Tending the Tall Poppy: An investigation into secondary age pupils’ experience of education for the highly able

  • John Weeds

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research sought to examine current concerns about the quality of the educational experience of secondary age pupils who have the potential to achieve highly in academic tests. It asked about the best means of nurturing such pupils, the experiences which are most likely to affect their educational achievement and wellbeing and, lastly, what factors need to be taken into account to ensure that they are likely to fulfil their potential. An empirical study was undertaken in four case study schools. Interviews were carried out in four secondary schools in the south-east of England – twelve with groups of pupils and a further ten with a selection of staff. Additional evidence was gained from focus group studies involving parents. Interview data were analysed by the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) method.

Four clusters of findings emerged. These included: pupils‟ experience of teaching and learning; their experience of school support; aspiration and anxiety; potential inhibitors of enjoyment and achievement. Further analysis suggested that highly able pupils might have pronounced preferences for particular pedagogies, including practical or collaborative work. Creative activities were also highly valued if accompanied by good lesson planning, sound behaviour management, along with approachability and humour on the part of the teacher. Pupils‟ concerns centred on negative peer pressure and accelerated entry to public exams. Some teachers and support staff were concerned by instances of depression amongst high ability pupils. Staff showed high levels of expertise in managing such issues, especially where ASD/Asperger‟s was a factor. Parents reported anxieties about their children‟s future prospects in higher education. They sometimes lacked confidence in knowing how to support their child‟s learning. They also appeared to have experienced some negative peer pressure of their own „at the school gates‟ from fellow parents, sometimes related to their child‟s high level of academic success.

Finally, school leaders spoke of their schools‟ initiatives for supporting their highly academic pupils. These included schoolwide enrichment designed to stretch the most able, but based on an inclusive philosophy and an overt culture of praise. On balance, pupils in the schools sampled appeared to be thriving.
Date of Award2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorAdam Ockelford (Supervisor), Carrie Winstanley (Supervisor) & Richardson Mary (Supervisor)

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