Schools: gifted and talented students

Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — My question is to the Minister for Education. Can the minister inform the house of the government’s response to the Education and Training Committee’s report on the education of gifted and talented students in Victoria and any other policies?

Mr DIXON (Minister for Education) — I thank the member for Caulfield for his question. I would also like to thank the member for Caulfield and the members of the Education and Training Committee on both sides of the house for the work they have done on their report into the education of gifted and talented students in this state.

The report found that approximately 10 per cent of the population are gifted and talented; therefore 85 000 students in our schools would come under that category of gifted and talented. Surprisingly, and I think most people are shocked to find this, students who aregifted and talented are often at risk and are disengaged from their education.

People normally associate disengagement with students who are struggling academically, socially or intellectually at their school, but often these very talented children have been bullied, they may work below their capacity and some manifest quite disruptive behaviours in the classroom. As I said, that has surprised many people.

The other thing that has been found is that gifted and talented children are often not recognised. There is a broad definition of what it means to be gifted and talented. They are not recognised, as I said, and when they are recognised, many teachers are not equipped to deal with how best to teach these children, the sorts of resources they need and how to extend such children.

We have also found that teachers have done their best. Back in the 1990s we had the Bright Futures program, which was a nation-leading program for gifted and talented students.

Unfortunately over the last decade we have seen that just fall away, and it has often been very difficult for teachers to work with these students. We have four selective entry academic schools in the state and the select entry accelerated learning program in over 30 secondary colleges, but this is just not enough to deal with the 85 000 students in our schools who are gifted and talented.

Gifted and talented is a category that applies over a wide area; it is not just academic. It includes academic areas, but it also could include sport, music, IT and leadership, and it could be in the trades and hands-on areas.

It is a very wide definition. We are tackling the issue straightaway with our Victoria as a Learning Community policy that we released recently, in which we recognise that not only do all students need a core curriculum, a scope and a sequence at all year levels but that we need to educate the whole child. A child needs to be exposed to a broad curriculum.

We also need to give freedom to our schools to specialise, to help the students specialise and to allow classrooms to be specialised, so that these students who are gifted and talented find a spot within that school where they can excel. It is also important we recognise in our policy that we need to draw on outside resources to help extend these students’ learning.

A good example from our policy is the expansion of our VCE (Victorian certificate of education) program, recognising that students learn in different ways. There will be three extra study areas that will form part of the VCE: the Victorian baccalaureate for students who have a wide set of interests, an industry pathways program for students with input from industry and an in-depth specialisation subject for students who might, for example, excel in maths or sciences or sport or whatever the case may be.

The committee recommended that we do some immediate work because of the dearth of policy that we found when we came to government.

In the short term we will be establishing a committee of experts to help us to produce immediate policies, immediate programs and immediate resources for those teachers who have been struggling over the last 10 years in not only recognising those children but in meeting their needs. Next year, in the medium term, we will move on to develop a complete policy for gifted and talented children.

Much has changed in education in the last decade, and we need to recognise that we have moved on. We need to meet the needs of these students, which sadly was not done over the last 10 years. We believe in equity in education, and equity in education means that every single child should reach their potential.

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