“when schools retain (exceptionally and profoundly gifted) students with age peers,
they typically underachieve and experience negative affective outcomes, including
lowered self-esteem, anxiety and serious demotivation.” From Radical acceleration
and early entry to college: A review of the research
by Miraca U.M. Gross and Helen E. Van Vliet
On this page:
The case for acceleration
Points to consider
“It’s bad to push kids”...
“Interventions limited to enrichment and moderate degrees of acceleration tend to
be unsuccessful either for reversing underachievement or for improving affective
From: Radical acceleration and early entry to college: A review of the research
Miraca U.M. Gross, Helen E. Van Vliet
The case for acceleration
Acceleration is the most controversial approach to meeting the needs of exceptionally
and profoundly gifted children in the UK, and probably the least used. This is despite
the fact that it has been extensively and thoroughly researched, and thoughtful and
carefully planned acceleration has been shown to be the most successful way of meeting
both academic and social and emotional needs. It is also the option which is easiest
on over-burdened teachers since the child needs less differentiation after acceleration,
and it meets Government requirements for education by “stage not age”, and for ‘personalised
education’. It is important that educational decisions are informed by good quality
research, so we have quoted extensively from various sources, and provided links
to further reading.
Matching the curriculum to the highly gifted child usually requires acceleration
and enrichment of the child’s progress through the curriculum in at least one subject,
and often in all subjects. A few children within British schools have been accelerated
by a year or so overall, and perhaps by more in maths, but for exceptionally and
profoundly gifted children this is rarely enough.
Acceleration should never mean covering subjects in less depth, but rather covering
it in great depth but in a shorter time. The questions of acceleration versus enrichment
or acceleration versus differentiation are completely irrelevant. The profoundly
gifted child needs acceleration and enrichment and differentiation. However, much
less differentiation is needed if the child is sufficiently accelerated, and this
reduces the burden on teachers.
…”Myth 1. Gifted students should be with students their own age….In fact, in my research
with Larry Coleman, it is clear that gifted students need opportunities to be together
with their intellectual peers, no matter what their age differences (Coleman & Cross,
2001).” Competing with myths about the social and emotional development of gifted
students, from Gifted Child Today, 2002 by Tracy L. Cross.
The most frequently cited reason for not accelerating is a concern for the social
and emotional well-being of the child. However, research finds that exceptionally
gifted children are usually socially and emotionally advanced, so they are more like
children several years their senior than they are like their age peers in social
and emotional development. (Gross, 2001) This explains why they often find a better
social match after acceleration, though the acceleration may need to be radical,
that is several years or more, before they find a good match.
“Although the academic acceleration of gifted and talented students is probably
the most comprehensively studied and evaluated of all educational interventions,
many teachers are reluctant to accelerate gifted students for fear they will suffer
social or emotional damage. Yet research suggests that “the bird that’s tethered
to the ground” is at much greater risk of social isolation and emotional maladjustment
through inappropriate grade placement with age-peers.
This session looks at how gifted students differ from their age-peers in many aspects
of their social and emotional development and explains why well-planned programs
of acceleration enhance these students’ self-esteem, their love of learning, their
acceptance of themselves and their gifts, and their capacity to form warm and supportive
friendships. For many gifted students, acceleration replaces discord with harmony.”
From “The saddest sound” to the D major chord: The gift of accelerated progression.”
By Miraca Gross
Professor Miraca Gross has conducted a unique longitudinal study of 60 exceptionally
and profoundly gifted children in Australia, a country whose educational system and
curriculum is very similar to that of the UK, and which performs at similar levels
in international comparisons such as TIMSS and PIRLS (although see note * at bottom
of page). She was able to follow the children across 20 years, through their school
and University careers and into adult life. Her study is unique in having such a
large number of exceptionally and profoundly gifted participants for such a long
time, and in being able to compare the outcomes of different educational strategies
on children of equal intelligence. She writes:
“In every case, the young people who have radically accelerated have found both
outstanding academic success and the ‘sure shelter’ of a warm and supportive friendship
“A 20-year longitudinal study has traced the academic, social, and emotional development
of 60 young Australians with IQs of 160 and above. Significant differences have been
noted in the young people’s educational status and direction, life satisfaction,
social relationships, and self-esteem as a function of the degree of academic acceleration
their schools permitted them in childhood and adolescence. The considerable majority
of young people who have been radically accelerated, or who accelerated by 2 years,
report high degrees of life satisfaction, have taken research degrees at leading
universities, have professional careers, and report facilitative social and love
relationships. Young people of equal abilities who accelerated by only 1 year or
who have not been permitted acceleration have tended to enter less academically rigorous
college courses, report lower levels of life satisfaction, and in many cases, experience
significant difficulties with socialization. Several did not graduate from college
or high school. Without exception, these young people possess multiple talents; however,
for some, the extent and direction of talent development has been dictated by their
schools’ academic priorities or their teachers’ willingness or unwillingness to assist
in the development of particular talent areas.”
