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Identification and differentiation making a big difference for GATE learners

GATE map

Gifted and Talented PLD is designed to improve the capability of school leaders and teachers to meet the needs of gifted and talented students in Years 1-13, with a particular focus on gifted Māori and Pasifika students, twice-exceptional students who are underachieving. In 2015, The Gifted and Talented team worked in 25 schools across the North Island with teams (553 school leaders and teachers), where there was a strong emphasis on embedding systems for change, such as, identification of gifted and talented students, and implementing differentiated teaching and learning practices with a strengths-based approach. 

Whole-class observations and modelling provided a pivotal influence for changing mindsets. Teachers evidenced shifts and changes for both students and their parents and whānau. Additional thought-leadership from noted scholars such as, Françoys Gagné who defines gifts as natural abilities, with the potential to grow these as talents through intrapersonal and environmental catalysts, has also had a positive influence on shifts for teachers and leaders.

Who was better off?

The GATE PLD programme has enabled schools to look at priority learners through a different lens and to build on their individual abilities. This has also had positive impact on parent-teacher partnerships, as discussions have shifted to a focus on recognising and valuing students’ strengths.


As a result of the PLD in 2015, school leaders felt the GATE PLD programme had raised awareness of the needs of gifted and talented students amongst all members of their school community and had had a positive impact on teaching and learning throughout the school. Those schools who made the most progress had strong support from school leaders where they:

  • were a highly visible part of the GATE PLD programme
  • ensured alignment between school-wide strategic planning and implementation of the GATE PLD where GATE was seen as a high priority
  • were willing and able to consult more with parents/whānau in relation to the GATE PLD programme.
GATE leadership graph 1 GATE leadership graph 2  GATE leadership graph 3 


GATE facilitators modeled an inquiry approach and supported GATE teams to formulate their own professional inquiries, gather relevant qualitative and quantitative data to inform these, and then trial and evaluate approaches to address the identified issues. For example, some teachers have started to use pre-assessment tools to collect data in order to create different starting points and differentiate content, product and process for gifted students.

Teachers who have embraced the inquiry approach have gained confidence and skills to implement whole class differentiation and have subsequently seen an improvement in student outcomes across their classes.This approach has strengthened professional conversations between colleagues and has encouraged a sharing of resources and ideas beyond curriculum levels.

GATE teacher graph 1 GATE teacher graph 2 GATE teacher graph 3


GATE student graph

There have been positive shifts in the number of students identified as gifted and talented from Time 1 (beginning of PLD) to Time 2 (end of PLD) across all priority learner groups:

  • Māori students increased from 52 (2%) to 131 (5%);
  • Pasifika students increased from 29 (3%) to 134 (15%); and
  • Twice-exceptional students increased from 2 (0.1%) to 46 (5%).

Analysis of schools’ GATE registers showed that the total number of identified gifted and talented students more than doubled during the course of the PLD programme, increasing from 328 students (3%) at Time 1 to 828 students (7%) at Time 2. Closer analysis of schools’ GATE registers also showed that students were being identified across a wider range of domains of giftedness and talent at Time 2.

At the beginning of the PLD programme, the majority of schools with GATE registers tended only to identify students who were achieving highly in academic subjects.

At Time 2, greater numbers of students were being identified in other areas, such as leadership, creativity, and cultural qualities and abilities valued by the school’s community.

In addition to more students being identified as gifted and talented, teachers have felt more confident about differentiating their classroom programmes to meet their identified needs. As a result, there was a sharpened focus on developing student agency and finding opportunities for gifted and talented students to take greater control and ownership of their learning. Forty % of students reported that they enjoyed learning ‘a lot’ and 63% felt that the pace of instruction was ‘about right’. 13% of students reported that they experienced a lot of new learning in their area/s of ability, which indicates an important area to focus on in the future.



There has been a growing recognition that provision for gifted students needs to be the responsibility of both teachers and parents/whānau, as students’ needs should be addressed both within and beyond the classroom. As a result of this, some schools, teachers and parents/whānau have worked together collaboratively to identify academic, social and emotional needs of gifted students and planned provisions to address these.

Some schools have also started to report on students who are 'well above' in their National Standards data, as they believe this is something parents should be aware of.

Challenges recognised

It has been noted that it is harder to achieve positive shifts as a result of PLD in schools that are:

  • engaged in multiple PLD provisions at the same time
  • engaged in PLD for 12 months or less
  • undergoing changes in leadership personnel.


Supportive acceleration in action: For many schools, acceleration is a contentious issues and often only considered for those that are “topping” the class. The GATE team at Waiuku College recognised a student that was not meeting his potential even though he was achieving 16th in the Year 10 cohort. They began a supportive acceleration process that resulted in this student being year level accelerated into the Year 12 cohort. The following videos discuss the process and the successful results of this acceleration.

What is a supportive acceleration process?

Why use supportive acceleration?


The impact of supportive acceleration

Other forms of acceleration

Above level testing: At Gladstone Primary School, a specific focus for GATE PLD was identifying and meeting identified needs of mathematically gifted students. After considering the school’s diagnostics testing data and student voice, we decided to focus on accurate identification of mathematically gifted students via above-level PAT testing, and subsequently, responsive provision for their learning needs. As a result of the above-level testing, teachers had very specific knowledge of the year level and stanine at which their students were working in mathematics. There were a number of students who were working at more than one year above their expected year level. For the majority of children, this meant clustering them for mathematics based on their abilities as evidenced by the above-level testing data. One student, however, was working six years above his year level, and so the school enrolled him in a correspondence school course and arranged a local high school student to tutor him.

Above level testing at Gladstone Primary School

Above level testing - the benefits for learners

Above level testing - a family's perspective

Where to from here?

In 2016, many schools will be working in a cluster approach to PLD. This will allow greater sharing of resources and strategies between schools. There will also be the possibility of having gifted students from different domains connect with similarly gifted students in other schools.

There will continue to be a sharpened focus in schools on raising the level of challenge in the regular classroom programmes for gifted students and schools will be supported to gather student voice throughout the year, to check that the level of challenge and support is appropriate to cater for these students.

On reflection

As a result of the PLD, schools are beginning to identify giftedness and talent across a range of domains, including non-academic areas, using both qualitative and quantitative measures. Schools are more aware of the many different cultures within their school community and recognise the need to cater for gifted and talented students in a culturally responsive manner. Schools are also more willing to use acceleration and above-level testing to identify and provide for their highly gifted students.

Nationally, the TKI Gifted and Talented Online community is a recognised and well-used resource for teachers, students, parents and whānau and continues to grow with over 830 members reported at the end of 2015. This ensures the focus on Gifted and Talented children remains a priority.

For more information, visit the Gifted and Talented Education page or contact Brooke Trenwith.