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Don't neglect the most able

As an inquiry by MPs grapples with the problem of gifted children Frances Rafferty meets a mother who broke the law for her son

BRIGHT children should be protected from being labelled swots and boffins, and more should be done to ensure the cleverest children receive the education they need, an MPs' report has found.

The education select committee found during an inquiry into the education of highly-able pupils that many of Britain's brightest children are getting a raw deal.

Malcolm Wicks, the Labour chair, said these children must not be neglected because of the emphasis on overall national standards: "We deplore the view that children of high ability need little support and can easily cope, simply because of their ability. We must ensure good minds, and precious assets, are cherished and encouraged, not neglected."

The cross-party committee soon found the subject a can of worms, with a large number of groups coming forward to represent gifted or highly-able children. Deciding what to call this group and working out how many of them there are defeated the committee.

But the MPs did find evidence, from the Office for Standards in Education, that a third of schools do not cater adequately for the top 5 per cent of pupils.

Mr Wicks said he found there was no one best way to meet such children's needs. And the balance had to be found between meeting academic requirements and allowing them to enjoy their childhoods.

The committee has recommended that local authorities appoint an officer responsible for the education of highly-able children and that teacher training should include strategies to deal with them.

The report does not recommend linking funding to individual children - instead it suggests money should be made available through schools.

Saturday clubs catering for highly-able children were praised, but availability is patchy. There was also concern that out-of-school classes should integrate better with mainstream schooling.

The report said: "We welcome the commitment by the Government to support the development of masterclasses. However, we have some doubts about the wisdom of linking such masterclasses solely to specialist schools."

It said there are not enough specialist schools and they are not necessarily able to specialise in the teaching of the most able pupils.

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