"Help! I am gifted" : the development of self-concept (self-theory) and self-esteem amongst gifted students in English secondary schools and the influence of school culture

Zschaler, Andrea and Passey, Don and Saunders, Murray (2019) "Help! I am gifted" : the development of self-concept (self-theory) and self-esteem amongst gifted students in English secondary schools and the influence of school culture. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

[thumbnail of 2019ZschalerPhD]
Text (2019ZschalerPhD)
2019ZschalerPhD.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs.

Download (4MB)


How do students, who have been identified as gifted and talented, experience their time at secondary school? What elements of their school's culture help or hinder their personal and academic development? This longitudinal study focuses on the lives of five students in an English secondary school, who had been identified as gifted and talented, and on how they developed personally and academically during the 4 years I observed them. Their interviews tell a compelling story about what it meant for them to be labelled as gifted and what aspects of their schooling either helped or hindered their personal and academic development. One of the key findings of my research is that a Formal school culture, which is mainly concerned with examination grades and progress, seems to discourage students from being enthusiastic about learning and thus fully engaging in lessons. Further, this academic disengagement hindered some students to learn how to study independently and how to revise for tests and examinations effectively. Influenced by the work of Dweck (2000) this study explores how self-theories of gifted students develop in the setting of an English secondary school in connection with the school culture and how this influences their academic engagement. My research is based on a typology of school cultures developed by Hargreaves (1999) which embraces academic as well as social-emotional aspects of schooling thus complementing my research questions well. The study follows a mixed methods approach and includes data from semi-structured interviews, questionnaires and informal observations. To track the educational journey of the students I used a visual tool called the Blobs which enabled me to illustrate changes in students' perceptions of their personal as well as academic situation in school. The main findings of this study centre around the difficulties some of the observed students had in developing a positive self-theory in respect to learning and academic engagement to be able to fulfil their academic potential. Also, students shed some light on what kind of learning environments they liked and what aspects of a Formal school culture seemed to hinder their personal but also academic development. Especially, a focus on grades only, as well as not very engaging and challenging lesson content on a regular basis, seemed to lead to a coasting approach to learning and to school, which slowed academic progress for some of the students. My data suggest that labelling some students in a school or class as gifted or talented can be counter-productive and in most cases did not have many positive connotations for the students observed. Rather, it seemed that on occasions it actually led to more struggles and negative experiences with peers as well as teachers.

Item Type:
Thesis (PhD)
ID Code:
Deposited By:
Deposited On:
21 Jun 2019 23:20
Last Modified:
22 Nov 2023 01:02