Academically engineered schools

A parent mentioned recently that their daughter’s primary school had a strong focus on gifted and talented students much to the exclusion of other students. As the parent explained, her daughter and the other ‘non-gifted’ students were miffed they didn’t have the same activities as the gifted and talented students. This reminds me of a comment by Edward de Bono who described the current model of schooling as a pyramid in which the bottom 80% of students were being taught so that the top 20% could go onto university.

There are two tiers that currently exist within our education system between selective and comprehensive. Recently, NSW Department of Education secretary, Mark Scott announced a review of the Gifted and Talented policy within government schools to address among other things the inequity that currently exists in securing a place in selective schools. There was even a suggestion that having selective primary schools would ensure gifted and talented students receive the appropriate support and/or intervention.

The danger in all of this is that providing for one group means we risk neglecting others. As I’ve said before creating more selective schools doesn’t address the issue of equity, it simply creates more inequity. We then end up with academically engineered learning environments that are not reflective of contemporary Australian society.

Gifted and talented programs emerge out of a one size fits all model that responds to teaching to the middle. This sort of thinking needs to be challenged; turned on its head. At the risk of sounding radical, every child is gifted and we need to learn how to deal with the diversity that exists in all schools.



5 thoughts on “Academically engineered schools

  1. This post raises many issues – and possibly needs a bit of soul searching if you want to be strictly above board.
    1) In a previous blog you highlighted the differences between teachers – some really great and others very ordinary. As a parent this had me nodding my head as has been my experience as well – and still unable to fathom out why some of the very ordinary are still protected. In this post you highlight the “middle”. Practically the teacher differences you highlighted earlier means “on average the middle”. So no guessing what the realty is for those classes with teachers that are gifted, not so gifted and those just waiting for their pension. Consider the selective schools as somewhere to weed out and allow the good teachers to flourish, not just the pupils.
    2) Maybe every child is gifted – but one gets the impression this statement is PC pandering. Regardless of your views, every pupil is not as engaged (abilities not with standing). My child was complaining bitterly that half the kids in her class were just not interested in learning and frankly holding the rest back who wanted to learn. Now she is in one of the selective schools they all want to learn and what a difference.
    3) Your statement neglecting others does not seem to tally with the concept of moving the gifted and talented out – such rather seems to allow the teachers to focus on those needing the help?.

    I generally felt this blog was not up to the usual high standard.

    1. Ross, thanks for your comments. I think we are in agreement that this a complex issue. The problem with selective schools et al is that it is an administrative solution. The reality is the current model doesn’t allow all children to flourish or all teachers. Furthermore, it champions cognitive ability as the only measure of intelligence. Gardner argued that intelligence isn’t dominated by one modality. If you accept that and start from the premise that all kids can learn with the appropriate support, scaffold and structures, then we wouldn’t need selective schools. The focus must be ensuring effective teachers in all classrooms and a curriculum that is based on the needs and interests of each child. There are many students who don’t get ATAR scores of 95 that are leading professionally rewarding lives. Are we to say they were never talented?

  2. Hi Greg,
    I have thought the way you do for a long time and so consequently have been the square peg in a round hole at the school I recently left! All people have strengths and weaknesses and we should all continue to grow and learn. All children have the right to an education that allows them to become all they can be on the midst of being wonderful simply because they exist!
    The whole gifted and talented slant has bothered me for years as the G&T group were engaged in rigorous science work, the almost there people were withdrawn from Art, Music and Drama to attend remedial classes and the ordinary were doing the same old same old.
    I don’t think you are being radical just an educator who thinks. Love it. We should encourage more of that 😉

  3. If every child was gifted, as you claim, then every child would score in the top 2-10% of IQ tests – a statistical impossibility.
    If every child was gifted, every child would thrive with an accelerated, complex level of content in the curriculum.
    The reality is that every child should be valued equally, while their diverse educational needs are catered for differently. Providing a different educational option for one group does not necessarily mean that “we risk neglecting others” as you warn. If special programs were being denied to students with learning disabilities there would be public outrage!
    How many highly able students are ignored and neglected in classrooms where teachers prioritise the needs of the students yet to achieve year level standards? Shouldn’t all students have the right to come to school to learn something every day? Why is it that all other students’ needs are more important than a gifted child’s needs? If you want to talk about equity, then talk about equitable access to an education that meets each student’s needs.
    When opportunities are provided for highly able students to learn in specialised programs, with specialist teachers, at a rate and complexity that other students would not want to attempt, could not keep up with, nor should have to try, then the issue of access to an equitable education for highly able students is addressed.
    Why is it that in some areas of human endeavour we happily provide high-level learning experiences, opportunities to work with like-minded & similarly talented peers and highly qualified teachers – areas such as sports and music? Why is it that we would hesitate to offer similarly advanced learning options for mathematically able students, or students gifted in the language arts?
    Each child has an entitlement to an education that meets their needs – the fact that students have diverse needs does not make any student more or less valued or entitled. Every child is special, unique and important, but not every child meets the criteria for giftedness. Giftedness is just an ordinary difference. But it is a difference that deserves to be respected.

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