Gifted and talented, or G&T, is a term used regularly in education today – but what does it actually mean?

What exactly do we mean by ‘gifted and talented’? Dictionaries give us the following definitions:

gifted:

  1. having natural talent or aptitude
  2. highly intelligent (children)

talented:

  1. having special, often creative or artistic, aptitude
  2. exhibiting general ability or intelligence.

Current guidelines from the DCSF suggest that schools should be identifying between 5% and 10% of their children as their ‘gifted and talented’. These pupils are defined as: ‘Children and young people with one or more abilities developed to a level significantly ahead of their year group (or with the potential to develop those abilities)’ and include:

  • learners aged 11 to 19 who meet the published eligibility criteria for the top 5% nationally
  • learners aged four to 19 who are gifted and talented relative to their peers in their own year group and school/college
  • learners with a range of abilities, including talent in the arts and sport
  • learners who show ability, if not achievement (so that underachievers are among those identified).

The DCSF definition raises a number of issues for schools to consider:

  • The definition is relational. Being identified as ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’ in one school doesn’t signify an objective quality that would mark out the pupil as being gifted and/or talented if he or she was in another school. It may be the case with exceptional individuals but, more often, membership of the most able five to 10% in a particular school will not necessarily transfer to another school or college.
  • Pupils develop at different rates and a particular pupil may fall within the scope of the definition ‘gifted and talented’ in one year but not in a subsequent year. Some indicators of giftedness can also be misleading – such as young children who enter school with well-developed language skills.
  • Although the definition refers to ‘actual or potential’ achievement, everything within the school system is geared towards ‘actual’ achievement in terms of the process and end results of pieces of work. We know that there are highly able or gifted pupils who, for one reason or other, do not display their real ability, but on the whole we are not yet effective in addressing the situation.
  • As well as high ability within subject areas, we need to identify pupils who demonstrate personal and social qualities and skills such as leadership and communication, and who can think imaginatively and creatively across and between subjects (eg, an outstanding conservationist links together aspects of geography and biology).

There is consensus, though, about the fact that G&T pupils are a diverse group of individuals in a range of ways. Just as there is no ‘typical pupil’, there is no such person as a typical gifted and talented pupil.

What’s in a name?

The term ‘gifted and talented’ is not universally popular. Many people feel that it excludes pupils who are ‘able’ and that it smacks of elitism. Scotland has SNAP (Scottish Network for Able Pupils). In practice, schools and colleges use a range of terminology:

  • Able pupils
  • More able pupils
  • The very able
  • Exceptionally able
  • Gifted children
  • Talented pupils
  • Those with exceptional talent
  • Pupils with marked aptitude.

Fixing the labels ‘gifted’ and ‘talented’ to particular areas also raises some concerns. It is surely possible to be a ‘gifted’ (as opposed to a ‘talented’) artist; and many people would say Mozart was an innately ‘gifted’ musician. Many practitioners prefer flexibility in the terms used.

Mensa
Anyone whose IQ falls within the top 2% of the population can join Mensa. IQ, or Intelligence Quotient, is an attempt to measure intelligence. This means many things to many people but, generally speaking, it refers to quickness of mental apprehension (mental agility) – not to be confused with knowledge, memory or skills. Mensa has its own supervised test, but will accept those who score within the top 2% on other recognised tests. Scores indicating that someone falls within the ‘98th percentile’ may vary from 132 in the Wechsler Scales to 148 in the Cattell III B test.

Anyone aged ten and a half or over can take the Mensa Supervised IQ Test. The organisation also provides a checklist for parents to help define ‘giftedness’ in children (see below). 

Signs of giftedness – the Mensa checklist

A gifted child may display some or many of these qualities/behaviours:

  • an unusual memory
  • passing intellectual milestones early
  • reading early
  • unusual hobbies or interests or an in-depth knowledge of certain subjects
  • intolerance of other children
  • an awareness of world events
  • setting themselves impossibly high standards
  • may be a high achiever
  • prefers to spend time with adults or in solitary pursuits
  • loves to talk
  • asks questions all the time
  • learns easily
  • well-developed sense of humour
  • musical
  • likes to be in control
  • makes up extra rules for games
  • is extrovert/introvert.
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