Wednesday, March 3, 1999 Published at 07:47 GMT
Encouraging gifted pupils
How to engage all without overwhelming or boring them?
The government has established a group of experts to advise education ministers on how best to make sure that gifted children fulfil their potential.
It is intended to counter what the government sees as an ethos of under-achievement. Part of its task will be to explore how schools can build an atmosphere which encourages and celebrates excellence.
Announcing the working party, the School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, said: "The government is committed to improving standards of teaching and learning for all children in all schools.
"We fail to identify many of our most able children and we don't challenge them enough. This can lead to disaffection and chronic underachievement. This must change.
"We owe it to these children to help them realise their potential. That means working with schools, parents and local authorities to establish and spread good practice.
The government's intention to develop a strategy for the early identification and support of particularly able and talented children was announced in the White Paper, Excellence in Schools.
This said: "A modern education service must be capable of stretching the most able, providing support for those who need it most while continuing to challenge all pupils."
And: "We plan to develop a strategy for the early identification and support of particularly able and talented children that links several strands, including accelerated elarning, specialist schools and partnership with independent schools."
A member of the advisory group, Dr Deborah Eyre, told BBC News Online there was ample research evidence that that "giftedness will out" theory was simply not the case. But she did not want to see exclusive clubs for the brightest.
"My personal view is that I think we should view it as trying to make sure that all the children we have in schools - whatever their ability - maximise their potential," she said.
Dr Eyre - head of the Centre for Able Pupils at Westminster College, Oxford - said that so far a lot of government policy was about achieving minimum competence - which did nothing for those children who had achieved that already.
"For example, if you come into school already reading then much of the work in the reception year which focuses on helping children to acquire those skills may not be particularly relevant."
She believes the optimum environment is one which gives all children a slight challenge - but not so great a challenge that they are continually under stress. Taking the brightest children away from others their own age is not the best way.
"If you identify them and pull them out and create a specialised group, that has all sorts of problems about being isolated from their peer group. And I don't think parents want that - parents want their child to be a normal child."
The members of the advisory group are: