Acceleration and enrichment for gifted and talented pupils: which to choose?

By Kamil Trzebiatowski (2013)

for the University of the West of Scotland

According to the Supporting Children’s Learning Code of Practice (2010), any child or young person has additional support needs if they are unable to benefit from school education without additional provision. It also states that children benefit from their school education when they have access to a curriculum that allows them to develop academically and personally. Thus, the Code covers the academic and social needs of highly able pupils. In this short statement, I will examine the potential advantages and disadvantages of acceleration and enrichment, two different approaches to meeting the needs of gifted and talented pupils, and will conclude with a suggestion on how schools can best cater to their needs.

Acceleration involves moving a pupil to a group different from his or her own age, frequently by a year or two (Winstanley, 2004). According to the Curriculum for Excellence (2004, in City of Edinburgh Council, 2006), the school curriculum needs to be supportive of specific talents and abilities of children and acceleration is effective with gifted and talented pupils. Kulik’s research (1997, in Colangelo and Assouline, 2009) revealed that accelerated students achieve academically higher than their non-accelerated peers of the same ability. Accelerated pupils are willing to work harder and their academic ambitions become heightened.

However, the social benefits of the approach are not so evident. Kulik notes that students’ self-acceptance and self-esteem might be negatively affected: finding themselves in a more challenging environment may cause them to look at their abilities less favourably. Hoogeven, van Hell and Verhoeven (2009) have reviewed a number of studies into how accelerated students are perceived by their non-accelerated peers. The studies conclude that their relationships are positive and that they are considered good students, but they are all based on accelerated students’ self-perceptions. The researchers’ own study compares accelerated and non-accelerated children at secondary level in terms of self-concept, social status and behavioural reputation and finds that accelerated students have lower social status and are seen as less cooperative, helpful and social.

Enrichment is another method of provision for gifted and talented pupils. It aims to widen and complement regular classroom curriculum, providing content not present in the curriculum (Subotnik, Olszewski-Kubilius and Worrell, 2011). Enrichment has been described as “any activity outside of the core classroom curriculum” (DfES, 2007, in Morgan, 2007).

Students participating in enrichment programmes are believed to benefit academically by being grouped with other gifted children (Shore, 2000, in Eyre, 2001). Morgan’s (2007) study of an enrichment cluster for highly able 5-7 year olds found that the pupils benefited both from the opportunity to interact with other children like them and from being challenged academically. Most parents viewed the programme positively, academically and socially, particularly those whose children had social engagement difficulties. In yet another study of a Saturday enrichment program for gifted students by Olszewski-Kubilius and Lee (2004), parents reported their children’s growth in academic achievement and confidence.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence of the long-term academic effects of such programmes (Freeman, 1998, in Eyre, 2001). Eyre (2001) also claims that schools might struggle to provide continuity for such programmes.

Perhaps it is wise to consider blending the two methods into one. Sullivan and Rebhorn  (2002) report on the positive aspects of the Program for Exceptionally Gifted Students (PEGS) in Missouri.  PEGS involves sending gifted children from the entire district to one elementary school where specially trained teachers meet their needs. The program combines enrichment and radical acceleration. The children are accelerated above their age and receive enrichment opportunities such as field trips, guest speakers and mentors. At elementary stage, children benefit socially from interacting with other gifted children. At the high school level, pupils are accelerated but receive several lessons a day from their PEGS teachers, who also frequently liaise with other high school teachers. PEGS students interact with non-accelerated students whilst their PEGS teachers work with the schools’ counsellors and mentors, providing for their academic and social needs.

The discussion above reveals that both the acceleration and enrichment methods have been verified as academically successful for gifted and talented students. In addition, children can benefit socially from interacting with other like-minded pupils. However, as indicated, their self-esteem and social status may suffer, particularly when interacting with non-accelerated, non-gifted pupils in the same school. In my professional capacity, I have witnessed tensions between these two groups of pupils, sometimes leading to bullying and frequently to social isolation of the more able from the general school community. This could be countered, if schools adopt the PEGS approach. Combining acceleration (grade skipping) with enrichment (classes delivered by specialist gifted education teachers) would ensure maximum academic results for such pupils whilst ensuring that students are included more fully in the overall school’s community. Allowing specialist teachers to liaise with other school teachers would lead to a greater understanding of the needs of gifted pupils by all teachers, increasing the schools’ ability to recognize potential social conflicts between pupils.



City of Edinburgh Council (2006) A Framework for Gifted and Talented Pupils. Available at: <> [Accessed 4 November 2012]

Colangelo, N. and Assouline, S. (2009) ‘Acceleration: meeting the academic and social needs of students’. In: Balchin, T., Hymer, B. and Matthews, D.J. The Routledge International Companion to Gifted Education. Oxon: Routledge

Eyre, D. (2001) ‘An effective primary school for the gifted and talented’. In: Eyre, D. and McClure, L. (eds) Curriculum Provision for the Gifted and Talented in the Primary School. London: David Fulton Publishers

Hoogeven, L., van Hell, J.G. and Verhoeven, L. (2009) ‘Self-Concept and Social Status of Accelerated and Nonaccelerated Students in the First 2 Years of Secondary School in the Netherlands’, Gifted Child Quarterly, Vol. 53 (1), pp. 50-67

Morgan, A. (2007) ‘Experiences of a gifted a talented enrichment cluster for pupils aged five to seven’, British Journal of Special Education, Vol. 34 (3), pp. 144-153

Olszewski-Kubilius, P. and Lee, S. (2004) ‘Parent Perceptions of the Effects of the Saturday Enrichment Program on Gifted Students’ Talent Development’, Roeper Review, Vol. 26 (3), pp. 156-165

Subotnik, R.F., Olszewski-Kubilius, P. and Worrell, F.C. (2011) ‘Rethinking giftedness and gifted education: A proposed direction forward based on psychological science’, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Vol. 12 (1), pp. 3-54

Sullivan, S.C. and Rebhorn, L. (2002) ‘PEGS: Appropriate Education for Exceptionally Gifted Students’, Roeper Review, Vol. 24 (4), pp. 221-225

The Scottish Government (2010) Supporting Children’s Learning Code of Practice (Revised Edition) Available at: <> [Accessed 4 November 2012]

Winstanley, C. (2004) Too Clever by Half – A Fair Deal for Gifted Children. London: Trentham Books Limited

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