&T) Education, the concept of ‘giftedness’ is a complex one. Definitions are broad and varied with no apparent consensus internationally. White et al. 2003) has stated that there are over 200 working definitions of ‘giftedness’, and while clarity is important in terms of identifying and providing for G&T students, we must be careful to remember the uniqueness of each child and not create generic categories in our quest for the ‘perfect’ definition. The terms ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’ are often used synonymously, although evidence shows that experts in the area disagree with this usage (Freeman, 2001; Gray-Fow, 2005), choosing instead to see ‘gifts’ and ‘talents’ as abilities that are demonstrated differently in separate domains.

An example of this is the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) definition, 2005 (cited by the Council of Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA), 2006a, p8) which defines ‘gifted’ students as showing actual or potential high ability in one or more of the main curriculum subjects, and ‘talented’ students as those showing actual or potential high ability in sport, music and performing or visual arts. While this definition could be broader in taking into account other less recognized types of giftedness such as emotional or spiritual intelligence (Goleman, 1996; Vialle, 2007), and in larifying giftedness more as a process that can be developed and influenced by environmental factors such as friends and family (Merry, 2008), for the purposes of this paper on G&T Education in the Northern Irish context, it will serve as the most broad and useful definition since Northern Ireland has often taken it’s lead from the UK in terms of policy and legislation (Ryan, 2007a). The argument to be examined is that G&T Education is considered important on the world stage but not in the context of education in Northern Ireland due to the high quality of grammar education available.

This paper will suggest that G&T Education is indeed important internationally in terms of identifying and providing for G&T students, and will briefly outline practice in the USA, Europe (specifically Austria) and in the UK to demonstrate this. We will go on to argue that due to a lack of a Government policy for G&T Education in Northern Ireland (NI), it would appear that this area is not given priority within the educational context, and the idea that G&T students are naturally provided for within the grammar system is a misjudged one.

Themes addressed in this argument include a brief analysis of the Northern Irish education system, the implications of having no policy or framework for meeting the needs of G&T students, and an examination of whether our education system in general is appropriately preparing our children for life in the 21st Century. Some recommendations are outlined for future good practice in schools. At this point it is appropriate in the interests of objectivity to outline my professional and personal paradigms in this area. My professional experience lies in non-formal/informal, faith-based youth work and not in formal education in a school setting.

Since youth work is concerned with the holistic development of the child, not excluding academic achievement but focusing mainly on their social, personal and spiritual development, my view of education is very broad and my view of children as a whole person is very high. These views (while trying to eradicate bias) will be reflected throughout this paper in terms of the benefits of bringing formal and non-formal education methods together to best serve our children in preparing them for life in an ever-changing world. G&T Education internationally USA

Ground-breaking research from many American experts in the field of G&T Education has long placed the USA at the forefront of recognizing the importance of identifying and providing for for G&T students. Terman’s (1919) idea of IQ as a total measure of intelligence later led to broader theories such as Gardner’s work on Multiple Intelligences (1993), and the work of Renzulli, who in many ways spear-headed the identification of and provision for G&T students in schools with his development of the Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness (1986) and School-wide Enrichment Model (1997).

This has left long-lasting impressions on how G&T Education is seen and practised today in the Western world. The Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Education Act (1995) led to the establishment of the National Research Centre on the Talented and Gifted (now known as the ‘Neag Centre for Gifted Education and Talent Development’) which guides national research on the design and development of G&T provision programmes. They also provide mentoring opportunities and resources for parents (Neag Centre, 2010).

As of 2006, provision was mandated for G&T Education in 29 states yet funding for provision was made available in some of the other states also (CCEA, 2006a). However, American authors such as Merry (2008) have stated that even in states where provision was mandated, many parents had to fight for this. Even so, the USA seems to be committed in general to G&T students and to developing talent search organisations for identification purposes, the best known of which is the Centre for Talented Youth (CTY).

Their services are three-fold focusing on teaching, research and support for the students, their parents and for professionals working with G&T students (CTY, 2010). They also run international programmes and are affiliated with The Irish Centre for Talented Youth (CTYI) in Dublin. However, it must be noted that their main focus seems to be based on academic challenge and attainment and therefore lacks in provision for those ‘talented’ in other areas. Opportunities offered to high-ability students in the USA include: bove-level testing, which tests students in numeracy and literacy between two to five years ahead of their age range and gives a better account of their potential achievement abilities; ‘The Apex Programme’, which gathers together experts in the fields of science and the arts to mentor young people during a one-week intensive summit and to provide pre-college careers guidance (CCEA, 2006a); and finally, the ‘Advanced Placement’ programme which offers high school students the opportunity to take curriculum-based college courses while still in school.