Exceptionally Gifted Children: Long-Term Outcomes of Academic Acceleration and Nonacceleration
In Journal for the Education of the Gifted 2006 29, p. 404-429
Despite all the evidence demonstrating the benefits of acceleration, some parents
and teachers still worry about ‘hurrying’ a child through their education. David
Elkind, author of the “The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon” and president
emeritus, US National Association for the Education of Young Children, addresses
these concerns in an interview:
“Young people who have been academically accelerated are intellectually challenged,
complete high school and college early, and in many cases go on to successful careers.
Doesn't this contradict the developmental position that growth can't be accelerated?
And, from my own standpoint, doesn't this fly in the face of all that I have written
about the stressful effects of hurrying?
Not really. In fact, acceleration is really the wrong word here. If it were correct
we would have to say that a child who was retained was "decelerated." When an intellectually
gifted child is promoted one or several grades, what has been accelerated? Surely
not the child's level of intellectual development - that, after all, is the reason
for his or her promotion! What has been accelerated is the child's progress through
the school curriculum. But this can be looked at a different way, not so much as
acceleration as tailoring. What promotion does for intellectually gifted children
is to make a better fit between the child's level of intellectual development and
Sound familiar? Promotion of intellectually gifted children is another way of attaining
the goal we have been arguing for at the early childhood level, namely, developmentally
appropriate curriculum. Promotion of intellectually gifted children is simply another
way of attempting to match the curriculum to the child's abilities, not to accelerate
those abilities. Accordingly, the promotion of intellectually gifted children in
no way contradicts the accepted view of the limits of training on development, nor
the negative effects of hurrying. Indeed, the positive effects of promoting intellectually
gifted children provide additional evidence for the benefits of developmentally appropriate
curricula.” Read the rest of the article on Hoagies' Gifted Education Page
Note: Acceleration of a profoundly gifted child by only a year or so in the whole
course of their educational career (as happened to the children in Joan Freeman’s
study) may well make matters worse rather than better, as the child is still at too
low a level academically, while having been made even more different from classmates
than before and so having less chance of fitting in socially.
It is often recommended that the child starts acceleration as early as possible and
accelerates every other year until they reach a level at which they are comfortable,
but still within the top children of the class. However, in all cases it is important
not to follow a prescription, but to tailor the acceleration to the individual child.
Acceleration is not a panacea, and it does not suit absolutely every child. Some
may have interests outside of school and may value the time they can spend during
a longer school career to develop those interests, perhaps alongside age peers in
sporting or musical activities. Some may find good friends and like-minded companionship
before reaching their true academic level, but choose to remain with their friends
rather than accelerating further. However, if they cannot maintain their academic
and intellectual enthusiasm and energy in this situation, they may ultimately prefer
to find ways to keep those friends, perhaps with after-school activities, and move
on academically. For some, acceleration provides only temporary relief from the fundamental
problem that the material is presented far too slowly. These children may need to
accelerate frequently and combine school with University courses, or to be home educated.
(See PEGY’s home education page for more information)
Clinical psychologist Dr Edward Amend stated
“I think it is important to note that meeting the educational needs of the gifted
and talented child will also help their social and emotional adjustment. The research
has been fairly clear in suggesting that the degree to which a gifted child's educational
needs are being met is an important factor in their overall adjustment.”
Sengifted “Learning About Gifted Children”. From EducationNews.org (2005).
“The earlier exceptionally and profoundly gifted children are placed in a setting
that is deliberately structured to allow them access to children at similar stages
of cognitive and affective development, the greater will be their capacity to form
sound friendships in their later childhood, adolescent, and adult years.”
From Gross (2006) Exceptionally Gifted Children: Long-Term Outcomes of Academic Acceleration
“Schools should evaluate gifted students' intellectual ability, academic readiness,
and emotional maturity when considering any form of acceleration. However, many exceptionally
gifted students experience social isolation in the inclusion classroom. This should
not be misinterpreted as a lack of social skill or emotional immaturity; rather,
it may indicate that the student would be better placed in an accelerated setting.”
From Radical acceleration and early entry to college: A review of the research
(2005) Miraca U.M. Gross, Helen E. Van Vliet
“Adult surveys of gifted individuals reveal that they do not regret their acceleration.
