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Intelligent choices

Carolyn O'Grady looks at how Mensa is bidding to establish itself in mainstream education

Can Mensa, a club whose membership has to prove that its IQ is in the top 2 per cent of the population, contribute to mainstream education? Yes, says Lyn Allcock, Mensa's co-ordinator for gifted and talented children, who this week will be on the organisation's stand at the Education Show canvassing ideas and presenting new resources for gifted and talented children. Mensa is also offering training to LEA advisors and schools about the needs of gifted and talented children.

"Because Mensa has many young members, it has experience of dealing with very bright people," she says. "We are aware that there is not necessarily the same expertise out there in schools, and with Ofsted pushing schools to cater for the gifted and talented, we are saying: 'What can we do to help?'

"Teachers often lack confidence when helping gifted and talented children.

Our materials encourage them to be facilitators and motivators - they don't need to be experts," Lyn explains.

The first in a series of packs will provide enrichment activities for after-school, summer school and in-school provision, or could be used in study skills. They will set out open-ended tasks for children of all ages which they can develop as far as they wish.

Lyn, formerly an inclusion co-ordinator at a Coventry School, acknowledges that teachers were occasionally sceptical of Mensa's efforts to find a role in mainstream education, but she has found her education background has helped.

"Education has now come round to saying it is OK to be different, and that includes being bright. A lot of what we do is helping kids come to terms with their brightness. They are afraid of being seen as a boffin or nerd.

It's also a matter of finding other children for them to mix with who think as fast and who feel "very positively" towards education.

There are about 900 Mensa members aged under 18 in the UK and Ireland.

Those under 10 don't have to take the same tests as adults, but are usually accepted on the strength of an educational psychologist's report. Young members receive special magazines and, apart from attending normal meetings (accompanied by family members), go to family events such as picnics and games evenings. They also automatically become members of the National Academy of Gifted and Talented Children based at Warwick University, set up to promote educational opportunities for the top 5 per cent of pupils.

The first Mensa pack, on the theme of "Moving through the Air", includes activities on helicopters; children can experiment with different types of material or different types of helicopter. Elsewhere they are asked to investigate how characters in movies and literature, such as Mary Poppins or James Bond, travelled through the air and might be asked to write a story on that subject or produce a piece of artwork. "The materials will give children the opportunity to go into things in depth", says Lyn.

* Mensa Stand B905

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