Leading Article: Gifted children need help in the classroom

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FEW children attract less sympathy than those who are clever but disruptive. Only teachers with great patience and dedication can spot the difference between a straightforward troublemaker and a boy or girl too gifted to be stimulated by lessons that other children find taxing. The diagnosis is made harder if a child's gifts go unnoticed for a while, so that frustration reduces his or her academic performance - and if the child's parents seem to be making selfish demands for special treatment.

Such problems help to explain why, as reported in the Independent on Sunday yesterday, two different sets of parents have taken local councils to court for allegedly failing to respond to their children's needs, despite the emphasis that the Government two months ago asked local authorities to give to gifted children.

Even after a child has been correctly diagnosed as gifted, local education authorities are sometimes slow to act. Traditionalists believe that, unlike children at the bottom of the educational ladder, who need special attention and remedial lessons, those at the top can get by on extra homework and enthusiastic parents. Britain's educational laws - notably the 1981 Act - have done little to change this prejudice. Children who are made the subject of 'statements of special need', legally requiring a local council to lay on extra facilities, are usually those who lag behind rather than those who excel.

Since special needs mean special spending, it is understandable that councils are not keen to have gifted children 'statemented'. But there are two reasons why they should hesitate before opposing this practice. One is that education is not just about helping children to achieve a specific standard; it is also about helping them to realise their full potential. An unstimulated gifted child with an average academic performance has therefore been failed by the system just as much as a backward child who receives no help.

The other is that boredom and high intelligence are an explosive combination in the classroom. By giving some gifted children extra lessons in a few subjects and moving others up an academic year or two, schools can help them integrate with their fellow students rather than becoming freakish outcasts. This should make them assets instead of liabilities.