Academy starts hunt for gifted children

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The Independent Online

Middle-class parents will have to pay fees that may run into hundreds of pounds if they want their children to benefit from the Government's new programme to stretch the brightest pupils.

Fees will be levied for those who attend the first academy for gifted children, which is to be established at Warwick University, Stephen Timms, the School Standards minister, will announce today.

The academy will offer extra tuition in all national curriculum subjects and introduce pupils to topics such as archaeology and biotechnology, not usually taught in state schools. The academy will be modelled on the Centre for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, which has run courses since 1979, and charges £1,600 for a residential summer school.

Warwick, which has often been praised by Tony Blair for its links with industry and its "entrepreneurial zeal", beat bids from Oxford, Exeter and Birmingham universities to win the £60m contract. It will run programmes for children identified as being among the brightest 5 per cent of students, plus special lessons for the most gifted 1 per cent.

The courses will not be free but the university has pledged that students from deprived backgrounds will not have to pay. Although funding details have yet to be decided, Warwick hopes to finance many places through sponsorship for families unable to afford the fees.

The university starts a talent hunt today to find 100 pupils aged 11 to 16 in England for its first three-week residential course in July. The selected students will be supported by distance learning and postgraduate mentors when they return to school. The university hopes that from 2003, 1,000 children a year could benefit.

The success of the Warwick bid is thought to have been influenced by its links with Johns Hopkins University. Professor David VandeLinde, Warwick's vice-chancellor, worked there for 12 years and the American university will help to run the British scheme. But Professor VandeLinde insisted that although the new Warwick centre would run a similar programme to the American scheme, it would be "a uniquely English national academy".

He said: "In my years at Johns Hopkins University, I was privileged to witness the growth and development of a similar programme and to see what a difference it made to the lives of so many young people. I therefore retain a strong personal commitment to the creation of similar opportunities for gifted and talented youth in this country and believe that the University of Warwick and its partners will deliver a national academy of which we can all be proud."

A university insider added: "We are drawing on the academic experience of Johns Hopkins, not drawing directly on their price list. Nobody knows how much the rates will be. It depends very much on the amount of private sponsorship we can attract.

"We already have mechanisms for deciding which students pay university tuition fees. We will be using the tools we already have to decide which parents pay what."

Oxford Brookes University's Research Centre for Able Pupils will be a partner in the scheme. How the academy will select the brightest children is not yet known.

Parents and pupils interested in joining the academy's first summer school should go to www.warwick.ac.uk/gifted and complete an online registration form after 11am today.

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