chapter  2
17 Pages

The characteristics of the gifted and exceptionally able in science

ByJOHN K. GILBERT, MATTHEW NEWBERRY

Who are the ‘gifted and exceptionally able in science’? The UK government defines them as being the 5% to 10% highest achievers (here in science) within each and every state school. By implication this is irrespective of the social and cultural backgrounds of the students (QCA 2006). There are several problems with this view. First, there is no firm evidence from longitudinal studies that ‘giftedness in science’ (or in anything else) – meaning that such a person is imaginative and creative – is a fixed personal characteristic. Second, there is no evidence, one way or the other, that ‘giftedness in science’ (assuming that it is a personal characteristic) is evenly spread throughout the whole population (or indeed evenly spread out through different sectors of society). It is entirely possible that social reasons could dictate that particular schools may acquire a disproportionately high or low share of such students. Third, the development or realisation of giftedness requires access to expert teachers, high quality resources and suitable experiences, which are not evenly spread across schools. Poor opportunities may hinder the recognition and/or the development of giftedness. Last, and perhaps most important, since the 1990s, the school assessment regime in England has become heavily focused upon the published comparative ‘league tables of schools’ headline figures of the numbers of students achieving target grades at different stages. These figures are being used to identify targets for future grade attainment and to focus

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well at school may well just be a case of being diligent and hardworking. This focus is hindering the identification of gifted students. The qualities shown by higher achieving students, however valuable, are often insufficient evidence with which to identify giftedness.