Back to the Future

Associate Professor Tracy Riley of Massey University tells the story behind New Zealand’s revised handbook on gifted and talented education, launched during the International Week of the Gifted.

Revised Handbook Cover

Back to the Future

I often begin my lectures on gifted and talented education in New Zealand by explaining a conversation I had with the Ministry of Education back in 1997 when I arrived here from the United States. It went something like this:

Tracy: May I please speak with the person responsible for gifted and talented education? 
Operator: Silence
Tracy: (laugh) It must be my accent! (repeat question)
Operator: (throat clearing) Um, we don’t have anyone …. 
Tracy: Well would you please send me any publications on gifted and talented education?
Operator: (Stunned) Silence

It seems that the last Ministry of Education publication had been produced in 1972! How things have changed here in New Zealand since 1997 – and for the better.

So What Guides Gifted and Talented Education?

In 2000 the Ministry published its first handbook for schools, Gifted and Talented Students: Meeting their Needs in New Zealand Schools. As one of the original authors, I was in the privileged position of working alongside Don MacAlpine and Roger Moltzen to create what would become a highly influential guide for schools – far moreso, I feel, than the three of us ever imagined. The development of the ‘blue book’ involved consultation with focus groups of teachers, review by schools throughout New Zealand, and lots of editing. While we could have just written what we thought was needed, we aimed to actively engage teachers in its development.

Last week, the second edition of the handbook was released. The process for revision was facilitated by Learning Media who engaged an educational writer, Kate Dreaver, to work with Roger and myself (as Don has now fully retired).  Feedback for the initial draft was sought from the Ministry of Education’s Policy Advisory Group on Gifted and Talented, as well as some key stakeholders like the members of giftEDnz’s Maori Special Interest Group, He Kahui Pumanawa. And, as with the previous edition, there was lots of editing, but this time with more input from editorial advisers and the Ministry of Education.

What’s the Difference?

The blue book is now the green PDF, and available online, so rather than hard copies to all schools in New Zealand this one is being shared with the world! The structure of the handbook remains the same, as it has guided research and other Ministry of Education initiatives and is a strong framework showing the interrelationships between defining, identifying, and providing for gifted learners within a cycle of self-review. But within the walls of the newly revised handbook, we find a number of striking differences, as explained on the tki website:

The revised handbook outlines a set of underlying principles for gifted and talented education that are aligned to the NZ curriculum and provides greater guidance for defining gifted and talented from a NZ perspective, including Māori and Pasifika concepts and based on NZ research. The updated handbook also includes a range of locally-developed self-review tools for determining effectiveness and links to a range of NZ-based resources.

Basically, what the new handbook does is provide an answer for my call from 1997! It shows that there is local cultural and educational knowledge that develops, shapes and influences Ministry policy. The revised handbook also more strongly features New Zealand based practices and research, demonstrating a strong link between research-led practice and practice-led research.

Many would say I still have an accent (unless they are from Mississippi!) and the Ministry of Education has many people responsible for gifted and talented, so depending on who answers the phone, my first question might get the silent treatment!

I’m not sure that really matters, because ultimately everyone involved in education – whether we are researchers or teachers or parents or Ministry personnel – must take some responsibility for gifted and talented learners. New Zealand’s vision, as stated in the handbook, is one we should all pursue together.

Gifted and talented learners are recognised, valued, and empowered to develop their exceptional abilities and qualities through equitable access to differentiated and culturally responsive provisions.

To download the handbook, visit It is in the resources box called Key Documents.

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