Gifted and talented students often have a tough time in our education system. One parent told me that ‘the biggest challenge is keeping the child inspired and motivated within an educational system that more often than not lets them down’.

The purpose of this article is to provide some guidance to parents on how to identify if their child is gifted or talented, get them tested and finding the right school and education for them.


The First Step: Identifying a Gifted or Talented Child

The sooner you identify your child as gifted or talented, the earlier you can get started on providing them with the educational challenges they need. There is no one universal definition accepted by all organisations or associations for the gifted. For dedicated children’s charity, Potential Plus UK, “the very word ‘gifted’ can tend to bring up a number of negative connotations based upon superiority and elitism”. Therefore, the term ‘High Learning Potential’ is preferred. Regardless of the exact words employed, most organisations agree that gifted children have a number of common characteristics parents should be watching out for.

Gifted and talented children:

  • Tend to set very high standards for themselves and find it hard to accept failure.
  • Tend to sleep less as infants.
  • Learn speedily and sometimes even teach themselves skills like reading.
  • Can display abstract reasoning and problem solving skills.
  • Have a sharpened sense of humour.
  • Prefer to talk rather than write (often, their fingers cannot keep up with their speed of thought!).
  • Enjoy learning through games.
  • Like changing rules of games or tasks for a bigger challenge.
  • Sometimes enjoy adult company more than that of children.
  • Tend to ask a lot of questions.
  • Can seem to have poor concentration but are actually great at multi-tasking and do display a good knowledge of subjects.
  • Can be sensitive and compassionate.
  • Can be very interested and knowledgeable in one particular area.

All gifted and talented children share a feature called ‘asynchronistic development’. This means that while they possess advanced cognitive skills, their physical and emotional maturity may lag behind. The brighter the child, the more asynchronistic their development tends to be.

Common Myths About Gifted and Talented Children

Common myths about gifted and talented children include:

  • Gifted and talented children do not have to work hard to succeed at exams.
  • They don’t need help with learning study skills.

Testing a Child for Giftedness

In order to provide your child with specialist gifted provision, your child’s school will probably require that they sit for a standard IQ test administered individually by a psychologist, or a test such as Cognitive Ability Tests (CATs), given to groups of children at school. If you would like to have some idea of your child’s abilities prior to formal testing, however, Potential Plus has an online screening tool which may be helpful. Mensa also offers home tests to kids aged 10 ½ (sometimes younger) and offers supervised Mensa IQ tests.

School Education for a Gifted or Talented Child

Normal school curriculums comprise a 70:30 ratio between teaching basic skills and higher cognitive learning. This can be disheartening to gifted children, because they grasp key concepts incredibly quickly and they have a burning need to challenge their higher cognitive learning skills.

Parents of gifted and talented children have difficult choices to make; organisations such as Potential Plus UK, NACE – the National Association for Able Children in Education, the network GT Voice and SNAP – the Scottish Network for Able Pupils are there to help.  They have been working with the government to improve the quality of education for the gifted, yet current UK government policy is aimed at too broad a spectrum of children (comprising some 10 per cent of the top students at school). As PEGY notes, “Most gifted education teaching manuals and publications in the UK address only the needs of bright children, and almost universally recommend a ‘one-solution-fits-all’ approach, usually comprising in-class extension work, leavened with stimulating after-school or holiday activities and the occasional pull-out group… the whole discussion takes place in the context of the moderately gifted. With very few exceptions, the needs of the exceptionally gifted/profoundly gifted child are not discussed, recognised or addressed.”

The lack of the right education for exceptionally gifted students can have serious consequences, including:

  • Lack of self-esteem.
  • Poor social and emotional adjustment
  • Underachievement
  • Anxiety and/or depression

Selecting the Right School for the Gifted and Talented

Parents of gifted and talented children can be at a loss as to what kind of schooling is best for their kids. Some experts believe in the value of accelerating children to higher years. Mensa gifted child consultant, Lyn Allcock, however, seems to disagree: “I am not entirely comfortable with the idea of accelerating a child… At what point does one stop? Is university a suitable environment for a child of 12?”

Obtaining entrance into non-fee-paying schools with an excellent gifted and talented children’s programme (like Queen Elizabeth Boys Grammar School, in Barnet) can be difficult, owing to the long waiting lists. Many parents who are able to afford private schooling opt for the latter, largely because the smaller pupil-to-teacher ration guarantees greater personalisation.

Homeschooling works particularly with the gifted, since parents can personalise lesson plans to the level required by the child and cater the experience to the child’s interests. Parents can likewise keep their gifted children stimulated through interesting learning material and experiences (including watching documentaries, visiting museums and taking ‘field trips’). The Montessori method is only one used to accelerate learning: under this system, kids use groundbreaking materials which make quite complex concepts seem easy.

Associations like Potential Plus offer a host of resources and advice for parents and teachers, and organise activities for gifted children to socialize with each other. IGGY, meanwhile, is an international social network which provides gifted students aged 13 to 18 with access to high quality content and invites them to collaborated with other gifted youths and internationally renowned academics.

Moreover, all schools are now required to have a Gifted and Talented Coordinator, who can hopefully offer greater personalisation to your child.

Other Educational Needs:

Some gifted or talented children also have learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autistic spectrum disorders, which can lead to great frustration. See Potential Plus’s Fact Sheet on Dual and Multiple Exceptionality. It is vital that all areas of functionality are identified, so that parents and schools alike can ensure the child’s needs are catered to.

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A vagabond traveler whose first love is the written word, I advocate for continuous learning, cycling, and the joy only a beloved pet can bring. There is plenty else I am passionate about, but those three should do it, for now.