One of the unintended outcomes of the comprehensive school movement, which replaced most grammar and secondary modern schools in the 1960s and 1970s with allability schools, was the assumption that all children should be taught in mixed ability classes. The view that one size fits all became prevalent. The idea that gifted and talented children should receive special nurturing became anathema, possibly because of the false assumption that in order to be gifted and talented you had to come from a rich family. That has denied many very able English children from socially disadvantaged families

the chance to realise their potential. Only in the late 1990s was there a concerted drive to introduce a Gifted and Talented programme into comprehensive schools. Yet even today, a significant minority of schools lacks any additional recognition of the needs of their ablest pupils. In 2003, Lord Quirk of Bloomsbury asked a series of parliamentary questions on A-

level performance by type of school.1 The replies to the questions show that in 2002, only 21,390 of the 258,226 A-level candidates achieved three or more A grades at A-level – this is just 8 per cent of the total number of candidates and only 3.4 per cent of the total age cohort. Though the figure has risen a little since, to 10 per cent in 2008, it is hardly evidence of grade inflation. Moreover, of these 21,390 students, 7,656 attended independent schools and 3,394 attended grammar schools. On a combined basis, this is 54 per cent of the total, even though grammar and independent schools only accounted for 20 per cent of the total candidates. Particularly worrying is the proportion of pupils by type of school achieving three or more A grades at A-level, with only 5 per cent of comprehensive school A-level candidates doing so versus 23 per cent for independent and 19 per cent for grammar schools (see Table 15.1). Clearly, a large proportion of able children attending comprehensive schools are not

realising their potential – the results for more recent years are unlikely to be much different from the above. A particular problem is that half of English schools only offer courses for 11-16 year-olds,

and children attending these schools who wish to take A-levels must apply to another school at age 16. Frequently, the gifted and talented children attending these schools do not even remain in full-time education to take A-levels or are not encouraged by their schools to take the challenging A-levels necessary to gain admittance to a distinguished university. Recent research by Professor Jesson indicates that less than one third of the gifted and

talented children aged 11 in 1999 who scored in the top 5 per cent raw marks in Key

stage 2 maths and English, achieved the three A grades at A-levels seven years later in 2006 at age 18. Three As at A-level, in appropriate subjects, are usually necessary to get into a leading Russell Group university. The proportion of very able children achieving three A grades who attended schools with no post-16 provision, and who therefore had to transfer to another school, sixth form college or FE college, was even lower, at around 20 per cent. Moreover, only 5 per cent of A-level candidates attending comprehensive schools achieve three A grades at A-level compared to 19 per cent for grammar school pupils and 23 per cent for independent school candidates. This, of course, follows from the obvious fact that the intakes to these institutions are very different. We should pay tribute to the fact that comprehensive schools have massively widened opportunity for pupils to study post-16 and so helped contribute to government targets for recruitment to higher education. But, of the 30,000 children classified as gifted and talented using raw scores for Key stage

2 maths and English in 1999, less than one third were realising their potential 7 years later at A-level. This is a tragic waste of natural talent, and calls for more focus on the potential that these young people represent. However, it is also the case that substantial numbers of pupils not identified as being in the ‘top 5 per cent’ also achieved three As. This suggests the importance of regular monitoring of pupils’ progress over the years of compulsory education so that those with potential revealing itself at a later stage than age 11 can also be classified as gifted and talented and added to the list of gifted and talented students. The data are even worse for particular subjects such as science. Sir Richard Sykes,

former rector of Imperial College, indicates that of the undergraduates entering Imperial College, more than half are international students; of the remaining half, who are British, nearly all come from either independent schools or grammar schools, with only a small proportion coming from comprehensive schools.2 There is also the problem of the ‘missing 3,000’ students identified by the Sutton Trust with three As at A-level who do not gain admission to a leading university. This chapter recommends a framework for an effective national gifted and talented

programme in English schools, as well as giving details of the approach used, with its strengths and weaknesses, in the United States, and the record of the National Association of Gifted and Talented Youth at the University ofWarwick, for gifted and talented students which was first introduced in 2002, but was sadly closed down in 2007.