Gifted may need the law to seek justice

3rd January 1997 at 00:00
I must express my support for Michael Martin's letter (TES, December 13), regarding the legal liability of teachers.

I suspect that if many teachers were admitted to hospital, suffered considerable pain and injury due to the negligence of the medical staff and were told that they were prohibited from taking any action, they would regard it as a substantial injustice, but they seem quite willing to impose those restrictions on other people in their own sphere.

I left school believing that I was too stupid ever to make anything of myself. I spent half my time in class trying to prevent myself falling asleep, with predictable results for the standard of my work. I was utterly isolated, unable to find any common ground between the rest of the pupils and myself, severely bullied.

Since my school was supposed to be the best in the area, I could only conclude that my failure represented my own lack of ability - which the teachers did nothing to challenge. After a couple of years, I was placed in the bottom stream among "students", half of whom objected to studying anything at all, I failed my O-levels the first time around and had to re-sit them, losing a year. My parents had to apologise to the school on my behalf - none of the teachers suggested my education might be in any way imperfect.

Some years later, having gained an additional 14 qualifications by part-time study (at my own expense), I passed the Mensa entrance exams with a score placing me in the top 1 per cent of the population in terms of intelligence.

Trying to make sense of the result, I did some research, discovering that there are a significant minority of gifted children who simply do not do very well in "normal" education, and who therefore require special help. My own case matched dozens of others.

I also discovered that my local education authority had known of my status since junior school, but had kept quiet about it, allowing me to spend the rest of my time in school with a totally false impression of myself.

However, having discovered the truth, there seems little I can do with it. The advisory body, the Independent Panel for Special Educational Advice (IPSEA), told me that gifted children are not recognised in British law as having special needs; the Local Government Ombudsman told me he considered my case "purely an internal school matter"; the Department for Education and Employment "cannot comment with regard to individual cases"; Dorset LEA admitted, after considerable effort on my part, that it has never had a policy regarding the education of gifted children; the school has ignored every letter I have sent it.

It seems that I am not entitled to know what happened to me during my own childhood.

A year or two after I left school, my eldest sister told me that she thought that I had the potential to get to Oxford or Cambridge. At the time, I thought she was allowing her family feeling to overcome her common sense. Now, of course, I see things very differently.

I can only guess how much a degree from Oxford might have been worth to me - yet it is only a part of what I have lost through the negligence of my teachers. There seem to be a great many other cases like mine. Since the educational system is apparently not interested in justice for any of us, why should we not be entitled to seek it from the law?

Having pupils relying on the law for justice may cause some schools and teachers a certain amount of distress, but please believe me when I say that it is only a fraction of that caused when pupils have to rely on teachers for justice.

Peter Davey

10 Barrie Road

Bournemouth, Dorset

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