Rather, they regret not having accelerated more – “ Lubinski, Webb, et al. (2001)
“It is noteworthy that when these children do move to the higher grade, they are,
in fact, more likely to make friends, perhaps because the older children may have
similar interests or are slightly more socially mature.” Rogers (2002, p. 168) quoted
in Core module 6 Part 2 of the Professional Development Package For Teachers, by
GERRIC and UNSW
“Our files are full of stories about youngsters, named or unnamed, happily studying
two, three, even four years ahead of their age-mates. In general, the social adjustment
of these precocious youngsters is improved by placing them with their intellectual
peers rather than their age-mates” Daniel, 1989, pp. 50-51.
A testimonial from the large-scale Richardson study, quoted in Core module 6 Part
2 of the Professional Development Package For Teachers, by GERRIC and UNSW
“Researchers who have examined the issue of the student’s social and emotional development
being jeopardised find no evidence to support the notion that socioemotional problems
arise through well run acceleration programs. They suggest that we should concern
ourselves rather with the maladjusting effects that can arise from inadequate intellectual
challenge. (Schiever and Maker, 1991; Gross,1993; Silverman,1998).” Core module 6
Part 2 of the Professional Development Package For Teachers, by GERRIC and UNSW
Points to consider
- Acceleration should be carefully considered and planned before a final decision
is made. The teachers, parents, pupil and school should be fully in agreement and
actively working on a smooth transition.
- it is vitally important that the teacher into whose class the child accelerates
is positive about the move and willing to assess the trial period on its merits.
The acceleration is much less likely to succeed if the receiving teacher is negative
towards it. However, if staff are not positive, then the Headteacher may find it
worthwhile to provide professional development and extra support for them rather
than to refuse the acceleration. Core module 6 Part 2 of the Professional Development
Package For Teachers, developed by the Australian Department of Education, Science
and Training and the Gifted Education Research, Resource and Information Centre
at the University of New South Wales, may be helpful.
- A trial period of 6 - 8 weeks is recommended, during which there are regular meetings
(at least 2) between teachers, parents and child, to address any issues.
- Expect issues or problems to arise. They often do since acceleration is, after
all, an unusual procedure. However, with good will, flexibility and ingenuity from
all concerned these issues can almost always be resolved.
- The door should be left open so that if issues raised during the trial period cannot
be solved or worked around, then the move can be reversed if the child so wishes.
It must be clear that there is no shame in reverting back to the previous class if
the acceleration proves unsatisfactory. However, the mismatch between child and curriculum
which prompted the acceleration in the first place will not have changed, so alternative
accommodations to meet the child’s academic and social needs should be put in place.
- Acceleration is not a ‘one off’ placement decision, but should be kept under regular
review and adjusted as necessary. Meetings involving the child, teachers and parents
should take place at least once every term. The needs of profoundly gifted children
can change very quickly.
- ‘Gaps in learning' are often a major concern and cited as a reason not to accelerate.
The irony is that this is probably just what the child needs: ‘gaps’ in knowledge
can be an opportunity for the child to learn new material at speed, assisted as necessary
by school or parents, and the child will probably catch up very quickly and in fact
enjoy the challenge. Gaps should be filled before the move, or at most within 6 weeks
of the move taking place.
- Acceleration can take place in whatever sized steps suit the child.
- The child should only be accelerated into a class if, after a preliminary settling
in period, they will still achieve within the group of top children of the class.
- Education is not a race. While generally so, it is not universally true that ‘the
more gifted the child, the more they will need to accelerate’ as so much depends
upon the individual child and the learning environment they are working in. Every
effort should be made to ensure the material the child studies is as in-depth and
rigorous as possible. Enthusiastic and knowledgeable teachers, and those willing
and able to call in expertise from outside the school, are invaluable.
- The first month or two after acceleration are likely to be hard for the child,
but usually things settle down and the child is much happier in the long term.
- It is essential that the receiving teacher prepares the new class to accept and
value all children, whatever their differences, before the accelerated child arrives
- though if the whole class is new the child may wish to join inconspicuously as
‘just another new kid’
- Sometimes an acceleration may be eased into by going to the new class just for
one or two subjects for a while, before the full acceleration takes place.
- The child may be nervous about the move, perhaps worrying that the work will be
too hard, or about what the other children will say. A trusted person at the school
should talk through these worries with the child, perhaps involving them in role
play to practice good responses to questions which can be anticipated. (Parents may
also find it useful to think of suitable responses for use ‘at the school gate’.)
- The school needs to have a flexible attitude towards accommodating the child’s
physical immaturity and dexterity issues. Boys often develop more slowly than girls,
and neither should be denied acceleration because, for instance, they cannot colour
accurately or write neatly.
- Twice exceptional children may need more accommodations after acceleration than
they did before, to keep up with increased expectations for written output, homework
and organisation, but this should not be a valid reason for refusing a well thought
out and carefully planned acceleration. (See PEGY’s twice exceptional page for more
- Acceleration in maths is relatively popular and easy to do, and good for the child
who is only gifted in maths. However, it may lead the exceptionally or profoundly
gifted child to specialise in maths before they really know what they are interested
in, and it does not address their other areas of giftedness.
