The Gifted Phoenix Manifesto for Gifted Education

GiftedPhoenixThe Gifted Phoenix Manifesto for Gifted Education was the topic for discussion at #gtie on Sunday 24th March. To use his own words “Gifted Phoenix is the social media pseudonym of Tim Dracup a UK-based consultant in – and commentator on – gifted and talented education”. Tim was previously the Head of England’s National Gifted and Talented Education Unit and has extensive experience and expertise in the development of gifted education policy at national level.

Since establishing the Gifted Phoenix Blog three years ago, he has researched and written about gifted education in many countries around the world. His research is meticulous and his blogposts are very detailed and factual. While most people write about their own personal experience or the state of gifted education in their own area, the Gifted Phoenix blog has a more generic approach and focuses on policy and research. It has become an invaluable archive of material about gifted education of the type not collected elsewhere. His experience as a government policy-maker and his extensive research combined with his ability to be open, analytical and objective makes Tim’s a voice very much worth listening to.

Tim explained that the Gifted Phoenix Manifesto for Gifted Education was written to “encapsulate what I’d learned over 3 years of writing the blog…as a potential programme for change. A text that might attract broad consensus which advocates could use to convince skeptical policy makers (like  used to be) of the case for investment in gifted education”.

The general consensus was that the Manifesto is a very worthwhile document.

The main thrust is to advance an economic argument for gifted education, which Tim feels is usually neglected but now particularly important in the current recession. Most economies are struggling for an answer to sluggish economic growth. Even “austerity merchants” recognise that we must pursue growth actively and he feels that gifted education is part of the answer.

There are those within the gifted community who don’t much like the economic argument. They feel that it is wrong to view gifted learners purely as an economic resource; that they have special educational needs which deserve to be met regardless of any economic argument. Tim feels that the economic case is central to achieving our aim and that, while there are indeed other very valid arguments for gifted education, they have been spelled out before. The economic argument does not preclude the other arguments; it is in addition to them.

Support for gifted learners should not be at the expense of others. Provision for gifted students is both an argument for excellence and equity. It was accepted that providing for gifted learners benefits all students. Having done extensive research on excellence internationally, Tim says that while the eastern countries that lead the PISA tables are generally more equitable (with the exception of Singapore) than western countries, he’s not sure we know too much about the excellence gap in many countries beyond what PISA data tells us. It seems that they do better overall and they do better for gifted children. It also matters less whether they are rich or poor, their students achieve highly regardless. His research shows that in countries where there’s a big performance gap between rich and poor (eg US and NZ), the rich and gifted kids do better than the poor and gifted ones. In raising excellence, the Manifesto talks not just about raising general standards, but the need for a gifted and and talented programme. Tim believes that targeted interventions have more of an impact than generic policies.

The question arose of whether anyone has linked gifted with mental health issues such as teen suicide, existential crises, depression and anxiety. Should there be a proven link, this would surely add to the economic argument. Tim admitted that he is wary of much of that field as he doesn’t want to give the impression that all gifted learners have such problems. However, he can see the economic and educational sense in helping these learners improve their outcomes also, however they are defined.

It was suggested that we should be careful not to propagate a stereotype of all gifted students as high performers; that we should attempt to capture the range of traits that tend to cluster with gifted and not just intelligence or performance. Someone else pointed out that decision makers care not a tot about “traits”; it’s the bottom line that counts to ‘outsiders’. However, to use the economic argument, it costs money to manage behaviour problems and mental health issues. So, removing those issues at source makes sound economic sense – it’s another ‘gap’ that needs addressing, agrees Tim.  Perhaps, if we had the right infrastructure in place, these students would be identified and supported by default. As things stand at present, few gifted children are having their needs met. In the interest of getting things done, should we maybe keep the message simple and pragmatic in the first instance?

Another bone of contention is the fact that so much research lies hidden behind paywalls, which is fine for academics with libraries who have subscriptions, but no good for a non-affiliated independent bloggers like Gifted Phoenix. Researchers truly concerned with the plight of gifted students should make their work available publicly, especially when that work is often already funding through their respective institution.

Although based in the UK, Tim has tried to ensure that the Manifesto has a global fit. There has been loads of interest from outside the UK but next to nothing there. He has not been invited to attend the World Council Conference. Tim believes that part of the problem is that the Manifesto is critical of the cliques and empire-builders that are so dominant in the field. He says that “I’ve become convinced that a networked approach rather precludes silos and fiefdoms – they’re holding us back.”

For those who like a quick fix, here is the Storify summary of the chat

Here is the full transcript

by Peter Lydon & Catherine Riordan

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