Young, gifted and misunderstood

Peter Davey

My lack of success at school meant I read Elaine Williams's feature on encouraging boys to study (TES, July 14) with considerable interest.

I went to my local grammar for boys, getting a place after several meetings with an educational psychologist from the local authority - a process that seems rather extraordinary now and which was never fully explained to me at the time. But, given the apparent care the local education authority had taken with my case, I assumed that I would fit right in.

Instead, I spent half my time in class trying to stop myself falling asleep. I also found I had little in common with the other pupils; they could never see my point nor agree with my conclusions.

Since the school was the best in the area, and the LEA had apparently made a special effort to judge my needs, I decided I just wasn't bright enough to reach the school's standards. None of my teachers mentioned those original tests set by the psychologist.

After a couple of years, I was placed in the bottom stream, which tended to confirm my opinion of myself. Half the boys objected to studying anything.

My time there felt like an unending nightmare, where nothing I did made things any better, no matter how I tried. I failed my O-levels and had to resit, losing a year in the process. I finally left school convinced that I wasn't talented enough to amount to anything.

I started a number of low-level temporary jobs, reflecting my low self-esteem. However, I did start some evening classes, with a view to improving my prospects.

Years passed and I continued part-time studying. Then, having gained my 14th qualification, I passed the Mensa entrance exams with a score placing me in the top 1 per cent of the population. To try and make sense of it I began research into giftedness, discovering that a significant minority of gifted children don't do well in normal education, and require help. I also found out that my LEA, Dorset, had known of my status through those psychological tests, but had, for whatever reason, decided to remain silent.

My attempts to take the matter further have got nowhere - my letters to the school and the LEA have not been acknowledged, let alone answered. In spite of all my efforts, I still do not know who took the decisions regarding my education, how much information the LEA gave the school about me, or even what Dorset's policy is regarding the education of gifted children (assuming it has one). Apparently I have no legal means of calling them to account.

Elaine Williams writes about boys not being keen to learn or reticent about being seen to learn. I was keen but had to deal with an education system which seemed to regard intelligence with suspicion and concealed important information about those it was supposed to be educating.

According to my research, some LEAs are opposed to the idea of giftedness on ideological grounds; some schools will not admit they cannot educate a gifted child; some teachers resent children with greater abilities than themselves. I am left trying to battle through these obstacles.

Ms Williams wrote of a school encouraging children to learn but encouraging teachers to teach might be a better priority. I had, in effect, to put myself back through school by means of my part-time studies. Since I taught myself to read before starting school, and gained more qualifications as an adult than I did as a pupil, I sometimes wonder what was the point of my schooling - except to provide jobs for teachers.

Incidentally, although my old school has refused to answer any queries concerning my time with them, I have had one communication - a letter, last year, inviting old boys to a meeting to discuss how we might contribute towards a new Pounds 250,000 school sports centre. I did reply but, as you may imagine, not positively.

Peter Davey lives in Bournemouth

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