Identifying gifted and talented children (Part 1)

There are occasions we come across a child in our class that literally “stands out” for their ability in some area or another – so what do we do?

Lets start with a definition…

Gifted or talented?

In England, the Department for Education (DfE) distinguishes between gifted learners and talented children:

  • Gifted learners are those who have particular academic abilities;
  • Talented learners are those who have particular abilities in the creative arts (such as music, art and design, drama, dance) or PE.

Within a school’s structure there should be a dedicated teacher, often known as the gifted and talented co-ordinator or leading teacher, to oversee the implementation of the school’s policy on gifted and talented. This is the person who should oversee and encourage best practice amongst all teachers to ensure the children are stimulated and stretched within their particular area of ability, perhaps via a special enrichment programme.

Some schools (and in fact this was the case in my schools) may incorporate “gifted and talented” support within the schools overall “individual or special needs” organisation and operation. This can be particularly effective in closely monitoring a particular child’s progress and in supporting the class teacher in providing appropriate challenge and stimulus in class.

All schools should also have a written policy on how they manage their most able children and it should be openly available on request; OFSTED can expect to see evidence showing that the policy is working.

This policy should incorporate:

  • How children are identified
  • What measures are put in place to stretch and challenge them at every stage of their school education
  • It should have the full support of the staff, the governors and parents and be widely available to all.

So that’s the technical bit briefly covered…but the burning question is this….

“How easy is it to distinguish between a child who is very good at something and one who is gifted or talented?”

You see – educating children who are good at specific areas is something we can more easily cope with in school….approaches taken can involve:-

  • Extension activities within taught units
  • Withdrawal or even intervention work and input
  • Additional work and study that may be set in cooperation with parents to be completed at home
  • Perhaps structuring individual children to work with older year groups for specific subjects

There are many more approaches that can be used and naturally these will vary from school to school based on the following sorts of criteria

  • Size and organisation of the school
  • Staff experience
  • Support staff availability

However – once we move away from a child being “good” at certain specifics and into the realms of “gifted or talented” then we are into a whole new ball game and our usual approaches in most cases will not be sufficient!


Let me at this point reassure you that it is very easy to identify children with these levels of ability and let me go further and add that you will not encounter very many.

Gifted or talented children often show these talents from an early age and as such Parents may mention these traits to the school. This is always a good lead in for teachers and schools to follow up and subsequent findings may confirm these talents or perhaps give a slightly less enthusiastic judgement (wasn’t that statement tactfully put!)

However there are many occasions where we as teachers are able to observe a child who begins to exhibit exceptional talent during the course of the year and in a particular area of the curriculum.

Again I have to say that this does not happen very frequently but when it does it will hit you right between the eyes!

Let me give you an example….

I had a boy transfer from another school. Aged about 9 he fitted in well with the class and was slightly above average in the curriculum. He made friends easily and would be seen playing football with the other boys at playtimes and dinnertimes. 

There was nothing “above average” about this particular pupil – nothing in the accompanying notes nor any mention of anything from his parents. However when we came to the summer term the schools P.E curriculum shifted to athletics and that 1st summer I became instantly aware that here was someone with an exceptional talent…..he could run! Not only could he run quickly in sprints but he also had the stamina to run distances. He absolutely destroyed everyone in his class  during P.E…then did the same for the whole school at the sports day…and then won by a distance the huge interschools cross country and all his events in the inter schools athletics! (both of these he competed against the upper year groups)

Having seen this unfolding I of course had to speak to his parents – honestly, they had no idea that he was at such a level. Yes they knew he was a good runner but nothing beyond that. It was only when I was able to see him in specific situations did we see his special talent.

So we are faced with 2 differing situations

  1. Children that are already identified as gifted or talented
  2. Children that show specific abilities in response to events or activities that occur in our classrooms or school.

Again it raises the question

” As a mainstream school just how can we cope with children that show this level of talent and ability and provide appropriate challenge and stimulation to move these pupils forward rather than just occupy them as they slip through the net?”

In part 2 of this article I will attempt to address these concerns.

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