Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Gifted Phoenix Manifesto For Gifted Education

The topic for discussion at our last #gtie chat was "The Gifted Phoenix Manifesto For Gifted Education".

Gifted Phoenix is the social media pseudonym of Tim Dracup, a former head of the English Gifted and Talented Unit. In that role, he clocked up ten years of experience in the drafting and implementation of national gifted education policy in the UK. 

For the past three years, he has been researching and writing about gifted education policy around the world on the Gifted Phoenix Blog. Tim has a very distinct writing style. His research is meticulous and his posts detailed and factual. He has an unusual ability to remain objective and unemotional. His blog has developed into an invaluable archive of research material, the likes of which you will not find anywhere else.

I always enjoy chats with @GiftedPhoenix because he is not afraid to say what he thinks, even if it jars with the general consensus . It's always far more interesting and exciting when people are prepared to call a spade a spade, don't you think? With @Peter_Lydon and @GiftedPhoenix, this one had great potential!
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 Economic Argument: The economic argument highlights the economic benefits of investment in gifted education. Tim feels that this is part of the answer to the lack of growth that pertains at the moment. There are those who are uncomfortable, to varying degrees, with the use of the economic argument, on the basis that we should not politicise gifted children; that gifted children have special educational needs which deserve support regardless of any economic argument. I agree entirely with this sentiment but, I also feel that we need to be pragmatic. We have been arguing the case for gifted education for years and where has it got us? We have no consensus on what “gifted” is, never mind an effective, equitable programme of gifted education anywhere in the world, as far as I can see. We are all dancing about either trying to appear tolerant of each other’s views or taking umbrage with each other. The broad church model is all very well within the ranks but, let’s face it, if you were an unconverted policymaker, would you fork out some of your precious budget for some airy fairy cause whose advocates couldn’t even agree on a definition or a focus? Let’s be honest; the only thing which cuts any ice with policymakers is the economic argument. If emphasising this argument results in the needs of gifted students being met, then maybe this is what we need to do.

The social/emotional needs: Many, if not most, advocates are concerned about the social and emotional needs of gifted students. They would feel more comfortable if gifted students were promoted in a holistic way as individuals rather than purely as an economic resource. However, the Manifesto clearly states:
  • There should be integrated support for learners, educators and parents/carers, to maximise the benefits from synergy between these streams.
  • Five areas of engagement should also be synergised: learning, professional development, advocacy, research and policy-making.
I believe that, if we can use the economic argument to get the policymakers to adopt our suggested model, recognition of the social and emotional needs of these students will follow naturally. Consider all the current research on gifted students. Does the vast bulk of it not cover these issues? We have enormous amounts of research to show that gifted students have different needs and to show the possible consequences of not meeting them. But policymakers, and indeed most educators, have not shown much interest. It doesn't do much to convince the general public either. We need a different argument to get the door open!

The Elitist Argument: This is an entirely personal point of view but one which I believe the Manifesto addresses nicely. The current situation means that, for the most part, the gifted kids with the best chance of doing well in every sense, are the ones whose parents have the money to gain access to gifted education programmes, where they are available, or to enrichment programmes and extracurricular activities. We need a system which recognises and meets the needs of all gifted students no matter what their background or the wherewithal of their parents. That would blow the elitist argument out of the water. Not to mention that when excellence and equity is promoted within the education system as a whole, all students, not just the gifted ones benefit.

Evidence: In order to have any credibility, all arguments must be evidence-based. There is no room for wishy washy stuff and hunches here. We need good research to back everything up. As Tim points out, that means it must be available, not stashed behind paywalls where it is of no use to anyone outside the chosen few.

The stumbling Block: One huge stumbling block to progress will be the gifted community itself. Tim says,

we must move away determinedly from the disagreements, factions, cliques, petty rivalries, self-promotion and empire-building that characterise the community and work co-operatively together for the benefit of all gifted learners.”

That this is true can be seen very clearly in our tiny country where one individual on a mission to carve a personal profile managed to bring down our national organisation after thirty years of advocacy. Four years later, the politics of this still rumbles on subtly and, instead of all advocates working together, those of us striving to build a network of advocates and to bring about real change for gifted children in Ireland are constantly looking over our shoulders and watching what we say to whom. It is hard to bring people together while at the same time preventing vested interests and egos from undermining or hijacking our efforts in an attempt to self-promote. If a country as small as Ireland can’t get everyone pulling together, what hope do we have globally?  To succeed, this will require a lot of effort, determination and many spades!

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