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“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 attitudes.

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




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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 (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 and Nonacceleration



  “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




“For the majority of exceptionally and profoundly gifted children in my study, a single grade skip has not been sufficient for their intellectual and social needs. However, most programs of radical acceleration begin with a single grade skip. In my experience, parents would be unwise to suggest a double grade skip in the first instance. Schools which are wary of acceleration (and that seems to be the majority of schools) are unlikely to agree to such a "radical" departure from the customary mode of grade-to-grade progression. Start by suggesting that your son or daughter could benefit from a grade skip. If this is agreed to, accept it - and monitor it thoughtfully (but not anxiously or publicly) to evaluate the degree to which it is meeting your child's needs. If it is meeting his or her needs (and in most cases it does, at least for the first year) give genuine praise and thanks to the school and the teachers for their flexibility. If, after a year or so, a second grade skip seems to be in order, you now have a sound basis of effective collaboration with the school on which to scaffold your next approach. The school is more likely to consider a second acceleration where they can see that the first has worked and where there has been a period of consolidation where they can be sure that it has indeed worked.” from Tips for Parents: What we Know from Longitudinal Studies of E/PG Children (2006)





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 to meet 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 them 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, 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 group.”


“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

























 Also “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.”  

Author(s):  Miraca U.M. Gross, Helen E. Van Vliet
Source:  National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), Gifted Child Quarterly Spring 2005 Vol. 49, No. 2 at,2_0&rid=14030





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
Gross M & van Vliet H (2005).


On this page:


The case for acceleration


Points to consider


“It’s bad to push kids”...


Further reading




   “Interventions limited to enrichment and

    moderate degrees of acceleration tend to

    be unsuccessful either for reversing

    underachievement or for improving

    affective well-being.”


 From: Radical acceleration and early entry to      college: A review of the research  (2005)

Miraca U.M. Gross, Helen E. Van Vliet

Click here for printer ready article

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 the curriculum.

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 here, 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 educationally, 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. (Click here for more information on home education)


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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.  


- 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.


- 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. The child is likely to pick up on a reluctant teacher, even if the teacher believes he or she is hiding their feelings, and may request to be removed from that teacher’s class even if it means undoing an otherwise successful acceleration. 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.


- Expect issues or problems to arise. They often do, since this is, after all, an unusual thing to do. 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 in 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.


- 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 gates’.)


- 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. (click here for more on twice exceptional).


- 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 be considered.


- Occasionally 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 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.


The Iowa Acceleration Scale” by Assouline, Colangelo and Lupkowski-Shoplik is a research based list and rating scale of items to consider before acceleration, use of 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.


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Further reading


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: Long-Term Outcomes of Academic Acceleration and Nonacceleration By Miraca Gross Journal for the Education of the Gifted 2006 29, p. 404-429


Exceptionally Gifted Children” by Miraca Gross


The Templeton Report. A Nation Deceived This national report highlighted the disparity between the research on acceleration and the educational beliefs and practices that often run contrary to the research. There is information on 18 different forms of acceleration in the first volume, and research showing the efficacy and appropriateness of acceleration in the second.


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.



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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 to their intellectual counterparts.

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