While schools were basically told this form of acceleration was of no benefit to students, according to Colangelo et al. (2004), pupils who completed two of these courses were over 40% more likely to complete their undergraduate degrees compared to those students who completed none. Despite the diverse opinions, it appears there are good provisions for academically gifted students in the USA. However, there is a lack of provision for those who are ‘talented’ (although the author’s research does not take account of individual schools).

This supports the research found by The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) (2003) in England that provision for talented pupils was fragmented in schools and so pupil’s talents were less likely to be intentionally developed. Europe A study by Monks and Pfluger (2005) in 21 European countries found that the importance of G&T Education was growing steadily, with 14 of the 21 countries making direct reference to the area in their educational legislation. The remaining countries recognised it’s importance by having in place (at varying levels) identification criteria, varied provision and some training for professionals.

Due to limited space, we cannot examine all of these countries and so we will use an Arion Study Visit to Salzburg, Austria (Ryan, 2006) as an example of the developments in G&T Education in Europe. This visit enabled participants to examine Enrichment Programmes specifically within primary and grammar school. Provision was found to be of a high standard, especially for those students with ‘talents’ as defined by DfES (2005). Monks and Pfluger (2005) found that Austrian educational legislation mphasised the concept of an individualised school career (reflecting West-Burnham’s Personalization (2005)) through enrichment and acceleration in ordinary as well as specialised schools. Grammar schools in general seemed to have taken seriously their responsibility for the development of G&T students by providing a flexible curriculum, expert teaching and by emphasising self-directed learning. This reflects the findings of a 2008 survey conducted by the Education’s Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI) (2008), which confirmed that gifted children thrive when they manage their own learning.

Some schools even tailored the curriculum around the talents of the individual child. There were however some concerns regarding the ‘selective’ nature of the grammar system and the knock-on effect in terms of pupil’s self-esteem, where entrance was based either on exceptional academic ability or financial expectations (which as we will see, reflects the current NI system). These high entrance criteria also seemed to deter the acceptance of pupils with Special Educational Needs into the grammar system, which would appear to reflect a negative bias within the educational system that does not take account of ‘Double Exceptionality’ ie. ighly-able children with learning difficulties (Montgomery, 2006). Even so, the system seems to have much to recommend it and many of these ideas could be taken into account for developing good G&T educational practice within the NI context. UK Monks and Pfluger in 2005 stated that the UK had made outstanding developments in G&T Education. As we will see, this is no longer the case. While Wales and Scotland legislate for G&T pupils, we will not examine provision in these countries in detail. However, it is worth noting the efforts being made in advocating for G&T students.

In Scotland, The Additional Support for Learning (Scotland) Act (Scottish Executive Education Department, 2004) legislates for provision for ‘Able’ students and the country has organisations such as the Scottish Network for Able Pupils (SNAP) (2010) which provides support for students, their parents and their teachers. In Wales, the Qualifications, Assessment and Curriculum Authority (ACCAC) (2003) produced guidelines for schools for meeting the needs of ‘More Able and Talented’ students. This was later backed up by the

Government of Wales (2006) who issued a consultation document with a view to issuing guidelines for Local Educational Authorities (LEA’s) on how to support schools in G&T Education. We now turn to England. In 1999, the English Government’s ‘Excellence in Cities’ initiative (Ofsted, 2003), which focused on raising achievement in disadvantaged cities was the springboard to the development of a national strategy for G&T Education. The development of a National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY) in 2002 acted as a mechanism by which to put the strategy into practice (Campbell, et al. 004). This would put in place a wide variety of in-school provisions for G&T students including acceleration, mentoring, counselling, use of ICT support, teacher training and appointment of G&T Co-ordinators to help in identifying the top 5-10% of the school population. Out of school provisions such as Summer Schools and attendance at University classes were also made (Monks and Pfluger, 2005; CCEA, 2006a). In 2007, responsibility was passed from NAGTY to Educational Charity CfBT to implement the strategy.

