Category Archives: Research

Parents of Gifted Students in Ireland, Your Views Please!

Survey for parents of gifted studentsWe have recently had surveys of teachers and students regarding provision for gifted students in Ireland. Here’s a chance for parents to add their voice. It should take only 10-15 minutes. You can participate regardless of the age of your children. If they have finished school, you can choose to complete the school section retrospectively or just skip to the general questions later. If you have more than one child, the school section will reappear once for each child. It’s all pretty clear once you get started.

Dear Parents,

Emma Ui Shuillebhean

Emma Ui Shuillebhean

I am a primary teacher with seven years teaching experience both at class and support level. This year I am studying for a Masters of Education in Special Educational Needs at University College Dublin. I am conducting some research into the provision and support for exceptionally able pupils in Ireland. This is an area I feel very strongly about and I hope that the recommendations from my research will be of use to teachers, parents and pupils. I would be grateful if you would support this project.

As part of my research I will be conducting an anonymous online survey with parents of gifted students, looking at their experiences of education for gifted pupils in Ireland.

I will make my research findings available on this website. I would be grateful if you would complete this survey:

Yours sincerely

           Emma Uí Shúilleabháin

It is very exciting to see this topic cropping up with increasing frequency as a focus for both undergraduate and postgraduate teaching students. During the preparation for this study, Emma went above and beyond the call of duty by attending, and enduring with great grace, one of our support group meetings! We are more than happy to support her and to help in any way we can. The more parents who complete this survey, the more meaningful the results will be, so please fill it in and share the link with others.

Gifted Education in Ireland: Educators’ Beliefs and Practices

Dr. Jennifer Riedl Cross

Dr. Jennifer Riedl Cross at CTYI, DCU

Yesterday we had the pleasure of attending the launch of a comprehensive report into gifted education in Ireland. In a groundbreaking study, Dr. Jennifer Riedl Cross along with her colleagues Professor Tracy Cross, Dr. Colm O’Reilly and Sakhavat Mammadov conducted a wide-ranging survey of teachers and principals beliefs and attitudes in relation to their gifted students.

This is the first study of its kind in an Irish context and is an important step forward for those who support and advocate for gifted learners in Ireland. In order to ensure impartiality and objectivity, CTYI asked the Center for Gifted Education at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia to carry out the study.  A total of 470 teachers and 367 principals and other school staff took part by responding to the survey. The detail contained in the report sheds light on the experience of many of us and our children within the education system. For many years those of us who have been researching and advocating for gifted children have had our own anecdotal evidence of the attitudes to giftedness in our schools.

Now, for the first time, confirmation comes from those who teach and interact with gifted students on a daily basis in an educational setting. The study verified that our teachers’ attitudes towards gifted students are largely positive although some persistent beliefs not supported by research remain. Most believe that gifted learners need modification to the regular curriculum in order to be adequately challenged and many agree that they are more likely to achieve at higher levels if they are given opportunities to work with similarly matched peers. However, a large number of teachers consider it challenging to provide this without more resources, smaller class sizes and further training.

Among the most interesting aspects of the survey was the exploration of teachers’ own sense of efficacy in providing for their gifted students and their classroom practices. This part of the report is one to which we hope to return in more depth in a later post. CTYI have advised us that they will be happy to forward a copy to any interested parties. At more than 100 pages and a further 60 or so in appendices and additional information, we would urge anyone with an interest to do so.  For those who would prefer an electronic copy, we are informed that one will be available shortly and we will post a link here.

Gifted Education in Ireland Study 2014

CTY Ireland
Dublin City University
Dublin 9

Tel: 01 700 5634

The Role of the Guidance Counsellor in Supporting Gifted Students

Tracy GibsonAs part of my MA in Guidance Counselling in University of Limerick I completed a 20,000 word research project. The title of my research project was “The role of the Guidance Counsellor in supporting Gifted Students in Post-Primary Schools in Ireland”. I chose to do research on this topic because as a practicing post-primary teacher I believe that this cohort of students is largely ignored in our education system. My research involved distributing a questionnaire to both guidance counsellors and gifted students. I asked both about their perception of giftedness and the support received from the school community with special remit to the support provided by guidance counsellors.

