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How to decide what is best for super-bright children

The educational world is divided over how schools should handle super-talented kids: nurture them? Push them? Coddle them? Enter them for exams early?

Tim Dracup, former national lead for gifted and talented education for the previous government and now a consultant and writer, says that it will always be hard for schools to meet the needs of extremely gifted learners entirely by themselves.

"They need to bring in a range of resources - for example, access to university-level study, mentoring and opportunities for independent learning," Dracup says.

"The very best schools have become accustomed to this facilitating and coordinating role. They have a good understanding of the different ways to combine opportunities to meet the unique needs of highly gifted children."

Professor Alan Davies of the University of Hertfordshire has tutored and supported many gifted children. He is "not a fan" of bright children being entered for exams early.

"It is better to get them interested in things," he says. "Enrichment activities get them asking questions. I can't think of a reason why you should let children take exams early. Instead, get them working outside the curriculum, and on difficult problems."

But Ian Warwick, senior director of London Gifted and Talented, an organisation that gives support and resources to pupils, says there is "no blame" associated with teachers who struggle to help high-achieving children.

"Often the only solution for those children is to go off-piste with the curriculum," he says.

Dracup advocates parents and teachers working together to work out how to meet children's needs, while also taking account of the pupils' views. "If having a highly gifted child is new to the school, it is important for teachers to be honest about it, receptive to all outside expertise and to work with parents and the pupil to develop a coherent learning programme," he says.

But the general consensus is that more work needs to be done. "These children are our greatest natural resource and they will make an enormous contribution to the country," says Sue Mordecai, chair of trustees at the National Association for Able Children in Education.

She urges all those supporting gifted children to remember that teachers are doing "extraordinary" work with them.

"We need more of the excellent practice seen in schools to be disseminated, so that others know how they can make a difference," she says.

Tips for teachers

Pupils with high learning potential benefit from learning together and being placed with similar students in their areas of strength.

They often think and learn differently from their peers, and learning with other bright children helps them see their intellect as an asset.

Gifted children can often become "tutors" for other pupils and do the difficult work for them. Beware of this - it stops them learning themselves, and stops the other child learning properly.

Be careful not to let gifted children develop poor habits, such as constant daydreaming. This happens when they already know what is being taught in the lesson, so therefore start wasting time.

Pupils with high learning potential are more likely to socialise "normally" when they are with pupils who share their interests and who learn in a similar way. This is most likely to occur with intellectual age peers, regardless of age.

What can be done to meet the needs of prodigies?

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