Ministry of Education

Gifted Learners

Tukuna kia rere

Organisational frameworks: Supporting Gifted Education - Kia tiritiria, kia poupoua

Make informed decisions about the role of the gifted education coordinator and the grouping of gifted learners in your Kāhui Ako, kura, school or early childhood setting.

The role of the gifted education coordinator

The gifted education coordinator is the person who takes responsibility for all aspects of gifted provision throughout the kura, school. or early childhood setting. As outlined by Cathcart (2010) in Gifted programming made practical, the gifted education coordinator:

  • guides the development of a sound research-based school policy to support gifted provision
  • ensures the school is using a comprehensive, multi-method identification process that is consistent with best practice and considers the nature of their particular community and its different cultural groups
  • maintains a register that tracks what happens for individual gifted learners once they have been identified, such as what provision is made for them from year to year, how they respond to this and any additional special needs they may have
  • ensures parents are kept informed, and are consulted about what is happening for their children
  • makes recommendations for specific children about class placement, the use (or otherwise) of acceleration, inclusion in withdrawal programmes, and so on, and, when appropriate, sets up and oversees IEPs (Individual Education Plans) for individual children – in other words, any specialised actions that need to be taken to ensure the children’s learning needs are met adequately
  • liaises with the school’s professional development (PD) committee to ensure PD relating to gifted learners forms part of the school’s ongoing PD cycle, and ensures teachers are informed about one-off events of special interest, such as conferences, in this field
  • works with individual teachers to support their provision for gifted learners in the regular classroom situation, for example, helping with planning, doing a classroom observation, working with the child in the classroom, and so on
  • works with syndicate or department heads and with groups of teachers to bring differentiation into routine planning for classroom lessons, to ensure there is always some provision for gifted learners in all major topics
  • organises and/or teaches withdrawal groups of gifted learners
  • manages the gifted budget and where necessary, presents the case for funding increases or adjustments, acquires resources and manages their use and storage
  • undertakes a regular review of gifted provision throughout the school
  • keeps school management and the school board informed about the status of the school’s provision for gifted learners, including achievements and any emerging needs or other factors
  • maintains his or her own ongoing PD in this field through courses, networking, reading and conference attendance,
  • organises regular self-review and evaluation (insert link to evaluation and self-review page) of the school’s gifted provision.

Keeping a register of gifted learners

A register of gifted learners is needed for:

  • identifying learners as gifted
  • outlining their gifts and talents
  • outlining any provision methods that have been put in place for them
  • identifying any key areas of support that are needed.

As not all gifted learners require an IEP or a Talent Development Plan, the gifted education register records how the school is helping these learners reach their potential. The gifted education team needs to decide how the register will be kept and the process for maintaining it.

The following suggestions for creating a register are adapted from Cathcart (2011):

  • Decide on the function of the register to help you determine what information it will include.
  • Which of these points do you need to keep in a register?
  • Which of these points do you need to keep in an attached database?
  • How will you use your register?

Other New Zealand schools have made the following suggestions:

  • Learn about your Learning Management System and how can you utilise it to keep the register.
  • Have gifted learners identified on the school roll, so that staff know to refer to the register for more information when working with these learners.
  • Set up the gifted education register on a Google Document so that other staff can access it and add comments.
  • Ensure any information from educational psychologist reports or Resource Teacher Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) /other assistance is entered into the register or onto the learners’ notes.

Possible functions of a gifted education register (adapted from Cathcart, 2011) are to:

  • keep a record of who has been identified as gifted and their specific needs
  • help you readily locate learners with ability in a specific field who may be grouped together or targeted for a specific relevant activity
  • keep a record of provisions for each student who has been identified as gifted, so that you can check that each individual’s needs are being adequately met
  • monitor the individual learner’s response to provisions made, including both achievement and progress
  • keep a record of any special achievements by the learner
  • show you how a learner was identified so that you have a source of reference if you need further information about the learner
  • assist in writing reports and providing other documentation (e.g., applications for scholarships) for individual learners
  • provide basic data to assist in evaluating the school’s provision for its gifted learners, support requests for resources, and so on.
Little boy with a teapot..
Tow young boys playing with playdough..

Building positive relationships

Realising the potential of gifted learners is a three-way partnership between:

  • kura, school or early childhood setting leaders and teachers
  • parents/whānau
  • gifted learners.

Part of the gifted education coordinator’s responsibilities is to establish and maintain positive relationships to support the realisation of gifted learner potential. For example, parents/whānau have a wealth of information about their gifted child that can be utilised in both the identification and the provision process.

Other schools have found the following ideas useful:

  • holding a whānau evening to help define what giftedness is at their kura, school or early childhood setting
  • creating a gifted education parent/whānau Focus Group that meets regularly to discuss the programme with the gifted education coordinator, providing feedback and support
  • holding parent/whānau evenings on different topics
  • establishing and supporting parent networks
  • utilising the special skills of parents to help mentor or enrich gifted learners.