- It is much to the shame of British schools, but it is not uncommon for parents
to be told, perhaps ‘unofficially’, that their child cannot be accelerated because
this would make them a target for bullying. Sadly, in schools like these the gifted
child (and others who are also ‘different’) may already be subjected to bullying.
If bullying is a problem the staff are unable to stop, then changing schools should
- Sometimes children do not want to accelerate, in which case the acceleration is
much less likely to be successful. They should be fully informed of the available
options and their likely outcomes, and encouraged to try perhaps a few lessons each
week in the older class before ruling out acceleration at that time. In some cases,
and with great care, parents and teachers may feel that a very young child does not
have the necessary life experience to take responsibility for this decision, and
may decide to accelerate the child for a trial period and provide extra support during
the settling in time.
- Sometimes it is said that a child should not be accelerated up to or past an older
sibling. However, this very much depends on the dynamics of each family and cannot
be a hard and fast rule.
- Sports and PE can present difficulties because the child’s physical maturity is
unlikely to be as advanced as their mental maturity. A flexible approach should be
taken in finding ways for the child to do sport with children of their own age, or
perhaps to take up different, individual, forms of physical exercise if necessary.
- The child may choose to reinvest some of the time saved by acceleration in doing
extra subjects at various stages, for example more GCSEs than normal, or in spending
an extra year or two doing more AS or A levels, or studying at degree level before
going on to take another, different degree.
“Tips for Parents: Acceleration and the Profoundly Gifted” by Ann Lupkowski Shoplik,
a Davidson Young Scholars Seminar 2004, is essential reading for parents, covering
many factors for consideration which teachers may also find useful.
“Types of acceleration and their effectiveness” by Bailey, S., Chaffey, G., Gross,
M., MacLeod, B., Merrick, C. & Targett, R. source: Canberra, Australia: Department
of Education, Science and Training, is a short and useful article containing International
Guidelines on Suitability for Accelerated Progression at the end.
“The Iowa Acceleration Scale” by Assouline, Colangelo and Lupkowski-Shoplik is a
research based list and rating scale of items to consider before acceleration which
would help to formalise the decision and ensure important factors are not overlooked
- the achievement tests mentioned are American but appropriate British tests can
easily be substituted.
“It’s bad to push kids”...
There is no doubt that it is bad to push kids, to force them to learn material or
to to socialise with older children when they are not ready for this advancement.
A child forced in this way may have regrets about their schooling and childhood for
the rest of their lives and, if so, this will certainly have an effect on any long
term relationship with the adult who did the forcing, or who permitted the forcing
to go ahead.
However, acceleration does not mean pushing a child, but matching the level of the
curriculum to the level, readiness and motivation of the child. Exceptionally and
profoundly gifted children who have a ‘rage to learn’ are not being ‘hurried’ by
acceleration and do not have their childhoods ‘saved’ by being kept close to age
peers. Rather they are put at high risk for social, emotional and academic harm and
denied the intense joy they find in pursuing their passion to learn when they are
not permitted to move to a curriculum level which matches their readiness.
“Disasters are memorable. Unsuccessful cases of acceleration exist, but the numbers
have been exaggerated as have the reasons for lack of success.
...... Good news doesn’t make the news. Bad news, on the other hand, sells papers
and travels fast in communities. People will repeat stories or greatly exaggerate
the situation about an unsuccessful acceleration, even without first-hand knowledge.
Researchers acknowledge that acceleration is not perfect and some situations may
be less than ideal, but such cases frequently stem from incomplete planning or negative
We need to respect that even an intervention that is very positive is not fail-safe.
A few poor decisions do not negate the importance of considering acceleration as
an option. Excellent planning can minimize failures.” from The Templeton Report
There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks
of comfortable inaction. -- John F. Kennedy
In addition to the books and research papers quoted above, parents and teachers have
found the following publications helpful in familiarising themselves with the evidence
on exceptionally and profoundly gifted children and acceleration:
“Exceptionally Gifted Children” by Miraca Gross
The Templeton Report. A Nation Deceived
Hoagies' Gifted Education Page: academic acceleration. A wealth of annotated links
to research papers, articles and books on acceleration.
The Davidson Database, articles and book chapters and excerpts on acceleration.
“Exceptionally Gifted Children: Long-Term Outcomes of Academic Acceleration and Nonacceleration”
by Gross, Journal for the Education of the Gifted 2006 29, p. 404-429
Note * : Actually UK children in these international comparisons have had one more
year of schooling than their international counterparts, and thus the situation for
UK gifted children (who learn quickly with less repetition) is actually worse than
it would appear from these international comparisons: they have spent an extra year
in school to achieve at a similar level.