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Geeks, boffins, swots and nerds: a social constructionist analysis of ‘gifted and talented’ identities in post-16 education

Jackson, Denise (2014) Geeks, boffins, swots and nerds: a social constructionist analysis of ‘gifted and talented’ identities in post-16 education. PhD thesis, UCL Institute of Education.

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This study analyses ‘Gifted and Talented’ (‘G&T’) identities in post-16 education, exploring ‘G&T’ identity construction processes and how students manage ‘G&T’ identities once labelled as such. Bourdieu’s work, social constructionism and identity theorising are used to analyse how ‘G&T’ labelling processes, arising from government policies, located within family, peer and school institutional cultures impact on students’ identities, and their responses to identification. Constructionist critical-realist epistemology is used, with data drawn from semi-structured interviews conducted with 16 post-16 students; 16 e-mailed questionnaires with their parents; and three e-mailed questionnaires with GATCOs (‘G&T’ Co-ordinators), from three schools in Eastern England. Eight follow-up informal couple-interviews were conducted with students and their parents. My data analysis of ‘G&T’-students’ subjectivities shows ‘G&T’ identification has repercussions affecting self-esteem, confidence levels, and other aspects of identity constructions. I identify varied ways in which ‘G&T’ post-16 students actively construct ‘G&T’ identities in family and school cultural contexts, using peer-subcultures to manage ‘G&T’ roles, and show how school institutions differ in ‘G&T’ emphasis. Students display agency in ‘choosing’ routes through their ‘G&T’-journeys, on a continuum ranging from ‘conformity’ through to ‘resistance’. Through my analysis of rich qualitative data, some consequences for students of ‘G&T’-identity construction are revealed to be: fear-of-failure, perfectionism, bullying, eating disorders, stress; as well as confidence, pride, motivation and satisfaction. I argue that what is constructed and identified as ‘G&T’ is the result of social class based cultural capital, as the middle-classes access ‘G&T’ provision disproportionately. I conclude that ‘G&T’ policies function as neoliberal educational differentiators, in further separating the advantaged from the disadvantaged, entrenching class divisions. Recommendations include inclusive, personalised provision for all students. Students, parents and teachers revealed how differentiation within classrooms is as necessary as provision allowing for meeting the ‘like-minded’ e.g. through vertical tutoring, leadership programmes and establishing ‘learning communities’ within schools. I argue that school and family cultures need to ‘scaffold’ developing identities of post-16 students ensuring their potential is reached in academic, confidence and identity domains. The label of ‘G&T’ is not needed in order to achieve these aims of ‘gifted’ education for all students to at least sometimes feel like they are ‘fish in water’.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Controlled Keywords: Identity, gifted and talented
Subjects: Departments > Humanities and Social Sciences
Depositing User: Mr Julian Zerfahs
Date Deposited: 03 Jun 2015 09:32
Last Modified: 03 Jun 2015 09:32
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