A variety of ways of grouping learners are possible in Kāhui Ako, kura, schools and early childhood settings and can meet the need for gifted learners to work with others of similar ability or who have similar interests.

Cluster grouping

According to Biddick (2009), ‘Cluster grouping involves the placement of a group of gifted learners in one or more classrooms in their respective year group, with the remainder of students heterogeneously grouped’ (p. 78).

This gives learners regular opportunities to work with others of similar ability, where they will challenge each other, and gives teachers a group of gifted learners for whom they can adapt the curriculum. Where learners are not clustered, teachers can be faced with making adaptations for a single learner, which is time consuming and inefficient from a whole-school perspective.

Cross-age or multi-level grouping

Cross-age or multi-level grouping determines classroom placement based on learner achievement rather than on age or grade levels. Many New Zealand primary and intermediate schools organise themselves in syndicates or cohorts of classrooms across several levels, which makes the use of cross-age grouping possible for at least part of the day, often matched to learner strengths. Similarly, composite classes (of multiple levels) provide opportunities for learners to work at levels beyond their age expectancy. For in-class acceleration in multi-level classes, the gifted learner needs to be in the younger age range.

Cross-grouping cuts across classrooms, with learners moving in and out of their regular setting to one that enables further, in-depth pursuit of ability or interest areas. This capitalises on the strengths and interests of not only the learner, but also staff and community members. These groups may be academic in nature, such as a maths specialist working with a mixed-age group of high-ability mathematicians, or interest derived, such as a photography buff working with a group of budding photojournalists. The level at which these groups work should provide an appropriate challenge for all members of the group.

Flexible grouping

Learners may be grouped flexibly within the classroom and across the school day, according to abilities and/or interests. Classroom groups can be flexible (temporary), rather than fixed. Coil (2007, p. 19) defines flexible grouping as ‘arranging for students to work together in variety of ways and configurations depending on the classroom activity and desired learning outcomes’.

She outlines three basic guidelines for flexible grouping:

  • if prior skills and knowledge in the content areas are not needed, use heterogeneous grouping for the whole class
  • if remedial or accelerated instruction is needed, use homogeneous grouping or individualised instruction
  • the logistics and classroom management for flexible grouping must be carefully planned.

Groups in the regular classroom may be formed as:

  • ability groups
  • cooperative learning groups
  • interest groups
  • learner-led groups
  • teacher-led groups
  • learner dyads (groups of two people)
  • interest groups (tend to be formed spontaneously, rather than being teacher directed).

Groups can be formed based on:

  • random selection
  • learners’ choice
  • ability
  • learning style.

Innovative Learning Environments

An innovative learning environment is an environment where the National Curriculum is being expressed in the way it is intended. It is capable of evolving and adapting as educational practices evolve and change, thus remaining future focused (Ministry of Education, n.d., para. 2).

Many kura/school/ECE settings/Kāhui Ako now include, or consist entirely of, ‘innovative learning environments’ (ILE) – large, open spaces designed to be used in flexible ways to provide for groups and individuals. They are usually equipped with up-to-date technologies and a variety of furniture. Several teachers may collaborate within the space and a pedagogical change from ‘traditional’, teacher-directed methodology is necessary for effective teaching and learning. Learners can be grouped in a multitude of ways and interact with more than one teacher. Quiet spaces are usually incorporated within the design.

Gifted learners can thrive in an ILE as long as their needs and strengths are recognised and provided for. The shift from teacher-directed learning suits many gifted learners, who can then work at their own pace, pursuing their particular interests, developing their strengths and working either with others or on their own. However, the teaching team must still monitor their progress, ensuring they have support when required and providing sufficient challenge to stimulate and inspire their learning. ILE are designed to be the centre of learning but learners can move beyond the classroom walls into the community or an online environment

Talent development: Beyond the regular classroom

To cater fully to the needs of gifted learners, kura/school/ECE settings/Kāhui Ako should utilise a range of different options beyond the regular classroom. Each year, the needs of gifted learners within your school will dictate which options you will need to implement.

Pull-out or withdrawal programmes

This option involves grouping learners of similar interests or abilities during regular class time. A key advantage of a pull-out or withdrawal programme is the meeting of like minds, with opportunities to connect with other gifted learners.

Learners are removed from their regular classroom setting to be challenged in an area of strength or interest by classes with a specialist teacher, participation in a course, seminar or field trip, or through interaction with a visiting expert. Schools may vary this withdrawal time from an hour a week to a full day per week. It is common for schools to vary the focus, to reflect a range of learners’ interests. As learners may miss some other classroom opportunities or receive fragmented instruction, close communication between teachers is essential.

