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'Hunt for the most gifted'

Nicola Porter reports from the National Association for Able Children in Education Cymru's annual meeting

Schools in Wales are still reluctant to concentrate on more able pupils - even though evidence suggests that doing so has positive benefits for all children.

And, according to the National Association of Able Children in Education (NACE) Cymru, teachers should act as "talent scouts" to spot the brightest children.

At the Association's annual meeting, held in Cardiff high school last week, delegates were told that one school in south Wales has more than 40 per cent of pupils on its gifted pupils register. But other able pupils said their progress is being hampered by a disruptive minority of classmates.

Johanna Raffan, NACE director, said: "Local authorities in Wales have been slow to take up more able and talented schemes, especially in the north and west. But all the emerging evidence is that more focus on able and talented children can help boost standards for all."

While 4,500 schools in England have signed up to NACE's challenge awards - a self-evaluation framework for improving whole- school work with able children - there are fewer than 30 interested in Wales, mostly in the south.

Mrs Raffan, a retired head. said schools should be "creative accountants"

in how they use school budgets and Assembly government grants to finance projects for able pupils. She also called on the inspection agency Estyn to report more on good practice.

The Assembly government is currently reviewing guidance on more able and talented children, orginally issued in 2003. A spokeswoman said it had provided pound;20,000 for developing new quality standards with NACE Cymru, and that a revised consultation document would be published in November.

"The Assembly government is committed to making appropriate support available to meet a diversity of needs," she added.

The 2003 guidance recognised that pupils of all abilities and talents should be nurtured. Meeting the needs of the brightest, it argued, would benefit all. But it also warned that singling out pupils as "gifted" could place too much pressure on them.

That problem has been avoided at Whitchurch high school, Cardiff, where maths teacher Paul Rees has compiled a database of able and talented children which includes 43 per cent of the 2,000 pupils there.

He told the meeting: "We include pupils who might have just one area where they are more gifted, such as football. That way we avoid elitism and singling out a minority of children as 'different'. It boosts confidence."

But being in a mixed-ability class can sometimes hold pupils back, according to some of the brightest pupils at Cardiff high. Although they could all see the virtue of helping those less able than themselves, they said it also could put them at a disadvantage.

Those who joined the school's Plasma programme, an extra-curricular timetable for the more able and talented, called for more days dedicated to stretching their ability and more interaction with like-minded pupils in other schools. One pupil said: "We can be a week behind because of disruption."

Another said: "I sometimes wish I could tell friends to go away so I can get on with my own work."

But another said: "Sometimes it helps me to explain to others."

* nicola.porter@tes.co.uk

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