Education Quandary

'Is it right that students must now declare if they are officially "gifted" on their university application form? My clever daughter does not want to join a club for swots'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

Hilary's advice

Universities struggle to pick one clever candidate over another. From this autumn, to give admissions officers more information, all applicants will have to tick a box on their Ucas form if they are a member of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth.

Is this right? Who knows. It probably isn't any more fair than all the other rough and ready methods used to help decide who gets an offer, but it is happening and, basically, leaves your daughter three options.

First, she can play the game and get a tick in her box. The Academy covers the top five to 10 per cent of the ability range, and she can easily propose herself for membership, or have her school do it for her. However, from 2007 it plans to hold achievement profiles of members, and their involvement in the Academy, which universities will be able to access for more information, so pupils who join just for the sake of a tick in the box probably won't be doing themselves a favour.

Second, she can strive to prove how ferociously bright and intellectual she is, despite not ticking the box. "I am very much enjoying my home study course in Hungarian, and loved going to see Michael Frayn's play Democracy about the former German chancellor Willy Brandt, when it was on in London..."

Third, she can simply present herself honestly for who she is, knowing that that is probably the best way of being offered a place that most matches her interests and abilities: "Although I enjoy school and am doing well there, I also very much enjoy my job in a local pizza restaurant where, after just a year, I have been appointed shift supervisor. This has really helped me develop my team-building skills and extended my knowledge of management..."

The Academy is based at Warwick University and offers a limited number of summer school places, an expanding programme of local events, and online resources including subject forums and a book club. For more information, visit

Readers' advice

I'm 15, and I totally agree with your daughter. It would be death for anyone at my school to join a gifted club. You would be seen as big-headed, and it also would seem like sucking up to teachers, Also, with all the exams we have now, in Year 10, and then 11 and 12, all kids want to do when they are not in school is relax. But we shouldn't be judged for this when we apply to university.
Jess Knightly, Brighton

No, it is not right. Some schools are more willing to push their gifted children than others, and these are the ones that will make sure they get their pupils into an academy like this. The school my son went to made it plain all the way through that they thought the clever children could look after themselves and that all the teachers' time and effort would go towards the ones who were struggling. My son eventually got into a good university, but by himself. He wouldn't even have known about an academy like this. The school wouldn't have told him, so he would have been penalised.
Karen Springer, Norfolk

Your daughter has the British disease of thinking that to be clever is to be a swot. This is why we have such a dumbed-down culture. What does she enjoy doing in her spare time? Shopping? Watching TV? What is her ambition? Being a model? A pop star? If that is the case, she might be clever, but she is obviously not curious or bright.
Anneke Gill, Plymouth

Next week's quandary

Hilary, help! We are two Year 7 pupils in Essex. Our school food is awful and WE WOULD LIKE SOMETHING DONE!!!!!!!! The favourite meal at the moment is cheese, chips, burger, chocolate cake and chocolate sauce. How can we get Jamie Oliver to come and make a difference? Or what else can we do? We want his pasta sauce with vegetables.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 28 March, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser