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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.

[ image: Estelle Morris:
Estelle Morris: "We must celebrate the abilities of our most able children"
"The attitude that gifted children can cope by themselves, has let down too many young people."

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.

Not relevant

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:

  • Mrs Ann Bridgland - Co-ordinator, Able Pupil Programme and Adviser for Continuing Professional Development, West Sussex Council.
  • Mr Peter Carey - Chief Executive of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC).
  • Mr Alastair Clarke - Co-ordinator of provision for very able pupils and Senior Teacher, Mark Hall School, Harlow, Essex.
  • Dr Deborah Eyre - President of the National Association for Able Children in Education (NACE) and Head of the Centre for Able Pupils at Westminster College, Oxford.
  • Professor Joan Freeman - Visiting Professor at Middlesex University, Founding President, European Council for High Ability (ECHA).
  • Mrs Gwen Goodhew - Director, Wirral Able Children Centre, Calday Grange Grammar School, West Kirby, Wirral.
  • Ms Clare Lorenz - Vice Chair of The Support Society for Children of High Intelligence (CHI) and Consultant.
  • Mr Ian McNiff - CHI chairman and headteacher of St Jude's RC Primary School, Fareham, Hampshire.
  • Professor Diane Montgomery - Emeritus Professor of Education, Middlesex University; director of a learning difficulties research project.
  • Dr Ray Peacock OBE - NAGC President; Chairman of the Design and Technology Association (DATA); and Chief Executive of the Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths Network (SETNET).
  • Mr John Senior - Education Manager South East, New Millennium Experience Company, Chairman of the Science and Technology Regional Organisation for Surrey and co-founder of GIFT, a company providing enrichment and extension courses for gifted children.
  • Dr Michael Stopper - County Co-ordinator, Gifted and Able Children, Lincolnshire LEA.
  • Mr Barry Teare - Consultant on Able and Talented Children and a member of the Executive Committee of NACE.
  • Mr Chris Tipple - Director of Education, Northumberland County Council.
  • Mr Julian Whybra - Educational Consultant and Managing Director of GIFT.
  • Dr David Winkley - Director of the National Primary Trust; member of Department for Education and Employment 's Standards Task Force.
  • The group will also include representatives of the Department for Education, the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), and the Teacher Training Agency (TTA).

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