Gifted and Talented, is it all an elitist farce?

By Natascha Ng

The Young Gifted and Talented scheme was set up by the government in 2002 but was later scrapped in 2010. Although there is currently no national scheme, many schools have their own gifted and talented programmes. However, are these schemes just elitist processes or do they support those who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to pursue their talents further?

The BBC reports that an ‘analysis of performance tables consistently shows that poor students are…half as likely to achieve the top GCSE grades as their better-off classmates.’ But are these results a correct representation of ability or in fact a result of elitism and opportunity.

Indeed, a Guardian report showed that ‘more than 40% of pupils in London have a private tutor at some point in their school career’. Reflecting on both of these facts we can conclude that it is much more likely that children from an advantaged background, that can afford the resources such as tutoring or private classes, will achieve the grades to be classified as ‘gifted and talented’.

The Sutton Trust report ‘indicated that students known to be eligible for free school meals were 19 percentage points less likely than other school students to enter higher education by the age of 19.’ Again, this cannot be a reflection of ability but points to a lack of support and resources. This proves that the gifted and talented programmes have not successfully identified the talents of disadvantaged students.

Similarly, The Sutton Trust also reported that ‘four per cent of pupils in grammar schools live in the poorest fifth of neighbourhoods, around 21% come from the middle quintile and 34% live in the richest fifth of neighbourhoods’. Assuming the percentage of those receiving free school meals admitted to grammar schools is any reflection of the percentage of children receiving free school meals on the gifted and talented list; we can clearly see that this form of assessment and categorisation is not identifying and allowing disadvantaged students to succeed.

Françoys Gagné (2003) says: ‘Gifted students are those whose potential is distinctly above average in one or more of the following domains of human ability: intellectual, creative, social and physical. Talented students are those whose skills are distinctly above average in one or more areas of human performance.’ However, does that mean to say if you are not classified as ‘gifted and talented’ that you don’t have ‘potential’- this is a harsh category to be placed in as young as 11. This can be detrimental to the self-esteem of children, especially those who are from disadvantaged backgrounds who often already suffer from lack of confidence. Furthermore, how do you assess creative ability or measure ‘gifted and talented’? Is it not subjective?

So are these schemes just further supporting the already better off? It can be argued that ‘Gifted and Talented’ schemes are vital to help support children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The BBC series ‘Generation Gifted’ shows the positive outcome of gifted and talent programmes for disadvantaged students. It presents students that have been identified as having talents in specific areas and the support given to ensure that they are encouraged to engage further, boosting their confidence.

Without gifted and talented programmes how would students be given the opportunity to excel in their area? It gives students the opportunity to understand that whilst they may struggle in one area they can excel in another.

So what is the solution? We need programmes that, as the government proposal for the gifted and talent scheme stated, ‘recognise the needs of all pupils, ensuring that no ceiling is put on achievement’. If the concept of gifted and talented is to be continued then more must be done to ensure that equal opportunity is given.

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