Unfortunately, NAGTY has now dissolved and as of March 2010, the national strategy for G&T Education in England no longer exists. With a change of Government and nation-wide funding cuts due to national debt, came the movement from a centrally controlled and funded system to one where provision is now to be provided for G&T students by teachers in individual schools. This will have a devastating impact on G&T education says Denise Yates (TES, 2010, para 4), CEO of the National Association for Gifted Children. Everything is rudderless without a national programme; we want teachers to be supported and there needs to be a Government policy”. The promise of support and guidance for G&T students and indeed for all learners in the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) White Paper (2005), which made particular reference to ‘personalized learning’, tailored to the needs of individuals no longer seems to be a priority. We must therefore be careful to look beyond the rhetoric of what is being promised and look at action being taken in deciding what is good practice in these countries regarding G&T Education.

We could do well in NI to learn from mistakes made by the English system for any future policy development. This leads us naturally onto the question of why there is currently no policy for G&T Education in NI? Most countries examined above (with the exception now of England) seem to view meeting the needs of G&T students as a priority, as reflected in their Governmental legislation. It could then be argued that this is simply is not the case in NI. Let us unravel this by briefly examining the quality of the NI education system, with specific reference to G&T recognition and provision.

A high quality education? Our academic excellence has long been a source of pride in NI, with vocational education being less highly regarded. Fewer people than ever are leaving school with no GCSE qualifications (Education Training Inspectorate (ETI), 2010), and yet educational ‘success’ based solely on academic subjects and exam results, and therefore the identification of G&T pupils based on fixed IQ alone has long been questioned (Denton and Postlethwaite, 1985; Costello, 2001). Indeed, Feuerstein et al. (2006) state that IQ can be enhanced by focusing on the process of learning itself.

And what is the purpose of learning and education if not to prepare children for the opportunities and challenges of the world in which they live? (Department of Education Northern Ireland (DENI) 2007; Cousins, 2005). However, research shows that our education system is failing in this task since it is still based on the 19th Century Industrial principles of standardization and conformity and not on developing the skills of creative thinking and innovation our young people need for life and work in the 21st Century (Confederation of British Industry (CBI), 2010; Robinson, 2009).

NI has had a segregated and selective education system since The Education Act of 1947, not only in terms of religion and social class, but also with the most academically able being separated out at the age of 11 to attend grammar schools (Cousins, 2005). Transfer tests consisted of questions in Maths, Science and English, and in the past, only those obtaining an ‘A’ grade would have gained entrance. It was assumed then that G&T students would be (and still are) well placed in this setting, and that their need for ‘academic challenge’ would be met (Ryan, 2007a).

This assumption is flawed not only in it’s narrow definition of what constitutes giftedness, but also in the idea that gifted students will only be identified in grammar schools and not in secondary or integrated schools. Also, following advice from recommendations set out in the Burn’s Report (2001) and Costello Report (2001), state run tests have now been abolished and due to falling pupil populations, some grammar schools (who now run their own entrance exams) will now accept ‘C’ or ‘D’ grades (Ryan, 2007a).

This instantly raises issues regarding the impacts on teachers and their teaching practices in grammar schools, who have never had to deal with such mixed-ability classes, and specifically for G&T students in terms of having to attend classes potentially aimed at the ‘lowest’ or ‘most-average’ common denominator. The recent Chief Inspector’s Report (ETI, 2010, p3) stated that, “Northern Ireland is fortunate to have a sound education system which serves many of its learners well. While this appears to be a positive statement, all (not many) children deserve an education that helps them meet their full potential (DENI, 2009a; United Nations (UN), 1989). It could be argued in these terms, that G&T children deserve the same rights and legislation as those with special educational needs (SEN) (Heller, 2005). Indeed, some authors such as Reis and Renzulli (2004) and Montgomery (1996) argue that G&T pupils do in-fact have SEN, while others have moral concerns with this idea (Merry, 2008).

Regardless, the main underlying issue to be addressed is that if our education system could meet the special or additional needs of these specific children through high quality teaching and learning, that same system would no doubt meet the needs of all learners. Belle Wallace (2007) surveyed 12 schools in a study for the National Association for Able children in Education (NACE), and found that ‘best practice’ for G&T students was ‘best practice’ for all within an inclusive framework, and Gray-Fow (2005, p43) states that by, “…nurturing all our pupil’s talents…outstanding individuals will emerge. If this is the case, recent developments would seem to be making great strides in giving our children a first class education. Examples include the Revised Curriculum (DENI, 2007) which is more skills-based than ever before, focusing on thinking skills, personal development and ‘learning for life’ (reflecting core G&T learning strategies of experts such as Wallace and her TASC model (2010) and West-Burnham’s Personalization (2005).

