Teachers should consider nominating pupils who are "brilliant at showing people round the school" for the Government's gifted and talented scheme, a senior official said this week.
Schools are being urged to look beyond the academically gifted in the drive to expand the programme.
Latest government figures show 31 per cent of schools do not participate. Officials running the scheme believe those that do could be putting more pupils forward.
They say that some schools are discriminating against low-income families and overlooking ethnic minorities. They are also calling for parents to push their children forward if they think they are talented.
Ann Bridgland, a gifted and talented expert, told The TES: "Some schools get their knickers in a twist and say we haven't got any (gifted and talented pupils). But all schools have kids with some kind of gift or talent. You can always go into a classroom and find pupils with some 'wow factor' about them. They might be a very good monitor or brilliant at showing people around the school."
Ms Bridgland works for CfBT, the not-for-profit company that took over the gifted and talented contract last year and aims to have all schools participating, with 700,000 registered pupils, by 2010.
There was criticism last month when official figures revealed that 15 per cent of gifted and talented pupils had failed to gain five A-C grade GCSEs. The Government responded, saying that many of the pupils failing to reach the GCSE benchmark had been identified for their talent in sport or the arts. But Ms Bridgland's comments show that the net is being cast even wider.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "This suggests they are running a rather different kind of scheme from the one heads thought they were recommending children for. If you extend it this far, you will end up including pretty well everybody."
Ms Bridgland, who was a member of a government gifted and talented working group and has worked on schemes aimed at more able pupils since 1992, fears pupils from ethnic minorities might be overlooked because it could be more difficult to pick up on the talents of those who have English as an additional language.
Ms Bridgland said some schools might discriminate against those who live in particular parts of town, while other pupils' talents might go unrecognised because they hide them through shyness or fear of being mocked by classmates.
Four ways to shine
Pupils can be sorted into four types, according to Ann Bridgland, a gifted and talented expert.
- Talented in a specific subject.
- Cross-curricular skills such as leadership, decision-making or communication - where pupils who are good at showing visitors around the school would qualify.
- Vocational skills.
- Entrepreneurial skills.