Labelling our children can do more harm than good!


There are certain labels that offer no difference to the support a child receives and actually create barriers to their potential achievement.  Some aspects of labelling are important to diagnose which students require support, so it is important that labels exist. However, during my career as a teacher I felt schools used labels to the extent that the label itself became unproductive.

I have a label, I am Dyslexic.  I wasn’t given this label until my last few months at University.  I was however picked up as requiring support at college. I received the best advice from learning support which enabled me to do better than I could ever have achieved without it. I was shown how to structure thoughts and shown memory techniques. I was not aware of being dyslexic until I was diagnosed just prior to graduating University. For me, the support I received at college was much more effective than the label that was given at the end of University. In my mind, throughout my education, I was no different from my peers. Harnessing the support I was given nearly 20 years ago I still feel no different.

Throughout my career as a teacher there were certain aspects of labelling that I felt uncomfortable with, none more so than the label Gifted and talented (G&T). I found it ridiculous to have to choose out of a large classroom which students were more capable, creative or passionate about the subject .Labelling them as gifted and talented (G&T) for the duration of their time at school, for me, felt wrong.

Every student was capable of being gifted and there were certain areas of a subject that set off a spark in a child. It was my job as a teacher to encourage as many sparks as possible. But humans being humans, there were different passions and varying past experience, all catalysing into a surge of achievements that you can call both gifted and talented. If you look at the human being, you could say that with enough nurture we can all be capable and amazing in our own way. If you consider being “gifted” as being successful, then you can see how successful children are in so many ways as they progress through education. But is the label wrong in its application or is it just an exercise to satisfy OFSTED, and most importantly are students benefitting from it or suffering from it?

Why the G&T label?

In recent years, there has been an increasing recognition that the educational needs of able students were not being adequately met in British schools resulting in a series of governmental educational initiatives aiming at improving the education of able students (Hartas, Dimitra)

The establishment of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY) at the University of Warwick was a development aimed at enhancing able students’ educational provision (Hartas, Dimitra – abstract). NAGTY contributed to securing G&T public policy within national education and worked with the education profession to improve G&T provision in the classroom (ACL Consulting.)

The failing of high ability children to excel in education is based on a target driven society where the likes of the newspapers and the government produce data on the passes 5 A-C’s. Therefore the emphasis is obviously going to be applied to those children who are under achieving, then providing those children with the enhancement and support via methods such as SEN to get them that most important C grade.  All this at the expense of the able child waiting while the rest of the class catches up, while the teachers efforts are spent trying to get the whole class on target and at the same level of understanding.


Gifted and Talented (G&T) is a subjective label. The application is based on an individual’s interpretation (Mazzoli) of what is gifted. Therefore the whole ethos is subjective as there is no quantitative way to measure a person’s giftedness at a particular subject. A student labelled as G&T is only as gifted as his or her peers are perceived not to be. Therefore in one classroom a student may be a high achiever, yet if that student was put in another room with similar ability children, would that student be G&T? Possibly not (Mazzoli). Without a like for like approach to the labelling of a child as G&T the term has no value. The whole G&T idea is based on hearsay.  It is like saying that in relation to high achievement, some children can do and some children cannot do. (Lawrence A. Tomei).

Social discrimination from being labelled

Children who are identified as gifted per se are more likely to come from advantaged families. Teachers are less likely to identify high ability in students from more disadvantaged backgrounds.(Mazzoli). G&T Under represents SEN (Hartas, Dimitra) children and children who have behavioural difficulties (Mazzoli). Much research does not specify gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status (Mazzoli).

To refute the G&T term some academics suggest Gifted students have the same range of behaviours and adjustments as other children. Some G&T students can receive problems of social isolation and alienation, and increased sensitivity and anxiety in response to pressure, arising not from their intellectual abilities per se, but as a result of society’s response to them. (Mazzoli).

Is G&T a myth?

Much of the research suggests there is a ‘lack of clarity with regard to what giftedness entails and what counts as evidence of giftedness, and the diverse views of giftedness’ all making the selection and identification process problematic (Hartas, Dimitra). Some studies fail to define criteria for giftedness leading to failure of like for like comparisons (Mazzoli). There is a lack of common metric to judge giftedness ( Hartas, Dimitra). Teachers are required to nominate giftedness where inconsistent criteria is used. (Mazzoli).

