Supporting your child with high learning potential as they develop may require you asking for extra support. Many parents can find it difficult, uncomfortable or embarrassing to be the “pushy parent”; however, if your child is struggling through lack of challenge and learning appropriate to their needs, it is essential that you advocate for them to receive the right level of learning experience.
The minds of children with high learning potential are often bursting with curiosity and in constant need of new information and experiences. They are also in need of suitably difficult challenge to develop self-regulation skills, resilience, motivation and mindset and to avoid falling into the expectation that everything should be easy, including adult life. Your advocacy will help your child to grow. Dismiss any notions that asking for something different for your child is favouritism or elitism.
Who to Approach
This can be a minefield. You’ve identified that your child is struggling. Should you raise your concern with the class teacher, the head of subject, the G&T co-ordinator (if the school has one), the headteacher, the governors or the local authority? All of these have some stake in what occurs at school, and there may be others too. You may be drawn to the one with the most power to make changes, but going directly there carries the risk of offending those lower down the chain. It’s generally a good idea to start with the class teacher. Only once that approach has been tried for a reasonable period of time should you progress to the next highest level. When you do so, summarise the request you made to the class teacher, acknowledge any progress that has been made, and state what still isn’t working.
How to Advocate
Be factual, respectful and fair. “Jack was able to competently multiply fractions three years ago, so he finds it frustrating to repeat this work this year” is far better than “Jack hates your class” or even worse, directly questioning their competence. Most teachers want to inspire all their students and help them to progress well; however, this is tricky with a room full of a wide range of abilities. Don’t be confrontational, ask your class teacher for their ideas of how to solve the problem of your child’s particular needs in partnership with you.
Has Your Child Just Recently Been Identified as Having High Learning Potential?
Consider what you should be asking for. Emotional and social needs may sometimes require the highest priority if your child doesn’t feel happy in their class. If your child is the only one with an IQ in the top centile, they may feel some unease or overconfidence in their abilities or be isolated due to perceived differences from their peers. Is there a child with whom they share a similar interest in e.g. art, computer games or particular toys? Could you encourage a friendship at home through playdates while school simultaneously offers friendship circles, a buddy system etc. to help them develop their social skills?
If your child has been identified as having dual or multiple exceptionality (DME) i.e. a disability like ASD, dyspraxia, or a sensory processing disorder combined with high learning potential, then it’s highly important that they be considered by their school for support for both their special education needs (SEN) and their abilities. Children, with or without a formal diagnosis of special need, may require an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or Challenge Plan, which outlines clear targets and provision.
An Assessment Report Has Confirmed High Ability in Your Child But You’re Anticipating an Unwelcome Response from the School
If speaking to staff fills you with dread, find practical ways to prepare which will back up your statements. Take in evidence of extra study or projects done at home and make sure that you’ve read the relevant school policies about learning. These often provide statements that you can use, such as “ensure all students are appropriately challenged”.
Your Child Has High Learning Potential But You Wonder How School Will Support Their Emotions
Consider the starter question: “What is school currently doing to provide support for children in low ability groups?” This will help you work out if the school is aware of the need to nurture children emotionally as well as in their learning.
Sometimes children can be reluctant to share their emotional experiences each day, preferring to talk about how they achieved high marks or had another type of learning success. This may make it harder for you to advocate for wellbeing. Don’t give up – a sense of belonging and a friendly teacher can matter more than gaining 100 per cent in a test. Good teachers will recognise that high marks don’t necessarily mean that a pupil is enjoying school.
The Teacher Hasn’t Replied to My Email Yet
Nowadays, social media has created an expectation of instantaneous communication. However, teachers have an immense workload – and may have more than one role – so try to let go of your initial reaction of indignation when you don’t get an immediate response. If you haven’t received a response after five to ten days, chase it up politely. If there still isn’t a response, you could simply be a victim of a spam filter. Try an alternative method of communication.
Secondary School Doesn’t Believe That Your Child Is Unusual
When a child moves from primary to secondary school, the increase in school size may also mean that there are other children with higher ability scores. In some cases, your child could fall below the school’s top ability threshold. If this results in demotivation because your child isn’t getting tailored work to their ability, enquire what school could do to recognise your child’s efforts, to help them regain their motivational spark. Be prepared to prove how your child is achieving in personal projects outside of school.
Schoolwork is Simple
Your child finds a certain topic boring because they already know it. It’s reasonable for some repetition to be done occasionally but if there is refusal to complete easy work or it’s rushed and contains errors, they may not be seen as having high learning potential.
Ask their teacher whether they can move onto extension work without having to answer so many core questions or what kind of learning incentive the teacher may be able to offer. This could be promising and fulfilling extension work, a special project for them to research by themselves or the chance to study with another class/club for a lesson.
The School Can Only Offer Mastery and Won’t Go Beyond the Curriculum
Mastery is the concept of moving onto the next level when the current level is completely understood by the pupil, not just when the calendar says it’s time to do so. However, if it is implemented in a way that means that the whole class advance at the same time, what is a child with high learning potential to do while waiting for their peers?
If your child cannot be offered some form of acceleration, what about differentiation? While peers write the story of the Battle of Hastings, your child could be asked to analyse the background to it or the motivations and interest of the participants. Same topic, very different levels. For help in identifying ways to include different levels of challenge into your child’s work, see our advice sheets Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy S320 SOLO Taxonomy (Free to members when they login, or available for paid download to non-members)
To find out more about advocating for your child and resources that will help you, visit Potential Plus UK’s Gifted Advocacy Page