Summer schools for gifted and talented pupils have improved sharply in the past year and most are now excellent, inspectors said this week.
A report by the Office for Standards in Education said young people make excellent progress on courses that are more challenging than those they experience at school.
But it also said that the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth needs to show the pound;2 million programme offers good value for money.
Improved communication be-tween the academy and secondary schools helped to more than double the number of pupils attending the summer schools to 1,050 in 2004, it said.
An Ofsted report last year criticised the "disappointingly low" take-up of summer school places in 2003, the first full year of the academy's operation.
The academy, which is based at Warwick university, was established in 2002 to develop, promote and support educational opportunities for the top 5 per cent of pupils in English secondaries.
Its residential summer schools cover subjects ranging from space science to philosophy.
Each two or three-week place at summer school costs about pound;1,900 but the maximum charge to parents is pound;350. The rest is met by government subsidy and by schools.
Despite financial support for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, 16 applicants cancelled their places because of funding problems.
Ofsted found that the 57 summer schools held at seven universities in 2004 were good or better. Most were better than the courses held the previous year. But inspectors said more pupils should be taught in groups with others of their own age if standards are to improve further rather than groups spanning the 11 to 16 age range.
Pupils attended from 143 of the 150 local authorities in England, but about a quarter of pupils came from just nine councils.
National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth; summer schools 2004 is available from www.ofsted.gov.uk