Irish Gifted Students: Self, Social, and Academic Explorations

A Report Prepared for Centre for Talented Youth - Ireland - June 2022

Jennifer Riedl Cross, Ph.D.

Tracy L. Cross, Ph.D.

William & Mary Center for Gifted Education

Colm O’Reilly, Ph.D.

Centre for Talented Youth - Ireland


Over the past decade, many individuals were critical to the success of this project. Numerous members of the CTYI staff were invaluable for their help in gathering and entering data. Dr. Leeanne Hinch coordinated the administration of surveys and interviews in multiple studies. Rebecca McDonnell assisted in the analysis of the pandemic study.  Dr. Catriona Ledwith coordinated the final edits for publication.  We would also like to thank the Faculties and Senior Management in DCU for their continued support of the work of CTYI.  In the US, Dr. Tom Ward provided support for the statistical analyses. Colin Vaughn, Sakhavat Mammadov, and Anyesha Mishra managed and analyzed data in multiple studies. Marialena Kostouli at the Center for Talented Youth-Greece and Dr. Paromita Roy at the Jagadis Bose National Science Center in Kolkata, India spent countless hours collecting data from students in their programs. The authors wish to thank all those who contributed their time and expertise to enhance our understanding of Irish gifted students.


Executive Summary

In 2011, Dr. Colm O’Reilly, the Director of the Irish Centre for Talented Youth (CTYI), and Dr. Tracy L. Cross, the Executive Director of the William & Mary Center for Gifted Education (CFGE) developed a partnership to conduct research with or on behalf of gifted students in Ireland. Over the next ten years, numerous studies were conducted to learn about these students and about gifted education in the country via educators’ and parents’ beliefs and experiences. Two reports have been published on the former: Gifted Education in Ireland: Educators’ Beliefs and Practices and Gifted Education in Ireland: Parents’ Beliefs and Experiences, both available from CTYI. This report describes the findings of research conducted with CTYI students for the purpose of supporting the well-being and maximization of potential among Irish gifted students. It is divided into four chapters

Chapter 1: Introduction – A description of the studies and the participating students 

Chapter 2: The Psychology of Irish Gifted Students – Findings of studies on students’ beliefs about themselves

Chapter 3: The Social Experience of Irish Gifted Students – Findings of studies on students’ relationships with others

Chapter 4: The Academic Experience of Irish Gifted Students – Findings of studies on students’ experiences in school

Chapter 5: International Comparisons – Comparisons of psychology, social beliefs, and academics among Irish, Greek, and Indian gifted students

Chapter 6: Recommendations & Conclusions


The Studies

Ten studies were conducted with more than 2600 students attending CTYI programs, two with students in Greece and India. Nearly all participants were secondary students and 46% were female. Three studies were interviews and the remaining used questionnaires. Most students (44%) were from county Dublin, but every Irish county had some students represented.  All other students scored at the 95th percentile and above.


The Psychology of Irish Gifted Students

The majority of CTYI secondary students (66%) had resilient personalities – they were sociable, agreeable, conscientious, emotionally stable, and open to new experiences. Nearly all students exhibited high levels of confidence in their academic abilities and most had confidence in all academic and social domains. About a third of students had potential risk factors indicating additional supports may be needed. These personality differences provide a framework for later analysis of students’ social and academic experiences.


The Social Experience of Irish Gifted Students

In several studies, CTYI students confirmed the findings from previous research that their exceptional abilities can lead to challenges in their relationships with others. They reported experiences of hiding their abilities and conforming to others’ behaviors to maintain positive relationships with peers. Their abilities were often visible to peers and being known as an advanced student was generally a positive experience. The frequent pressure to achieve and always be right was not as positive. Expressing one’s gifted abilities could sometimes be a costly experience and some CTYI students preferred to lie over telling the truth in situations when their abilities might be exposed. Painful peer rejection occurred for some CTYI students, but most did not consider themselves to be ostracized. They preferred to work independently and considered themselves more serious about learning than peers. Being able to help peers with their exceptional abilities was positive, but older students sometimes felt the expectation to help was burdensome. CTYI programs gave them a welcome chance to spend time with intellectual peers whose high levels of interest in learning were similar to theirs. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, online school inhibited social connections, when peers withdrew behind muted cameras and microphones and there was little opportunity to interact in classes. This atmosphere had one advantage: bullying was not possible when there was no face-to-face interaction. 

Students were positive about their family relationships and most students were confident they could get support from their parents to solve social or academic problems. About a quarter of students were less confident in their parents’ support. Positive attitudes toward school were correlated with students’ positive relationships with their parents.  


The Academic Experience of Irish Gifted Students

An appropriate education is important not only for students’ psychological well-being, but also for the maximization of their potential. CTYI students are capable of learning at an advanced level in some or all subjects. About half of them were confident in their abilities in all subject areas, but others had greater confidence in their abilities in either math, science, or humanities-related subject areas. In school, most CTYI students reported they rarely or never received differentiated lessons targeted at their ability level. They were often bored by lessons because they already knew the material. In interviews, students described a difficult learning environment, often focused on the needs of the typical student, who learned less rapidly and was less serious about their learning. CTYI students considered good teachers to be those with high expectations, who were enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their subjects, and had effective teaching strategies. While they may have had good teachers, they also gave many examples of times when they were not learning. Students readily shared their opinions about CTYI programs offering exciting opportunities for challenge in stimulating subjects.

Compared to in-person school, online school during the COVID-19 pandemic offered less support from teachers, was less motivating, and presented difficulties in managing their own learning. The majority of students were pleased to be back in their home school. CTYI’s online classes were perceived by students to be much more motivating and CTYI teachers were perceived to be more supportive than those in their online school. 


International Comparisons

Partners at the Center for Talented Youth-Greece (CTYG), at Anatolia College in Thessalonika, and the Jagadis Bose National Science Talent Search (JBNS) in Kolkata conducted studies to parallel a study with CTYI and CAT students. There were many more similarities than differences among the students in psychological comparisons. Socially, all students agreed they were more serious about learning than peers and preferred to work independently. Both CTYG and JBNS students appeared less concerned about hiding their ability from peers than CTYI or CAT students. In academic comparisons, JBNS students reported receiving more regularly differentiated assignments than the other students. While the amount of boredom differed by subject for each country, students in all programs reported being bored once a week or more often in some of their classes. 



CTYI students represent a unique population, with social and academic experiences their peers do not share. While most CTYI students have positive, even exceptionally positive, psychological profiles, some students will require support for optimal well-being and, ultimately, achievement of their potential. Adults who work with and care for CTYI students should be aware of the social challenges presented by their abilities and the need to provide an appropriate curriculum, delivered at an appropriate pace. A talent development approach would be an inclusive, effective framework for gifted education in Ireland. 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6