Further examples include ‘Every School A Good School’ (DENI, 2009a) which focuses on whole-school improvement and inclusion, the resulting review on SEN and inclusion (DENI, 2009b) which refers to G&T students as having ‘additional educational needs’ (AEN) and the CCEA released guidelines in 2006(b) for teachers on providing for the highly able. However, it remains to be seen how these will not simply become tokenistic measures in a country that has no clear policy for identifying and providing for G&T children and which in the midst of economic crisis is facing even more cuts for ‘non-priority’ educational services.

If every child therefore deserves an education that is most appropriate to their needs and prepares them for life and work, then the education system in NI is failing in it’s duty. This supports recent ETI research (2010), which suggests many employers feel school leavers are not adequately prepared for work-life. However, it must be noted that although the main educational structure is not taking account of G&T Education, there are some individual schools, families and Education and Library Boards (ELB’s) who see the need for this to change.

In research conducted by David Ryan, (2007b) a significant demand for G&T Education was found with pupils requesting mentoring, parents requesting support and teachers requesting help with identifying and developing classroom strategies for gifted students. Recommendations were made to Belfast ELB and steps were taken such a pilot project for G&T Education being set up in the Girls Model School in Belfast (Ryan, 2007c) and a Master’s module in G&T Education is also now being taught at Queens University, Belfast to raise awareness and promote professional training.

However, is this enough? ‘No problem’ equals ‘No policy’ Brickman (1979, p310, cited by Ryan, 2007b, p4) states, “…we don’t write about the gifted: we educate them. That is what our grammar…schools exist for”. Based on the evidence outlined above, we can now see that this argument is flawed. With no policy to define who the gifted and talented are, it has been assumed that highly able students were identified through the transfer tests and academic selection (Ryan, 2007b), and were provided for in a system based on ‘academic excellence’. However, with more and more ixed-ability students attending grammar schools, pilot research in G&T Education being carried out within the secondary rather than grammar system (Ryan, 2007c), and evidence showing that 21st Century education should take equal account of both academic and vocational achievement (Robinson, 2009; CBI, 2010) this is no longer a valid argument. Our assumptions have let us rest on our laurels. In not having a policy for G&T Education, we have had no clear means of identifying these students and no clear guidelines as to how to provide for their needs.

It follows therefore that in not nurturing these gifted children, they may have experienced negative personal and emotional impacts as a result. Authors such as Ybarra (2005) disagree with Montgomery (2003) who states that social and emotional problems may often come along with being so able. Issues such as boredom resulting from being insufficiently challenged can quickly turn into challenging behaviours in school, in turn masking the child’s giftedness. George (2003) argues that if the needs of these children were met, their behaviour would dramatically improve. Underachievement can therefore be a problem for G&T students.

Sousa (2003, p187) believes this can happen when, “…a gifted student acquires…complex behaviours that erode academic performance”. Students may underachieve due to a number of factors such as low self-esteem, frustration, embarrassment due to peer pressure, or stress as a result of needs going unmet (Denton and Postlethwaite, 1985; CCEA, 2006a; Reis and Renzulli, 2004). Underachievement appears to be a problem in NI grammar schools (Ryan, 2007a) and is exacerbated by the view that the high ability of gifted children means they have the tools for coping and growing alone.

Majoram (1988, p61) however states that, “…(gifted children)…cannot be left to be creative or discover for themselves. They need teaching and careful supervision”. In my experience as a youth worker, Majoram is correct. I have watched young people be stripped of self-confidence, told to repress their abilities because they didn’t ‘fit’ within the current education system and in some cases, come to serious mental or emotional harm due to being labeled ‘different’ or ‘unacceptable’. We must look after our children if we are not to see a rise in depression, self-harm and even suicide due to these hildren feeling undervalued and under-supported (Whybra, 2000). However, even if G&T students exhibit none of the above problems, it is important that underachievement and the potential for undue suffering be diminished through helping these children meet their potential. This is why developing a policy for identifying and providing for G&T students in NI is crucial. Not doing so could also have a huge bearing on the economic future of our country (Robinson, 2009, West-Burnham and Coates, 2005).

George (2003, p1) says, “By failing to extend more able children…we are contributing to an enormous waste of talent for…the economy as a whole”. Since G&T Education promotes various skills such as innovation and enterprise (because of the intense curiosity and desire to learn from G&T students), the NI economy could benefit greatly in business terms if G&T provision became a priority in our schools. Our economy is in tatters. Unsurprisingly then, Ryan (2009) found that NI has one of the highest levels of dependence on public sector employment and one of the lowest levels of entrepreneurship in the Western world.

