THE Government has promised that, from this autumn, primary schools will be told how to recognise and stretch gifted pupils.
Ministers hope the move will broaden Labour's appeal to
middle-class parents in the run-up to the next general election. They are keen to stress that the party is not opposed to special lessons for an elite of very able pupils.
Guidance is being drafted and schools will be consulted next month on practical ways of improving what is on offer to academic high-flyers and pupils with talents in the arts or sport. The Government's advisory body on the curriculum, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, will also advise teachers on ways to identify gifted pupils.
The guidance for primaries follows the Excellence in Cities scheme that requires comprehensives in inner cities to identify the top 5 to 10 per cent of their students and offer them special programmes.
A handful of primaries are to be funded from September to pilot similar courses for the gifted and talented.
Ministers are aware that the pressure on primaries to raise standards across the board means that they are having problems nurturing children with musical or artistic talents.
According to Sir David Winley, one of the Government's advisers on provision for the gifted and talented, teachers do need support in identifying children with special abilities.
"In the primary sector, teachers are generalists taking 30 children for all subjects. Schools are finding it difficult to provide programmes for children gifted in arts and music," he says.
The guidance that went to schools earlier this year on the teaching of able children in literacy and numeracy warns that high ability does not always show itself in test results.
It says: "High ability does not always result in high attainment. Able pupils may conceal their ability because of social pressures, becoming reticent in class and difficult to involve."
The National Association for Able Children has welcomed the effort to help schools in this area.
Johanna Raffan, the association's director, said: "This has been a long time coming and schools have not been encouraged to look at special needs at the other end.
"Gone are the days when teachers could say 'they are bright, they can cope'."
Primary teachers may not take the same view. Last week, Estelle Morris, the schools standards minister, told a conference on "amazing children" that secondary teachers had shown great reluctance to identify the 10 per cent of children who might be exceptionally gifted.