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Secret lives

(Photograph) - While her classmates were absorbed in Roald Dahl, Victoria Woolley was ploughing her way through the collected works of Dickens.

Victoria, now 18, began to read Dickens at the age of eight. "There was a lot of pressure to hide what I was reading," she says. "I had to hide how much I was enjoying school."

To some degree, this is still the case at Frome community college in Somerset. She says: "There's a lot of social pressure not to perform well in class. Boys feel it most: there are masculinity problems with appearing clever. It can be very frustrating."

Such frustration is familiar to 17-year-old Michaela Goff (above). While she asked her GCSE teachers A-level standard questions, fellow pupils at Headington school in Oxford struggled to understand the lessons.

"Sometimes teachers have to define the majority of words in a sentence,"

she says. "I get this sinking feeling that we're not going anywhere.

"I just lose interest in a topic."

Both Michaela and Victoria have attended summer schools run by the National Academy of Gifted and Talented Youth at Warwick University.

"It's very stimulating to be in a class with people who are interested in whatever you're learning," Michaela says. "And the teachers want to push the boundaries of your learning a bit further. It's important not to be constricted by the confines of the curriculum."

Photograph: Geraint Lewis

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