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Dealing with Schools

School BlackboardFor most kids school is where they start to really develop their own personalities away from their families; interacting with others from different backgrounds without parents' interference. School forms a large part of a child's life and whether a child is considered exceptionally able or not, a good experience of school can set the tone for both good work practices and general self esteem issues for many years to come. The role of the School in any child's life is, to put it bluntly, very important.

The role of the school for a gifted child should be to create a learning environment which will identify those children who are exceptionally able early on, recognise the value of the child's ability and help him or her to realise their fullest potential. Early indentification by the school of a child's abiltiy is paramount to a good outcome as it enables appropriate educational strategies to be implemented for as long as possible. The sad fact is that Irish Schools are way behind when it comes to identifying gifted children. In fairness to the schools there is no training or policy directive that allows this to happen, although that is changing with the pubilcation of the Exceptionally Able Students, Draft Guidelines for Teachers. But guidelines are just that guidelines, our children need a more concrete commitment from the Department of Education & Science. For instance every school should have a policy in place regarding gifted education; it's much too important an issue to be left to the whim of a School's Principal. That said, it is sometimes too easy to point the finger at individual schools. We, as parents, need to lobby the Department of Education & Science around this area if we are to see real change. There are lots of good schools out there and great teachers who are trying their best in a difficult environment, where lack of resources at the most basic level often hinders their support of differentiated education.

Some families with gifted children have found the whole state school system so inadequate that they have opted out. Understandably Home Schooling has become the preferred option for quite a few parents due in no small part to that fact that home education by definition can provide a differentiated curriculum. The Home Education Network have a great website where you can find lots of information and resources on home schooling if you are considering this option.

Some Suggestions for Dealing with Your Child's School

  • Work with your child's Teacher if you can. Sometimes exceptionally able children find it difficult to connect with their teacher. Maybe they get bored and daydream too much. Perhaps the teacher resents the fact that she is being constantly questioned and contradicted by the child. Teacher, student relationships can be pivotal and what you find is that some years everything seems on an even keel, then with a change of teacher it all goes terribly wrong. If your child is getting a new teacher try to arrange a meeting early on in the school year, sit down and explain calmly about his abilities. Bring along any reports that you may have that back you up. Sometimes flagging the perceived "difficult" behaviour, such as emotional sensitivities, for the teacher has the effect of preventing misunderstandings. It also allows the teacher to think through coping strategies of how to deal with a exceptionally able child away from the class room dynamic.
  • Suggest other educational resources to the Teacher if it may help.
  • Ask the teacher what you can do to help.
  • Always try to be proactive - if your child is just generally having a difficult time let the teacher know.
  • Be homework savvy. Undestand the expectations around homework; how much should be in done and within what timeframe. If your child is having difficulty with producing homework regularly discuss it with the teacher as soon as possible. Perhaps the child's writing isn't up to scratch. Many gifted children find writing one of the biggest challenges as their pen cannot keep up with the speed of their thought.
  • It's also useful to talk to the School's Principal and gauge what their policy is on gifted education. If you are thinking of going through NEPS for an educational assessment you will need the Principal onside, so if possible try to develop a good working relationship from day one. Not always easy.
  • Deal with incidents of bullying quickly. Ask to see the School's Policy on Bullying. Put everything in writing to the school so that they must respond similiarly.
  • Become part of the wider School Community; often difficult if both parents are working. Join the Parents Association. Help set up clubs that may be beneficial to your child and will help him or her socially, e.g. a chess or computer club.
  • If you feel that your child needs extra help, ask for it. You may not get it, but ask anyway. There may be the opportunity for some additional ad hoc learning support.
  • Familiarise yourself with the special needs system and what is required to access individual resource hours if that is what is recommended.
  • Finally, be your child's best advocate, keep cool, don't lose your head in any dealings with the school. If the school is just not working out regroup and consider moving to another. This can be traumatic in itself so take time to consider this course of action very carefully.

Personal Stories

"It's a tricky one, talking to the teacher. I'm so desperate not to appear to be perceived as a pushy mum. Yet he's miserable and we need to get him some support before he completely withdraws. "

"Her teacher has been fantastic, very supportive. I guess we've been lucky but it's made such a difference."


Disclaimer: This is not an expert site, it is run on a voluntary basis and as such is based on opinion and experience but we hope that it acts as a signpost for educational resources and other support services for Irish families with exceptionally able children. By using this website you accept that any dependence by you on such information, opinion or advice is at your own risk.

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