Some secondary schools find it is easier to run a pull-out programme during lunchtimes, or before or after school. This allows the learners to meet with each other and to build a relationship with the gifted education coordinator. In addition, the gifted education coordinator usually makes a time to meet with learners individually or in small groups.

It is important to note that withdrawal programmes are only one aspect of catering for gifted learners. Some staff may feel that if the gifted learner is in a withdrawal or pull-out programme then their needs are being met. However, this approach represents only one aspect of a holistic and comprehensive approach.

Specialised classes

Specialised classes for gifted learners offer broader depth and complexity of subject matter than typical classrooms, usually at a faster pace. Sometimes telescoping (e.g., learners complete three years of work in two years) complements these classes. For success, a skilled teacher needs to work within full- or part-time classes for gifted learners, to ensure qualitative differentiation rather than ‘more of the same’.

These specialised classes could be run by schools in the same area, or within Kāhui Ako, so that learners have a chance to interact with gifted learners from other schools. Some gifted education coordinators arrange for different schools in the area to host an ‘enrichment day’ each term for gifted learners. These enrichment days use teachers or outside providers to run workshops on their passions or on topics that will extend gifted learners. It is important that these days are carefully planned and managed, to provide content and skills that are specific to this group.

Mentorships - tuakana/teina

Two young people being shown a fence post by an older man..
Two young people being shown how to use a camera in a studio by an older man..

In this option, an experienced older student or adult (the mentor) is teamed with a student of similar interests and abilities (the mentee). Usually conducted outside school settings, this option may work best in conjunction with independent or small-group study. Mentorships are a good option for gifted learners, who often feel ‘like a square peg in a round hole’. Having a mentor from a similar cultural and socio-economic background can help learners relate to this role model. There needs to be a clear understanding of the intended purposes and outcomes. Health and safety issues must be considered carefully.

Mentors may be from any field of endeavour, such as business, industry, health, the arts or research. The role of the mentor is to both impart information about their skills or profession and nurture the social and emotional aspects of giftedness through empathetic companionship.

Concurrent enrolment

Also called dual enrolment, this programming option allows learners to enrol concurrently in either secondary or tertiary courses while still at primary, intermediate or secondary school.

This pathway could mean that learners could be learning online (e.g., through Correspondence School or an online university course) or attending lectures at another institution (e.g., some universities timetable lectures for after 4pm, to allow secondary learners to attend). It is important to give the learners a quiet place to work if they are working on a correspondence or online course during school hours.

Concurrent enrolment could be formal, with learners gaining qualifications at another institution, or for the purpose of enrichment, with the learners participating in the concurrent enrolment but not gaining credits.

Learners could also join online MOOCs (massive open online courses), which are run by some of the world’s most highly regarded universities.

Formal concurrent enrolment links:

Enrichment concurrent enrolment links:


Competitions allow gifted learners to compete or work with learners of like ability, as well as providing a higher level of challenge. They give learners an opportunity to pursue interests, demonstrate strengths and meet other gifted learners. Many schools participate in a range of competitions, including science fairs, examinations and technology challenges.

A member of the gifted education team should be responsible for searching in the Education Gazette for competitions or the Gifted Online Competitions page that may be of interest to gifted learners. These can then be put on display at a central point at the school or advertised on a GaTE Student Facebook (secondary level) or Edmodo page (primary level).

Clubs and electives

A young man and woman with a herd of cows..
A young man and woman in chef training preparing food. .

Clubs, electives and cluster groups allow gifted learners to pursue their passions and work with like-minded learners. They can provide challenge and enrichment, as well as help teach team building and leadership skills.

Some points to consider when setting up these programmes:

  • Will the club or group be open to only identified gifted learners or to any learners with a passion or interest in this area?
  • What curriculum level (rather than age group) is this group aimed at?
  • Will it be run by teachers or learners?
  • Is there a staff member who could facilitate it?
  • How will it be timetabled? Class time? Lunchtime? After/before school?

The range of topics is vast, from stamp collecting, collaborative games, chess, literature, creating apps or games and photography, to debating, quilting, music appreciation, archery and forming a Toastmasters Young Gavel Club.



Learners around a laptop..

The internet is changing the way teachers all over the world teach. With more and more learners bringing their own devices to school, it is becoming easier to personalise programmes for gifted learners and to have learners working on activities that are at their curriculum level rather than age level. For gifted learners, this can offer authentic learning experiences in the classroom, such as by enabling direct contact with experts in various fields, promoting social action or creating products such as websites.

For gifted learners, e-learning can provide easy access to resources at an advanced level. It can allow learners to adapt the pace and direction of their work to suit their learning needs. E-learning opportunities can be utilised inside the classroom or in the home environment.

Some schools have ‘flipped’ education and are using sites such as the Khan Academy, to ‘teach’ the learners the concepts and skills for homework, through watching the tutorials. Then the teacher works through practice exercises in the class with the learners so they can have assistance on hand.