Could Chinese-style 'children's palaces' help Britain nurture creativity and discover hidden talents? Julie Henry reports.
CHILDREN'S palaces which are used to spot child prodigies in China and Russia could help Britain to tap home-grown talent.
Houses in many big cities in the far east and former communist countries are devoted to developing and nurturing creative talent. Each room is filled with musical instruments, paints and drawing materials, computers, science and sports equipment or, in China, calligraphy and puppets.
Up to 600 primary age children are let loose to try out each room and discover what fires their imagination.
Professor Jean Freeman, from Middlesex University, who has visited a house in Shanghai, said the Chinese model had produced children who went on to reach breathtaking standards in their chosen field.
"They are inspirational places, full of laughter and music," she said. "While many of the pupils rushed outside to play on an old aeroplane in the garden, others were soon engrossed in playing Chinese instruments or model-making. Children's palaces are unique because they are open to a wide range of children and it is the child who decides what they want to do. Many of our programmes for the gifted and talented in Britain are aimed at academic children who are already achieving. Children's palaces are a way to pinpoint undeveloped potential."
Pupils found to be especially talented visit the palaces two or three times a week and are then selected to receive six weeks' tuition. Parents make a contribution to the cost. Children who do not turn up forfeit their places.
Those who advance sufficiently have the opportunity to join an academy which specialises in music, sport or their chosen field. The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts has invested pound;20,000 in a study to see if Children's palaces can be developed in the UK.
Education director Gareth Binns said: "The investment is part of our commitment to the gifted and talented. Children's palaces stand out because they are a different in approach. We are looking at potential locations such as children's activity centres, museums or theatres."
Boosting the performance of the top 10 per cent of children is one of the aims of the Government's "Excellence in Cities" programmes. A total of pound;29 million was spent on gifted and talented programmes in 20002001.