Education: The bright spark who was wiring plugs as a toddler

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The Independent Online
When Jamie Baxter-Martin was still in nappies he was fascinated by plugs and sockets. Most parents would have reached for the plastic safety covers, but his encouraged him. They just made sure he knew that he had to switch the appliance off before beginning his investigations.

Then they showed him how to wire a plug. By 13 months he was checking all the plugs in the house to make sure they were wired properly. At age four he had made two radios out of kits. He was reading by then, in order to understand the instructions with the kits. He could concentrate for hours with a screwdriver in his hands.

Today, at 13, he is taking chunks of an undergraduate robotics and electronics course at Plymouth University while studying for an A-level in computer sciences at Plymouth college of further education, and a second A-level in electronics at his comprehensive school, Tavistock College.

"He doesn't feel he is any different from anyone else," says his father, Philip Baxter-Martin. "We brought him up to believe that. The first thing he does when he gets back from school is to go out and play. "

Jamie is an only child, who lives in a guest house run by his father in Lifton, Devon. His mother died last year. Neither of his parents were university-educated.

He started his first GCSE correspondence course in electronics with the National Extension College when he was seven. The NEC wouldn't supply a tutor since he was so young; with the help of his parents, Jamie fumbled through the books without one. But by the time he was nine, his parents couldn't keep up. They had been teaching him at home because the primary school couldn't cope. So they took him to see Dr Peter White, senior admissions tutor in electronics at Plymouth University. He confirmed Jamie's extraordinary talent. "He clearly had a natural ability which had not come from prior learning," said Dr White. "I showed him one or two electronic signals and his level of understanding was way above what you would expect for someone that age and without formal education in the subject."

Dr White advised the family to put Jamie into evening classes at an adult education college. Jamie joined Saltash education centre and at 10 he began going to Plymouth University. At Saltash he passed examinations in City and Guilds, GCSE and BTech courses in electronics when he was 11.

Mr Baxter-Martin thinks all bright children should be given the chance to take adult education classes. "We have lost so many children who could have turned out to be Einstein. It was only our perseverance and the fact that we had time to run Jamie around that meant we could do it."

Lucy Hodges

Jamie's story is featured on Esther Rantzen's BBC2 programme `Esther' on 27 February at 4.50pm.

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