The main findings were:

  • 21% of the gifted students surveyed were unsatisfied academically in their schools and 18% found attending school as a very negative experience. On the positive side 82% found their experience to be either positive or very positive.
  • The CTYI programme in DCU was viewed in a very positive light by gifted students. Of those who had attended 100% reported they had gained academically, 94% socially and 72% emotionally.
  • 54% of guidance counsellors believe that gifted students need specific types of intervention and 75% viewed giftedness as a special educational need, however only 19% of guidance counsellors have received training in this area.
  • 14% of gifted students viewed guidance counsellors as a ‘strong support’ in the school they attend. It is possible that this low level of support is as a result of a lack of knowledge and understanding of giftedness on the part of guidance professionals.
  • 53% of gifted students were ‘very comfortable’ with being labelled as gifted whilst 21% were ‘very uncomfortable’ with this label.
  • 63% of gifted students who attended a meeting with their guidance counsellor benefitted from the discussion however, recent budgetary cutbacks (2012) in the area of guidance counselling have resulted in a 25% reduction of one-to-one guidance sessions.
  • The guidance counsellor needs the time to support gifted students on the issue of ‘multipotentiality’ as 30% of gifted students reported getting stressed when they thought about their future careers. ‘Isolation’ from peers was cited by 41% of gifted students surveyed as being a major issue as was ‘disengagement’, which was experienced by 51% of respondents due to lack of stimulation in the classroom. Guidance counsellors have the skills to support gifted students on these social & emotional and educational issues but the problem is that there is limited time to meet with students on an individual level.
  • From my research I believe that all teacher training colleges should provide a module on teaching gifted students. Also each school needs to develop a policy on giftedness in their schools. From my research only 19% of guidance counsellors had a policy in their school.

Policy change is required from the Department of Education beginning with recognising giftedness as a ‘special educational need’. Each school needs to develop a policy on giftedness. Training is required to educate the school community on the needs of gifted students.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who participated in my research by filling out the questionnaire. Without your honest feedback such valuable findings would not have been documented. A special word of thanks to Catherine Riordan and Karen McCarthy for their constant support in the conducting of this research.

Tracy Gibson MA in Guidance Counselling


Dr. Clementine Beauvais: Pushy Parents and Gifted Children

Dr Clementine Beauvais

Behind every ‘gifted’ child is a pushy parent, says Cambridge academic Dr Clementine Beauvais

Dr. Clementine Beauvais is an “education researcher” and children’s author based in Cambridge in the UK. Recently, she was interviewed by journalist Emma Higginbotham about her latest research project in advance of a public talk which is part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas. Clementine’s talk is titled: “Gifted children – or pushy parents? ‘Prodigious parenting’ from Leopold Mozart to Mozart for babies”. The premise of her talk is to open discussion and dialogue on the social construct of gifted children and their (possibly) pushy parents, examining how modern literature perceives the role of parental involvement in the achievements of gifted or highly able children. In looking at how these parents and children are perceived, she suggests, we may examine our own attitudes to education and parenting issues.

As anyone with any experience of gifted education or research will recognise, putting the terms ‘gifted’ and ‘pushy parents’ together is a hot-button issue. Journalists too know that to gain attention for their work they need good headlines to pull readers in, and Ms. Higginbotham does just that. “Behind every ‘gifted’ child is a pushy parent” says Cambridge academic Dr. Clementine Beauvais”, her piece is headlined. Pithy and absolutist, it has the word gifted in quotation marks and the authoritative stamp of an Oxbridge academic, no less. The perfect storm was bound to erupt.

And it did. From experts in the field of giftedness and intelligence research to outraged parents, the commentators were quick to protest this lazy myth that they have seen trotted out so many times. Comments on the article and on Clementine’s blog were expansive and challenging. Some suggested that she should do some basic research into giftedness before using her academic position to undermine the field. Many took issue with her use of quotation marks around the term gifted, and her assertion that giftedness is merely a social construct. An interesting debate ensued on her blog, and seemed to take her a little by surprise.

