Victorian schools not meeting gifted students' needs

The Victorian Parliament’s Education and Training Committee released its Inquiry into the education of gifted and talented students in late June. The committee found that, in its current state, gifted education is lacking in four main areas.

  • Access to gifted education is not equitable
    The committee found that 'gifted education' is not accessible to all gifted students. In many cases, parents must pay for programs to cater to gifted children — sometimes even those offered by schools. Additionally, students from non-metropolitan areas often miss out on appropriate education programs due to their geographic isolation, and many families (particularly those from low socioeconomic or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds) are not aware of the breadth of programs available.
  • Students are not reaching their potential
    The report found that  ‘a concerning number’ of gifted students ‘dumb themselves’ down to fit in at school, and those who don’t are likely to face social isolation or bullying. It estimates that anywhere between 10–50 per cent of gifted students are not meeting their potential and that up to 40 per cent leave school before completing Year 12.
     
  • Gifted children are not catered to at early childhood stage
    Another concern is that gifted programs are lacking from early childhood education, meaning that gifted children are not being catered to prior to beginning school. Although early entry programs (where children begin Prep before they are five) do exist, less than 40 students were able to take advantage of early admission to a Victorian government school in 2011.
     
  • Attitudes to ‘giftedness’ are overwhelmingly negative
    It was found that attitudes to gifted education are uniformed and often quite negative. Common misconceptions include the following: that gifted students will succeed without tailored assistance, that gifted students are merely the result of pushy parenting and that specifically catering to giftedness is ‘elitist’.

How will Victoria reform gifted education?
The report emphasises that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that can be applied to reform efforts. Rather, it is necessary to adopt a comprehensive strategy to gifted education, ensuring that it meets the needs of all student cohorts across the state.

As part of this, the committee argues that teachers must have the education, information and resources to enable them to implement gifted education programs and the necessary ‘know-how’ to spot a gifted child. These procedures must be transparent, and there must be clear guidelines for each course of action — whether a child is accelerated (skips a grade) or placed in an enrichment or enhancement program, for example.

Further, the committee argues that the broadening of access to gifted education programs is fundamental to their reform. This will be of particular benefit to students from regional and rural areas, where access to gifted education programs may be lacking. Solutions include:

  • the establishment of a ‘virtual school’ — an online community that would provide a range of extension opportunities for students across the state
  • further developing the government’s Select Entry Accelerated Learning (SEAL) program, which sees students complete Years 7 to 10 in just three years of study and, in many cases, entering tertiary education after five years of secondary education.

The committee has also recognised that gifted students and their families should receive increased support — both from the state government and their schools. The committee argues that for gifted children to ‘flourish’, their social and emotional needs must be met in addition to academic needs through expert advice, counselling programs and increased opportunities for children to interact with other gifted students. 

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