Schools in New Zealand are required to do the following, according to the National Administration Guidelines:
(c) on the basis of good quality assessment information, identify students and groups of students:
- who are not achieving;
- who are at risk of not achieving;
- who have special needs (including gifted and talented students); and
- aspects of the curriculum which require particular attention;
(d) develop and implement teaching and learning strategies to address the needs of students and aspects of the curriculum identified in (c) above;
Each school has considerable autonomy in how they do all this, and many will have written a policy (a document written by the Board of Trustees) or a procedure (a document written by the staff) to guide teaching practice. Your child’s school may well have a policy or procedure that specifically addresses how gifted children will be identified and catered for. It probably doesn’t have any pictures, and it may well look extremely dull, but I’m about to tell you why this document is a wonderful thing:
A policy or procedure expresses good intentions. If things go wrong at school, it’s easy to forget that the school personnel could possibly have good intentions. However, the policy or procedure is a piece of paper that shows those good intentions in black and white. This can be very reassuring!
A policy or procedure promotes understanding. Your school’s policy or procedure was written primarily to help teachers develop a shared understanding of how gifted and talented children are identified and catered for. It conveys perceptions about what gifted means within your school, or “where they are coming from” with regard to giftedness. These are great things for parents to understand, too!
A policy or procedure is usually written by a committee. I know, I know… if something looks as though it was “designed by a committee”, that means it is full of awkward mismatches and compromises! However, if your school has a policy or procedure on gifted education, they have gone through the process of assembling the range of opinions that can lead to mismatches and compromises. They’ve explored differing points of view on giftedness, and they have come up with something they can agree on. There should be something in the resulting document that you can agree with too, which helps you to discuss giftedness as a friend rather than an adversary.
A policy or procedure must be realistic. ERO checks that schools follow their own rules. A policy or procedure is therefore very unlikely to be a vehicle for promising you the earth and delivering a small back section.
A policy or procedure guides action in every classroom until a new one is written (often on a three year cycle). This is the document created to smooth out the bumps between teachers who “get it” about gifted education and those who don’t. It can’t make teachers into clones of one another, of course, but it can give them shared and stable goals – ones that parents can understand and support.
A policy or procedure is an impartial document. Whether the teacher thinks your child is an angel from heaven or an enfant terrible, whether you are seen as an enthusiastic advocate for quality learning or a pushy parent, this document should still be applied to your child in the same way as any other.
Policies and procedures are written as tools for schools, but they can offer wonderful support to the parent-teacher relationship by making common ground clear in supporting gifted children. They can also be helpful to parents in revealing the terminology the school uses to discuss children with gifts / talents / special abilities / high potential – little things like this can help conversations about your child’s learning to flow more smoothly. Do ask schools whether they have policies or procedures addressing giftedness, as you decide where to educate your gifted child. If they have a policy, they are obliged to give you a copy, because the Board of Trustees is an elected body of local government. If they have a procedure, it will have been written as an in-house document, and it is up to the discretion of the school whether they give you a copy or not. They may be happy to provide you with an executive summary, or to meet with you to discuss their procedure, even if they are not keen to give you a copy.
A note of caution – If you repeatedly use a policy or procedure to look for bones of contention rather than common ground, you risk a review of the document that lowers provision for all gifted children at your school. Policies and procedures are better used to find the school that is the best fit, and then to draw attention to shared intentions in meeting your child’s needs, than as invitations to attempt dramatic change of the culture of a school.
Your school may not have a policy or procedure about the education of gifted and talented children. They are not currently required to. Should you be a member of a Board of Trustees, it is worth knowing that there are a number of schools from various parts of the world with their policies online, and that you may be able to assemble a set of policies that your school could use as discussion points in creating their own. Do look for a good fit with the overall culture of your school. TKI has begun to assemble some resources for creating gifted education policies, and these will also be useful.