Chief inspector criticises empty spaces in summer schools for gifted children. Jon Slater and William Stewart report
Hundreds of England's brightest pupils missed out on summer school last year because parents and teachers were unaware that places were available, inspectors said this week.
Fewer than two-thirds of the 900 places run by the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth were filled, according to a report from the Office for Standards in Education.
However, the academy said that recruitment has improved so much this year that the number of places on offer has been increased to 1,050.
The academy was set up in 2002 to promote educational opportunities for the top 5 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds. Ofsted reported that pupils who attended summer school last year felt it was a successful event.
Four out of 10 came from deprived Excellence in Cities areas and a third were from ethnic minority groups. More than a third of the pupils came from only 12 local authorities.
Ofsted's findings were published as school standards minister David Miliband promised that personalised learning would provide more opportunities for the brightest pupils within five years.
He said that gifted and talented pupils would progress in line with their ability, rather than age, and that the 14 to 19 curriculum would be reformed to ensure that it challenge young people of all abilities.
Mr Miliband said initiatives such as the academy and Excellence In Cities had already changed a "very British mentality which says it is wrong to celebrate success".
Inspectors found high-quality learning at the gifted and talented summer schools as a result of good teaching and motivated pupils.
Most teaching was at least good, but there were several sessions in which lectures were unremarkable.
The report said: "As well as making substantial gains in their knowledge and understanding, many pupils also gained in confidence and self-esteem."
It recommended improvements in recruitment and in the assessment and reporting of pupils' achievement to ensure that children build on their progress when they return to school.
Mr Bell called on LEAs to ensure that children from their areas attend the summer schools.
"There is no excuse for any of our most able children to be excluded from this excellent opportunity," he said.
A spokesman for the academy said: "We are very pleased with this glowing report," he said. "We have nailed the only problem identified by inspectors by giving students a choice of two or three-week courses."