Primary schools are not supporting their talented pupils, according to chief inspector. Jon Slater reports
Primary schools are failing to meet the needs of gifted pupils in most lessons, chief inspector David Bell said this week.
And talented pupils from ethnic minorities are missing out on support across the whole curriculum because schools fail to spot their potential, he said.
Few primaries have a coherent policy for gifted and talented pupils and even the best schools do not provide gifted pupils with the support they need, Mr Bell told a National Association for Able Children in Education conference in Manchester.
Teaching for able pupils is worst in design and technology and they rarely make good enough progress in history, geography, physical education, and religious education.
Efforts to improve the attainment of gifted pupils often focus on maths.
Good practice is also common in English and art.
Mr Bell said: "Our findings suggest there are pupils who show potential but are not achieving well at present.
"For example, it is a worrying statistic that there are proportionately fewer gifted pupils in primary schools from minority ethnic backgrounds.
The question needs to be asked, do they simply go unrecognised?"
But evidence from the Office for Standards in Education shows that teachers do not have sufficient expertise in identifying gifted and talented pupils.
They are also poor at assessing pupils' progress.
The Government's Excellence in Cities programme gives extra resources to schools in deprived areas to improve provision for gifted and talented pupils.
But Mr Bell said that much of the focus has been on improving teaching in secondary schools.
The progress of gifted and talented pupils was often a good indicator of the quality of the schools as a whole, he said. Their progress in primary schools improved slightly between 20012 and 20023, the latest year for which figures are available, when more than half of pupils made good or better improvements.
But their progress failed to keep pace with that made by other groups, such as pupils with special educational needs or those for whom English was an additional language.
Mr Bell admitted that opinion was divided about whether gifted pupils should be taught separately or alongside their peers.
But he said that whichever method schools chose they should clearly identify gifted pupils and provide each with an individual action plan as they would pupils with special needs.
He also suggested that support staff could be used to help able as well as SEN pupils.
"Inspection reports tell us that teaching assistants are rarely deployed to support able groups.
"This is a pity because, as one pupil said recently: 'Just because you are on the smart table doesn't mean you don't need help sometimes'."
The Department for Education and Skills assumes that between 5-10 per cent of pupils in any school are gifted, regardless of the school's ability profile.
A DfES spokeswoman said that expansion of the Excellence in Cities programme will double to 2,000 the number of primaries with gifted and talented programmes.