Of course there are pushy parents. We have all seen them in action, making sure their child is front and centre or top of every queue until the child has internalised the message and can maneuver herself into prime position with every fresh opportunity. Ability or giftedness has nothing to do with this style of parenting, they just see the world as a competitive place where resources are scarce. Their children are not going to wait their turn for their share, they are going to go out and take it before someone else does. By pushing their children they give them what they see as the skills and confidence to do so. Parents of gifted children do not have a monopoly on this strategy, but as pushy parents often produce high achieving children, giftedness is regularly conflated with the behaviour. So, the article headline and throwaway comments notwithstanding, what is Clementine Beauvais’s angle?

Commenting on her blog, some offered scholarly advice to investigate giftedness from some reliable sources before delving any further into her research. Some berated her for what they saw as a negation of their own experience of parenting a highly able child. Most were critical and a few were dismissive. Some of her own replies shed a little more light on her focus. She explains that her research is about “representations of gifted children in literature and culture (including the discourses of scientific and educational research)”. Her first post on the subject summarizes what she sees as the current discourse on gifted children. She writes that:

“So part of my project involves looking at texts – from the scientific literature, from educational manuals, from non-fiction, from literature, from policy documents etc – which either reinforce or attempt to deconstruct these popular understandings of giftedness.”

Her second asks if adult focus on childhood happiness informs perceptions of giftedness. It also touches on the history behind modern childhood, a relatively recent development which has lengthened the time our children spend dependent on us and in education. While this is all very interesting, researching gifted children from all the angles she mentions would be an enormous task. Looking at the construct of giftedness from cultural, literary, scientific and educational perspectives? In just three years? Many eminent academics have spent entire careers researching giftedness and intelligence differences in just one of these fields. Several recent papers and books might address some of the issues Clementine would like to examine. The ones that come immediately to mind are David Yun Dai and Joseph Renzulli’s 2008 paper “Snowflakes, Living Systems and the Mystery of Giftedness” (behind paywall) as well as Dai’s book “The Nature and Nurture of Giftedness”. She might also want to take a look at Scott Barry Kaufman’s fascinating book “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined” and “Explorations in Giftedness” by Sternberg, Jarvin and Grigorenko. In fact anything by Robert Sternberg is worth reading from an academic perspective. But if Clementine is going to do her subject justice, she has a lot of reading ahead of her!

Nevertheless, examining giftedness from a sociologist’s viewpoint is a worthy endeavour. Stepping outside our own definitions and looking at what people think, as expressed in language, literature and culture is a fine research topic. Done well, it would be of great benefit to those who work  (or parent) in the field of giftedness or intelligence research. Linguistic and cultural narratives tell us a lot about where we must start in designing an education system which would cater to all. We may have to take a step backward, into an examination of how we came to be perceived as pushy or gifted, in order to move forward. Clementine’s research focus may make some gifted advocates uncomfortable, but it may also serve a very pertinent purpose.

Those of us who deal every day with giftedness, gifted behaviour and intelligence differences need to be mindful of how we react to the myths and stereotypes. It goes without saying that we should challenge them but perhaps we can do so without feeding the myths on the flip side. There is plenty of rigorous, peer-reviewed academic research which supports what we experience in our everyday lives. By placing our lived experiences of these issues in the context of research we could have a more powerful answer to the types of lazy journalism we encountered this week.

But I can’t shake the feeling that we have all walked ourselves into being part of Clementine’s big laboratory!


Dai, D. Y. (2010). The Nature and Nurture of Giftedness: A New Framework for Understanding Gifted Education. Education & Psychology of the Gifted Series. Teachers College Press. 1234 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027.

Dai, D. Y., & Renzulli, J. S. (2008). Snowflakes, living systems, and the mystery of giftedness. Gifted Child Quarterly, 52(2), 114-130.

Kaufman, S. B. (2013). Ungifted: intelligence redefined. Perseus Books Group.

Sternberg, R. J., Jarvin, L., & Grigorenko, E. L. (2010). Explorations in giftedness. Cambridge University Press.

Genes, Intelligence and Jumping to Conclusions

Statue facepalmLast Wednesday morning on his Newstalk Radio show, Pat Kenny had his weekly science slot with resident expert Luke O’Neill, Professor of Biochemistry and Academic Director of the Biomedical Sciences Institute at Trinity College Dublin. The chosen topic for discussion was genes, intelligence and the education system. (It begins at 31 minutes into this podcast).

