Letter: Where the Government fails the brightest and best

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article about children of exceptional ability ('Gifted children need help in the classroom', 6 December) is timely. As you remind us, it is not two months since the schools minister justly claimed: 'Every child has the right to achieve the best they can, and for too long we have neglected the gifted and exceptionally able.'

The blame does not lie with local authorities, however, so much as directly with the Government. If authorities are sometimes slow to act, it is largely because recent policies whereby schools manage their own funds or have opted out of authority concern have led to a tremendous decrease in the number of advisory staff they can afford to employ. Those whose responsibility was to assist schools to develop policies for their most able pupils (few though they were in number) have frequently been among the first to become redundant.

Recently, the Education Secretary claimed to heads of independent schools that his personal support of the assisted places scheme effectively kept some of them in business. But this scheme, however much it may solve the needs of some of the 1 per cent of secondary pupils who have access to it, is not the complete solution. It goes no way, for example, towards addressing the problem of those potentially gifted children who, through inadequate motivation, have become under-achievers.

If our brightest children in state schools are to be properly provided for, the first message that these schools need to receive is that the Government is prepared to trust them with the education of the nation's ablest pupils. This, unfortunately, is manifestly not the message delivered by the assisted places scheme.

The second message that needs to be delivered is that adequate funding will be found for the appointment of staff who can assist them to develop appropriate policies and strategies. If every child has a right to achieve the best he or she can, then every child has a right to quality education in their local school, and this cannot be achieved by aspirations alone.

Yours faithfully,

MICHAEL SHORT

Director

The National Assocation

for Gifted Children

Northampton

6 December

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