A flagship scheme was accused of failing the brightest schoolchildren, with one in seven pupils marked as gifted and talented failingto get five good GCSEs. Official figures show that 11,628 pupils on the scheme did not achieve the government benchmark of five A* to C grades, including maths and English.
The scheme is designed to give the most gifted and talented 10 per cent of youngsters in every school the chance to boost knowledge by special courses. Many go to the gifted and talented centre at Warwick University for coaching. But Michael Gove, the Conservatives' education spokesman who unearthed the figures through a parliamentary question, said: "When so many gifted and talented children fail to get five good GCSEs there's clearly a problem. The Government's scheme is supposed to identify the brightest and the best."
He added that the Government had "failed on the most basic level to ensure teaching by ability".
Supporters of the gifted and talented programme say schools do not always pick their best achievers to go on the scheme but sometimes choose youngsters whose teachers believe they have potential but are just not showing it in class.
Sometimes, they argue, even the atmosphere of a more taxing educational programme fails to inspire these youngsters to achieve. In addition, the Government says, about half those selected for the programme have an aptitude for sport, the arts or music, rather than general academic ability.
The Government's own guidance for selecting pupils for the programme says performance in key stage two – the national curriculum tests for 11-year-olds – is the best indicator of whether a pupil is suitable.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "About 48 per cent of children nationally gain five good GCSEs, including English and maths, and about 86 per cent of children on the gifted and talented scheme achieved the benchmark That is an achievment."