The discussion was littered from start to finish with misrepresentations and misinterpretations. Given Professor O’Neill’s stature as an internationally renowned immunologist who has done a great deal to make science accessible to the general public, we were very disappointed that he was so casual about his remarks and that he had so little understanding of the science behind the topic he had chosen to present. In our last post, we discussed the application that Kenny and O’Neill saw for this study within our education system. Here, we look at the “science” upon which their conclusions were based.

For his opening remarks, Prof O’Neill stated “You’re born with a particular set of genes that sort of govern intelligence to some extent. And a big study just came out. 10,000 twins were assessed, which is a good group to look at ‘cos identical twins who are separated at birth and you can follow them in schools and so on and it’s 60% genes and 40% environment is what governs your ultimate intelligence. And for some subjects like maths it’s 70% genetic. So no amount of schooling, almost, is going to help someone who doesn’t have the genes to be mathematical.”

In 1994, Robert Plomin, Professor of Behavioural Genetics at King’s College London, began the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS), a longitudinal study of all twins born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996. They are not all identical and none was separated at birth. In December 2013 an interim study was published, looking at the GCSE results of the twins who have now turned 16:  Strong Genetic Influence on a UK Nationwide Test of Educational Achievement at the End of Compulsory Education at Age 16. This, we presume, was the subject of Luke and Pat’s discussion.

As stated clearly in the study title, it was looking at GSCE results, or academic achievement rather than intelligence and, to quote Plomin himself, “GCSEs aren’t a great measure of what we would normally call academic intelligence.” So, this wasn’t actually a discussion of intelligence at all, something which is vastly more nuanced and complicated than GCSE grades and IQ scores.  Prof O’Neill casually sidestepped this and then went on to confuse the term heritability with inherited. The two are not the same.

The concept of heritability belongs to the field of genetics and can be quite tricky for a non-expert to get their head around. Heritability is a measure of the extent to which differences in the appearance of a trait within a particular group of people, can be explained by a difference in their genes. It refers to the group, not to the individuals and it does not refer to the passing down of a trait from parent to child. It is incorrect to say that if intelligence is 0.6 heritable, then 60% of a person’s intelligence is inherited from their parents and 40% is due to the environment.

Achillea growth in different environments

In the 1940’s, scientists Clausen, Keck and Heisey studied the growth of the yarrow plant, Achillea. In one experiment, they took seven Achillea plants and made three clones of each. One of each clone was planted at coastal height, one at mid elevation and one higher still, at the timberline.

In the diagram to the left, the seven clones are ordered from left to right according to their growth at the lowest elevation. The second line shows them in the same order at middle elevation and the top line shows them at the highest elevation, the timberline. The three clones of each plant are shown directly one above the other.

Comparing the clones of the same plant vertically across the three different environments, although each is genetically identical, their growth is very different. The difference in height cannot be explained by any difference in their genes, therefore height is almost 0% heritable.

Now compare the seven different plants at each elevation (horizontally). Here, the environment is the same for all the plants, so the difference can only be explained by the difference in their genes. The very same trait, height, is almost 100% heritable in this scenario.

You might also notice that the relative heights of the different clones is not always the same. For example, the plant on the far left is the tallest at sea level and at the timberline, but the plant in the middle, is the tallest at the mid level.

So, you cannot take the heritability of a trait as measured in a particular group of people in a particular setting and then apply the result to any old group of people you fancy and in any environment. Bear in mind also, that it is unlikely in the extreme that maths ability, or any other ability, is controlled by one or two genes. So, to extrapolate the results of Plomin’s study to say that anyone is born with the “wrong genes” for maths or any other subject, and that no matter how hard they work at it, they are wasting their time, is absolute nonsense.

It is this sort of misunderstanding that leads to the fixed mindset that prevents too many of us from trying new things or persisting in the face of difficulty. We may not all have the potential to be geniuses, but given the right “environment” and the right attitude, any of us can be perfectly competent at far more than we might think. It is a great disservice to our children to lead them to believe that they will never be good at something because they were born with the wrong genes.