Late Developers – Speech Day Address

Our brains, it seems, take much longer to develop than we have previously thought. In fact they undergo a massive reorganization between the ages of 12 and 25. During this period it seems that the brain undergoes extensive and continuous remodelling that, in some ways, resembles a network and wiring upgrade.

This process was once thought to be largely finished by the end of Primary School but, in fact, continues throughout adolescence. It is becoming clear that some youngsters’ brains do not become fully developed until they are mid-way through their twenties!

These physical changes move in a slow wave from the brain’s rear to its front, from areas governing basic functions to finish at the more complicated thinking areas in the frontal lobe.

The frontal areas are the ones that we need for complex tasks. Once the wiring is upgraded, it’s harder to change. So, earlier brain development comes at the price of flexibility. The later developers gain more connections and, thus, greater flexibility.

So what the implications?

Many parents want their child to be at the front of the queue when it comes to educational developmental milestones. They desire for their child to demonstrate a superior intellectual ability of the kind that would get them onto many gifted & talented programmes.

Limited places are coveted, some parents going to extraordinary lengths to get their kids certain schools and to prepare them for entry examinations.

It has always been assumed that those children who demonstrated a superior intellectual capability early in their lives would be ahead in the race, and stay ahead, forever. Such pupils have an intellectual development that is more precocious than their peers. This new evidence, however, questions whether early developers do indeed stay ahead of the race as compared with late developers?

The answer is basically NO.  In fact, it is the late developers who possess the capability to catch up and edge ahead of the early ones. Those with superior intelligence show a slower developmental curve, but the highest rates of change throughout that journey. A child who is not reading or doing maths like his peers may, in fact, end up doing even better than them years down the road.

So the key fact coming out from this research is: – That late developers could have an edge over the early developers, though the capabilities will show up later in life.

So, knowing this new data my questions to you are;

  • Why do we continue to associate lifelong ability with precocity?
  • Why do we continue to test at ever earlier ages assuming that we will identify the most talented children?
  • Why do we even test children all at a particular age? If they are all developing at different rates, what are we learning?
  • When we find a late developer – and there are many examples – how many others like him or her have been thwarted because their talents were prematurely judged?
  • How wise is it to devote resources to the development of child prodigies whilst relegating the ‘average chaps’ (which includes late developers) to the backseat.

So what about the average students?

Should they resign themselves to being the ones sitting below the elite performers who have proven their abilities at a young age? Or will they, given time, develop late with the capability to edge past these prodigies?

At Seaford we invest in every child including the average ones, in the hope that they will blossom and bloom into the leaders of the future. As Charles Johnson used to say “not too many Seaford pupils go onto to Oxbridge but ours usually end up employing those that go!” ….. and he was right.


Beautiful Brains
National Geographic                          Oct 2011

Late Bloomers aren’t necessarily inferior to young prodigies
New Asia Republic                              Jan 2011

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