SENCO Week considers the links between SEN and G&T at schools; gifted and talented students are often considered as having specific learning needs and are equally in need of support

Lots of SENCOs find themselves in the role of G&T coordinator as well as having responsibility for pupils with SEN. In fact, some schools include their G&T youngsters in the SEN or AEN (additional educational needs) category. They are recognised as having specific learning needs and as such, deserve an equal amount of attention. Even if you are not the G&T coordinator, you may well be involved with individuals who are ‘twice exceptional’ – they are very able in one area, but have difficulties in another.

Support for SENCOs
Pupils with DME (dual or multiple exceptionality) are vulnerable pupils who often never get onto the G&T register, and consequently their needs are never fully addressed. They often feature on the underachievers lists – pupils with ability who fall short of fulfilling their potential.

There are several reasons why identifying these children is not straightforward:

  • Assessments tend to identify either high ability or learning difficulties, but not both.
  • Stereotypical views of what gifted pupils are like still abound (eg they don’t stutter, write illegibly or answer back).
  • Social and cultural differences can mask ability and sometimes limit opportunities for the child.
  • Limited information and training for teachers results in them overlooking pupils who are not precociously gifted and talented.

A recent estimate suggests that 5-10% of gifted pupils could have a learning difficulty and that 2-5% of pupils with disabilities may also be gifted (think ‘Stephen Hawking’). Many of these will slip through various nets and underachieve because their abilities are masked by their learning difficulties, or because their ability may enable them to conceal their learning difficulty, for a time at least. Able children can be skilled at task avoidance and coming up with creative excuses for not completing work.

Gifted children with learning difficulties can be grouped broadly as those with:

  • high ability acknowledged, but learning difficulties unrecognised
  • learning difficulties acknowledged, but giftedness unrecognised
  • both high ability and learning difficulties unrecognized (each one ‘cancelling out’ the other).

In order to address this situation and ensure that children’s strengths and weaknesses are accurately identified, all staff need to be aware of the possibility that there will be DME children in their classes. The SENCO and G&T coordinator can support staff in this by helping them to develop a better awareness of the signs to look out for.

A child who is gifted and talented may have:

  • ability or expertise in (only) one specific area (sometimes this may be an area not acknowledged by school, eg speaking three different languages, horse jumping, karate)
  • a good imagination
  • an extensive vocabulary
  • excellent comprehension skills
  • the ability to excel at tasks requiring abstract thinking and problem solving
  • excellent visual memory.

This child may not be recognized as G&T because she or he has:

  • poor handwriting and spelling which result in poor written work overall
  • difficulty in performing under pressure
  • trouble completing tasks with a sequence of steps but can take part in broad-ranging discussions
  • a limited attention span
  • low self-esteem
  • poor communication or social skills.

In addition, this child may also be disruptive in class, often straying off-task, and sometimes aggressive. She or he may be disorganised, especially when not motivated, often leaving work unfinished. Alternatively, the child may be withdrawn and unresponsive.

A useful starting point, then, may be for staff to consider individual learners in their classes and determine whether any of them cross over these two lists. If they see a ‘spark’ one day – perhaps an answer to a question that shows real insight or a piece of role-play that demonstrates dramatic flair, but the pupil has hitherto been deemed ‘average’ or ‘low achieving’ – it’s time to look more closely at his or her achievements and the possible reasons why they aren’t better than they are. Is the child dyslexic? Does she have hearing loss or visual impairment? Is there a recognised disability such as cerebral palsy which has overshadowed a particular talent?

Talk to the child – find out what is holding him or her back. Talk with the parents – they will often have a unique insight into their child’s needs, interests and ambitions.

Next week we will look at some strategies for supporting pupils with DME and helping them to fulfill their potential.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2009

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.