We must transform our educational strategy if this is to change. 21st century skills We are living in a fast-changing world. Our existing educational system is hierarchical and compartmentalized, yet we need a system based on developing children’s powers of creative thinking in order for them to truly achieve their potential and so ensure economic growth and global competitiveness (Robinson, 2009; West-Burnham, 2005). Our societies have moved from being individualistic, functional and industrial to becoming team-based, creative and experiential (Jones, 2001).

Our curriculum must therefore reflect this. What skills then will our children need to prepare them for success in this technologically advanced and socially complex world? Paulo Freire (1970) in his book ‘Pedgogy of the Oppressed’ argues that education should free people to reflect on their world, take action and so bring about transformation. This will only happen if we move away from teaching methods that simply ‘pass on’ information to passive learners. A dynamic system that challenges pupils to look beyond the knowledge itself, o ask how the knowledge relates to other contexts and that engages them in problem-solving learning is needed. In short, we need to teach our pupils how to learn. Life and career skills such as adaptability, self-directed learning, emotional intelligence and communication and collaborative skills all seem to be pre-requisites for working in business today (Robinson, 2009; Peters, 2003; CIB, 2010). The need for resilience also appears to be crucial. The world has changed so fast in recent years that we cannot possibly predict where we will be in 5 years let alone in 50.

In the midst of the unknown and especially in the cultural climate of NI, we cling to order and seeming efficiency. Failing is not an option. Our fear of taking risks and of failure is starkly reflected in our lack of enterprise. Yet Peters (2003) states in no uncertain terms that embracing failure is the very thing that yields true innovation. If we teach our children how to fail well, we will teach them to pursue challenge, make mistakes and learn valuable lessons from them. In a system like ours that ‘teaches to test’, this concept is alien.

Our children will no longer have one career for life but rather lots of jobs throughout their life. Again, our outmoded system seems to be killing rather than encouraging the very creative and flexible innovative capacities needed to meet this new era head on (Robinson, 2010). If we are to adequately prepare our children for the 21st Century, we need a grounded curriculum that is based in our present reality. The current NI revised curriculum would seem to meet this criteria with it’s skills-based agenda and it’s requirement that vocational courses are offered under the Entitlement Framework (Costello, 2001).

However, our obsession with targets and on narrow forms of assessment again becomes apparent when students begin to prepare for their GCSE and A-Level exams. The skills-based learning is undone as they are now, yet again, ‘taught to test’. Interestingly, the ETI (2010) questions the over-reliance on and usefulness of these qualifications regarding employment. Also, the ‘Thinking Skills’ part of the curriculum is assessed (DENI, 2007).

While it is reasonable to expect assessment of some kind to observe progress, this again reflects what Hymer and Michael (2002, p7) calls our, “…fixation with ranking and measuring the unrankable and unmeasureable. ” Many authors argue therefore that personalization is the key to preparing our young people for 21st century life, where individuals have a unique learning journey not only within the curricular subjects but also out into new domains. This may help G&T students specifically to gain not just high-level but indeed world-class exceptional skills (Eyre, 2008; West-Burnham, 2005). Collaboration

Peters (2003, p277) states that we need a school curriculum that, “…values questions above answers…creativity above fact regurgitation…individuality above uniformity…and excellence above standardized performance”. In youth work, this is the kind of education we have been trying to extend for years, with a flexible curriculum that provides both general and specific provision. The youth sector in NI as part of the Department of Education has no specific policy for G&T Education, and the ETI (2010, p51) found that one-third of centers inspected needed to adapt programs to better suit the specific student needs.

However, the holistic, reflective and voluntary nature of youth work (specifically in the faith-based sector in my experience, due to the high view and value placed on the individual) reflect the core principles of inclusion and of personalizing education to develop the child as a whole person. These 21st Century skills include promoting the active critical participation of young people in society and also the importance of promoting and supporting them in playing a vital role in the decision-making processes at all levels of the youth sector (DENI Youth Strategy, 2005; DES Youth Work Act, 2001).

The recent ETI report (2010, p3) states, “To avail of the best education is every learner’s right; to provide it is the responsibility of all of us involved in education, work-based learning and youth work”. For these reasons, I believe strong partnerships must be formed, not only between schools and youth agencies, but also with businesses and employers. Pupils will then have a broad range of access to both formal and in-formal learning and could gain a better understanding of practical employment skills.

