Teachers have again been accused of failing bright children in care after new figures show only a tiny proportion are officially classed as "gifted and talented".
Government statistics show just 4 per cent of looked-after children are included in the national scheme for those who excel in lessons, sports or the arts, compared with 13 per cent of other pupils.
Experts, who fear the Young Gifted and Talented scheme is dominated by eager-to-please, middle-class pupils, have called for more training to help teachers spot talented looked-after children. They believe many bright pupils from troubled backgrounds "fall through the cracks" because their behaviour masks their potential.
Those who run Young Gifted and Talented have said they try to make sure children from a mixture of backgrounds benefit from activities for those who are gifted and talented. They have an interactive website and run local events.
The discrepancy was revealed in figures from the School Census, released in response to a parliamentary question from the Conservative MP Tim Loughton, the shadow minister for children, schools and families.
In March 2008, the last time the information was collected, 47,600 children aged 5 to 19 were looked after by local authorities. At that time, 1,555 were listed as gifted and talented, compared with 778,700 children not in care who were enrolled on the scheme.
In primary schools, 764 pupils in care (4.3 per cent) were enrolled. In secondaries, the number was 791 (4.3 per cent). Numbers had risen slightly since 2007, the first year information on the gifted and talented register was collected.
About 8 per cent of primary-aged children not in care were listed as gifted and talented and 13.7 per cent of secondary pupils.
Denise Yates, chief executive of the National Association for Gifted Children, a parents' support group, said some teachers were nervous about classing pupils from unstable backgrounds as gifted because the schools' league table positions would suffer if these pupils didn't go on to achieve good exam results.
She offers concessionary membership of her charity to foster carers in an effort to increase the number of bright, looked-after children getting support.
"We want teachers to know it's just as likely to be the child messing around at the back of the class who is as gifted as the well-behaved pupil sitting at the front," she said.
Some local authorities are trying to ensure their gifted children get extra opportunities. One group attended a global-warming conference in Norway.
Johanna Raffan, director of the National Association for Able Children in Education, said the small number of children in care on the gifted and talented register might be due to the time taken up looking after their wellbeing. "This might come low on the list of priorities but there is quite a lot of work going on around the country now for looked-after children," she said.
Each regional gifted and talented hub - local universities which organise activities - has to offer 20 per cent of places to children from disadvantaged backgrounds and 10 per cent of places free to those eligible for free school meals or the education maintenance allowance.
Elise Lewis, programme director for Young Gifted and Talented, said: "We are keenly aware that our gifted and talented provision must be readily available to all identified learners. Once registered, young people can download free online learning resources and take part in forums and online study groups."
In London, the Black Country and Manchester, the scheme runs City Gates, which offers scholarships to help pay for activities. "This initiative has proved highly successful in equipping gifted and talented learners from the most challenging circumstances with the necessary skills and knowledge to progress with confidence to the most competitive universities and degree courses," says Ms Lewis.