Gifted club easespath to university

Will an undergraduate place depend on a Ucas form tick? Adi Bloom reports

Sixth-formers applying to university will now be required to confirm whether or not they are members of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth.

The academy has announced that, from next year, pupils filling in their university application forms will be asked to tick a box stating whether or not they are a member. It hopes that this will enable universities to better identify the most able pupils.

Jane Pringle, of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, said:

"If you have seven A-levels at A grade, you put it on your Ucas form. If there's something you're proud of, you want to be able to tell people about it.

"There's a need for more and more information to allow universities to make the best-informed choices they can."

More than 37,000 pupils are registered with the academy, based at Warwick university. Its initial membership target in 2004 had been 7,000 pupils.

To accommodate the extra members, the academy has launched a higher-education gateway programme. With the co-operation of 46 universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Edinburgh and Birmingham, this programme will provide one-off events and online discussions for academy members.

Peter Dunn, of the national academy, believes that this programme, together with the new Ucas question, will help universities to select the brightest sixth-formers.

"These are the young people universities are desperate to get at," he said.

"By coming to campuses, young people get universities salivating over them.

"And the academy will provide information about the ability of a candidate, so there's a real understanding of why that young person is a valuable applicant."

But Terry Creissen, head of Colne community school, Essex, fears that the Ucas question will disadvantage non-members.

He said: "Why do you have a tick-box for that, rather than for being a member of Mensa, or of a local football club? Why should pupils whose schools happen to support the gifted and talented academy get preferential treatment?

"I'm far more interested in whether they can think deeply and critically, whether they are passionate learners, than whether they've been to summer school for a couple of weeks in Warwick."

Joan Freeman, of the school of education at Middlesex university, agrees that membership of the academy is an inaccurate representation of ability.

She said: "The academy tries to take roughly equal numbers from different racial and social groups. Socially, that's very acceptable, but is it fair?

"And if teachers think, this isn't for the likes of us, children are effectively disbarred."

Professor Freeman said that the academy's summer schools, which run for two or three weeks, and cost the academy pound;1,000 per pupil, may not appeal to all pupils.

"Many bright children, under threat of death, wouldn't want to give up their holidays to study maths," she said.

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