HC Deb 17 May 1977 vol 932 cc225-6
21. Mr. Hodgson

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals she has for encouraging the development of gifted children.

Miss Margaret Jackson

I am concerned that everything possible should be done to identify and meet the special needs of these children, but there is nothing that I can add at present to the answer I gave to the Question from the hon. Member on 15th March.

Mr. Hodgson

Does not the Minister agree that the Government's failure to announce a specific programme to help gifted children confirms our view that the Government are primarily interested in keeping down education expenditure rather than increasing it?

Miss Jackson

No, I do not accept that. It is a singularly silly remark, particularly as I recently told the hon. Gentleman that a special working party was considering the problem of gifted children. We expect it to report in May and we are expecting to have a conference on this subject in November.

Mr. Pavitt

Will my hon. Friend explain how it is that when we measure the achievements of gifted children by the numbers admitted to Oxford or Cambridge, or eventually to the Foreign Office, so many gifted children seem to have gone to publc schools rather than to State schools?

Miss Jackson

I think my hon. Friend is pointing to the conflict that is present in people's minds between children who have genuine intellectual gifts—who are about 2 per cent. of the population—and those who are intellectually privileged.

Mr. Cormack

Would the Minister care to define the term "gifted children" and tell us where gifts begin and where gifts end?

Miss Jackson

As the hon. Member may know, there is a substantial body at work on this subject which defines what it regards as outstandingly gifted, and it is generally acknowledged that there is on the whole only a small percentage of such children in the population.

Mr. Flannery

Will my hon. Friend accept from me that the term "gifted children" as used by the Conservative Party refers tot he elitism that Conservatives have always practised? Does she not agree that in comprehensive schools the teacher-pupil ratio is very good at the topmost level and that there is remarkable scope in the education of our gifted children even to the point where some of them become ambassadors, for instance?