Campaigners join forces to fight for gifted children
Campaign groups are to work together to fight for gifted and talented pupils following the scrapping of a national scheme, which they say has left the policy "rudderless".
Labour ministers ended a centrally managed system for the brightest pupils and replaced it with provision run by teachers in individual schools.
Universities, teachers and specialist organisations, including Mensa, are set to form a pressure group to speak with "one voice" in urging the Government to develop a clear policy for gifted and talented children.
"Everything is rudderless without a national programme; we want teachers to be supported and there needs to be a Government policy," said Denise Yates, chief executive of the National Association for Gifted Children.
A number of civil servants responsible for gifted and talented policy have left their posts, raising concerns that expertise has been lost.
"It's important to have someone advocating the need for a specific gifted and talented education programme," said Ian Warwick, senior director of London Gifted and Talented.
The National Strategies have current responsibility for managing gifted and talented education, but the agency is to be scrapped next March, creating uncertainty about which organisation will take charge.
Gifted children are those considered able across a range of subjects while talented pupils have an aptitude in one area, such as music or sport. Part of the former Labour government's plan to localise gifted education was to give #163;250 to teenagers from deprived backgrounds deemed "gifted" to pay for courses, books or activities.
Ministers promised that those aged 14 to 19 would receive the money, but so far only around 2,500 Year 10 pupils have benefited. Year 11 will be included in the scholarship scheme from this academic year. The project was due to run for four years, but it is unclear if new ministers will continue to fund it.
A total of #163;643,000 has been spent on the scholarship so far, with money paid to secondaries according to how many pupils had been labelled as gifted in the annual school census.
A total of 34,710 children in secondary schools are classed as being gifted and talented and eligible for free school meals.
The Department for Education refuses to say how many Year 10 pupils are classed as gifted, which makes it unclear if all received the scholarship money.
"We didn't really have any expectations for this scheme because by the time it started the national programme didn't exist any more," said Mrs Yates. "But giving money to gifted children is a good idea as it gives them ownership. We don't expect this to continue in the current climate, though."
Hilary Lowe, a trustee of the National Association for Able Children in Education, likens the scholarship to the proposed "pupil premium" for disadvantaged children.
She said: "Children from poorer homes get filtered out of the labelling process for gifted and talented education at every stage and at every age.
"There are many who still lack opportunity," she said.
A DfE spokesman said no policy decisions on gifted and talented children will be made until after the comprehensive spending review later this month.
GIFTED amp; TALENTED
Bonfire of the prodigies
The national Gifted amp; Talented programme has been radically altered three times since 1997.
From 1997 until 2002, government money was spent helping deprived children in cities. From 2002 until 2007, the centrally organised National Academy for Gifted amp; Talented Youth, developed by Warwick University, concentrated on the elite top 5 per cent nationwide.
From 2007, education charity CfBT ran the national scheme for pupils of all ages via the internet and through regional partnerships.
There is now no national programme - just gifted and talented specialist schools and the chance for poorer gifted children to get a #163;250 scholarship. Some universities run "excellence hubs" - academics and teachers work together to run one-off activities for bright pupils.