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Brightest pupils' break from boffin jibe

Hundreds of able pupils have given up part of their holidays to join like-minded children in class. Amanda Kelly reports.

FOR 85 bright youngsters it was a week of circus skills, Harry Potter and Leonardo da Vinci - and the chance to excel without being called a boffin.

The 11 to 13-year-olds, were taking part in the country's largest summer school for gifted children, set in the grounds of Roedean, the girls' private boarding school, in East Sussex. They joined the six-day residential course after a careful selection process.

They were chosen from the top 5 per cent of their year groups, and had to write an essay explaining why they wanted to attend.

One theme was Leonardo da Vinci, and included a trip to the London's Science Museum, a lecture from a NASA scientist and a visit from a hot-air balloonist.

The children, from schools in the county, were divided into three groups according to whether they wanted the focus of their week to be on sports and science, arts and information and communication technology or performing arts.

It was not all hard work - other activities included circus skills, a game of "ultimate frisbee", watching videos and reading Harry Potter books.

Funded as part of the Excellence in Cities scheme, the school cost pound;27,000 to run and ended with a demonstration of work to around 500 invited guests.

Anita Shefford, an education officer for East Sussex, said: "It is often hard in the classroom to stretch the very brightest children, but the aim of this week was to push them as far as possible and to teach them that learning can be fun.

"A lot of them said they are often afraid to push themselves forward at school for fear of being teased by other pupils.

"Some of them arealso not used to failure, but an important feature of the week was trying out new things and realising that it doesn't matter if they get it wrong."

But Ms Shefford believed the most important aspect of the week was the social benefits the youngsters had gained.

She said: "The youngsters are all used to being the best in their school, so to meet people who are even smarter could have led to clashes and arguments.

"But, at the start of the week, we discussed the importance of respecting each other and recognising that we all have different talents and actually we didn't have any problems at all."

Ben Wilkinson, 11, who will join Chailey secondary school, near Lewes, in September, said: "I liked this week because I made lots of friends. I often get called a boffin at school and sometimes it makes me scared to put up my hand and answer the question. It was good to meet other children who are like me.

"I haven't been away from home this long before but I haven't been homesick at all."

Zoe Allcott-Wells, 12, a pupil at Seaford Head community college, Seaford, agreed: "It makes a big difference being here because the other children don't make fun of you.

"I think I will stay friends with some of the people I've met this week and I wish I didn't have to go home."

More than 500 gifted and talented summer schools have been set up this year. Funded by pound;4.5 million from the Department for Education and Employment they are geared towards children aged 10 to 14 and cover everything from sports and drama to science and management skills.

A further 1,800 literacy and numeracy summer schools are taking place to cater for around 54,000 pupils who need extra help with English and maths.

Leader, 10

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