Talent spotting for beginners

12th January 1996 at 00:00
Every school has a Lisa Stansfield, Richard Branson and a Kevin Keegan. Every school has a child like songwriter Stansfield, who failed to shine in class but has gone on to be very successful, or one like Keegan, who showed an early talent for football and, as an adult, a gift for languages as well.

Dr David George, biologist, education consultant and author of books about exceptionally able children, believes that for every 1,000 children, 30 will be as gifted as Stansfield, Branson and Keegan, writes Linda Blackburne.

He once saw Kevin Keegan keep the ball in the air for five minutes at a demonstration in a school gym for 400 boys. Keegan later transferred to Hamburg and learned German in six months, before becoming one of soccer's most successful managers.

Lisa Stansfield, who is a multimillionaire, got four GCSEs at school and probably would not have passed A-level music, said Dr George.

How do you spot such hidden talent? How many children in your school are "getting by", he asked. If a child in your school is under-achieving for more than a fortnight, then there is something wrong, he said. Schools had to do more for their able children because the country needed them.

Part of the problem is that the gifted child is often not the model pupil. Teachers don't like them because they can be impatient, highly strung, play around yet test well and are untidy writers because their brains race ahead of their pens. Often, the gifted child is brighter than the teacher.

Bright children show their ability early on, said Dr George. He listed IQ tests which would help teachers to recognise bright children, but he warned that tests only gave clues to a child's talent.

He recommended non-cultural drawing tests which could show a child's talent for creativity, but added that creativity was not the same as intelligence. He said that Howard Gardiner, the Harvard education and psychology professor, had shown that intelligence took a number of forms, including factual, linguistic, spacial and social. The only way to stretch bright children, he argued, was to differentiate the curriculum.

If a child was two key stages ahead of the rest of the class, the teacher could not teach him or her a different key stage from the rest because science was such a knowledge-based subject. The teacher would have to set extra work and more demanding projects.

Dr George peppered his talk with examples of gifted children's work, such as that produced by an 11-year-old Northampton girl.

The class of 28 was asked to write an essay about conflict. One of them, however, submitted a recipe. Her contribution, "Conflict Surprise" appears below.

Conflict Surprise

(A recipe for war)


5kg of greed, 2kg of envy, 1 raw anger, 1 large selfish (very ripe), 5g of mistrust, 7kg of over ripe violence, 3 large misunderstandings


Using a fist, mix in the greed and envy, let it simmer for an hour. Kick the raw anger in. Squeeze the selfish and add it to thicken the mixture. Sprinkle in the mistrust and stir thoroughly. Using a tank (if you have one) fire in the violence. Beat in the misunderstandings, take a world leader and empty its mind of peaceful thoughts. Using half the mixture, refill the mind.

Carefully put the world leader back in its place. Using a sword, spread the other half of the mixture across one of the world's countries.

Remember to stand back after you have done this: you may become a victim of your own creation. Watch for the after effects, you will enjoy the pain and suffering. You will find it impossible to clean the kitchen when you have finished: all the ingredients will contaminate the rest of the kitchen. Quick tip: For fuller flavour act first, think later.

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