Vocational day release programs could be better developed in schools, with opportunities for ‘hands-on’ learning. In Dublin, students on their ‘transition’ year (a year of practical experience before completing the Leaving Certificate exams) often worked as interns in our youth organizations to gain work experience. The Link Centre in Belfast also runs highly successful day release schemes so the young people in their programs (most of whom have emotional and behavioral difficulties) can learn some practical skills to help them gain employment.

In addition, they have a youth worker available to go into schools to run personal and social development and pastoral care programs that teachers often don’t have time to do effectively themselves (Burns, 2010). These programs could help in identifying G&T students that may have gifts in areas outside the curriculum subjects, as was often the case with children in our organization.. The revised curriculum has already introduced strategies that reflect the youth work methodology such as citizenship, mentoring and counselling and personal development.

Therefore, in terms of helping all our children reach their full potential, to help identify and meet the needs of G&T students specifically, and in preparing our children for 21st century living, strong collaboration between education and employment sectors would seem to be key (DENI, 2005; DENI, 2009b; CBI, 2010). Suggestions for good practice in schools Without a G&T policy, there will be no Government funding for school programs or for the employment of G&T Co-ordinators to aid in identifying and providing for these students (Ryan, 2009).

However, evidence shows (Ryan, 2007a) that there is a desire within ELB’s and schools for G&T provision, with some grammar schools already allowing flexibility for those pupils excelling in eg music or sport. What then can schools practically do without an official policy? With school improvement being a top priority (DENI, 2009a) and with our Education Minister (Ruane, 2010) ‘promoting equality of opportunity’ (although G&T students are not seeing the benefits), inclusion and personalisation of learning could be the springboard to better provision for all, including G&T children.

Firstly, schools can use the CCEA guidelines (2006b) as a basis for identifying G&T pupils. Although tools such as checklists, peer nomination and parental input have been criticised for their potential bias and vagueness (Winstanley, 2004; CCEA, 2006a), without a clear framework they may still serve as part of a broad range of processes for identification that should be regularly reviewed.

In line then with the current curriculum, differentiation and personalised provision (instead of individualised, therefore reducing pressure on teachers in terms of time and resources – Sebba, 2009) could be given in terms of enrichment activities that go beyond core learning expectations, and extension activities developed to take account of different abilities within the classroom (George, 2003; Webster, 1999). This could involve the use of ICT which is both accessible and relevant to 21st century G&T Education (Wallace, 2005, p77 cited by Ryan, 2007b, p7).

If this is to be the case, on-going training for teachers in these areas and on how to implement the revised curriculum in practice is needed since George (2003) argues that teachers are the key provider for G&T students. Perhaps the use of Ryan’s pilot research for implementing G&T Education (2007c) would be useful in these areas. The development of partnerships with outside agencies and stakeholders as discussed above, as well as offering courses that are academic, vocational and applied will also be crucial if schools are to meet the needs of G&T pupils and indeed prepare all students for life in the 21st century.

Conclusion In completing this paper I was surprised to find that NI remains one of the few Western countries that does not have a policy for G&T Education. I agree with Ryan (2007a) that lasting change in schools will only come about through the development of Government policy and the earmarking of funding to implement programs specific to G&T pupils. It has been argued in this paper that this in turn would bring meaningful change to all pupils since best practice for gifted students raises the expectation and attainment levels of all learners.

I believe personalized education and meaningful collaboration across sectors is key since this encourages children to participate and become co-investors in their own learning. This promotes creativity, problem-solving skills and the ability to take risks in a safe environment – skills we have seen that are needed to encourage innovation and enterprise and which would greatly change the prospects of NI in terms of the future global economy.

We have found that G&T Education is generally seen as a priority internationally, although simply having an existing policy does not mean that good practice follows. We should be cautious therefore in simply ‘cloning’ a model for use in any future legislation that may arise in NI. However, our selective education system as it exists, with it’s focus on academic achievement and narrow forms of assessment has been found wanting in terms of adequately providing for G&T students and in preparing our young people for life in a fast-changing world. I believe we must teach our children how to learn.

Although progress is slow, positive steps have been taken in terms of Ryan’s continuing research, through the recent recognition of G&T children as having ‘additional educational needs’ (DENI, 2009b) and through the implementation of the skills-based revised curriculum. It is easy to be cynical but I prefer to remain hopeful that we are moving in the right direction in advocating for the right of all children to reach their potential. As Gladwell (2001, p259) states, “It may seem an immovable, implacable place…(but)…with the slightest push, in just the right place, it can be tipped. ”

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