The failure to provide a feasible way to measure giftedness adds to the subjectivity of the phrase G&T, what defines a child as G&T? An example of the confusion imparted on teachers by the lack of guidance is highlighted by a study of NAGTY’s summer school responsible for introducing G&T in mainstream schools. The teachers involved in the study differed in what criteria they related to being G&T. ‘One tutor stated that Summer School students were ‘‘certainly gifted …’’ qualified his definition of giftedness by stating that they were ‘‘enthusiastic,’’ ‘‘self-disciplining,’’ ‘‘good at talking to each other,’’ and consequently ‘‘really quite mature.’’ It seems that giftedness was linked to motivation and maturity rather than to a special aptitude for the subject.’ ‘Some selectors viewed certain non-cognitive characteristics, such as social cohesion of the group, group diversity, age, and maturity as being important factors for selecting students’ (Hartas, Dimitra).

Provision for the G&T student so far

A survey was initiated as a summative evaluation of NAGTYs performance at the end of its contract. 100 students attended the NAGTY summer school for gifted and talented (students chosen by their subject teachers). (Hartas, Dimitra).

The survey highlighted some key problems with the NAGTY, in that they failed to establish; improvements in G&T, methodologies or systems to assist the development of policy and there was no monitoring or tracking improvements. To summarise NAGTY’s Legacy was’ not as substantial as it might have been’. (ACL Consulting.).

‘Only some children have gifted potential’’ (Marie Huxtable)

It is not fair to target particular students for G&T, excluding substantial numbers of especially able but underachieving students—students who, if given the right classroom circumstances, could also demonstrate stellar achievements and signs of giftedness’

The argument they set forth is that giftedness in children is not an already developed capacity as many educators and psychologists would lead us to believe (Beth A. Hennessey).There is no single homogeneous group of gifted children and adults, and giftedness is developmental, not fixed at birth. Research in the past few decades have pointed to the ways in which gifts and talents vary, including in the general categories of developmental characteristics. Giftedness is not a state of being, it is not fixed, and it does not reside in a chosen few over their lifetimes as a fixed entity. It is, rather, developmental−−in some children and adults with high potential, at certain times, under certain circumstances, and with appropriate levels of support, time, effort, and personal investments and choices (Reis−Sally).

Rather than thinking that specific children have the ability to be G&T, it is more progressive to think that ‘Children don’t get gifts, or have them – they make them’ (Marie Huxtable). Researchers have advanced the argument that it makes more sense to shift the emphasis from being gifted to the question of how to develop gifted behaviours in children in the classroom. (Beth A. Hennessey)  This will lead to a methodology which will allow us to move from the debate as to who is gifted or talented, to exploring how gifts and talents can be developed educationally.’ ‘This invites us to shift our focus to the educational processes that support gift creation’. (Marie Huxtable)

What can schools do?

I believe that Gifted and Talented labelling needs to be reviewed. Alternatively schools could aim towards an incremental view of intelligence, promoting intelligence as achievement and effort based. Teachers will continue to do as we were taught during teacher training, which is to provide extension work and differentiation in all our lessons, providing opportunities for learning to all students.

The whole point in education is to inspire and prepare children for their life after school, it is the role of teachers to provide children with opportunities to fulfil their potential (Lawrence A. Tomei) and achieve their aspirations whether they have difficulties in a subject or excel in it. Every child has the potential to be G&T and to succeed in a subject if they are motivated and taught well. Let’s do away with the labelling ‘can do’, ‘can’t do’ – it does more harm than good.

The quote below is something that all teachers should embrace in their teaching, for all students and all classes, as every child is gifted and talented.


“Personalised learning is not something that can be ‘done’ by teachers to students. Rather it arises when students themselves take charge of their own goals and progress, together with a heightened awareness of their own learning styles and preferences. When young people enjoy a range of opportunities to test themselves, to explore their talents and cultivate new interests, they come to a deeper appreciation of how learning works, what can inhibit it and in what ways it can nourish self-belief. When there are rich extended sites for learning, young people grasp that the purpose of school is not to provide an education but to stimulate a thirst for learning, and to give it life beyond the school gate.” (Marie Huxtable)

For more about G&T in computing see here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *