Education vouchers mooted for talented pupils

The brightest children from every school in England could be given vouchers to spend on extra courses, under proposals being considered by ministers.

The plans would see 800,000 children allocated credits to pay for evening or weekend classes run by universities, or even online courses run by US space agency Nasa.

Under the gifted and talented programme, the five per cent of children getting the best marks in national tests at 11 are included in a national talent register and given extra help.

However, many schools have failed to take part and ministers are keen to extend the scheme to the top ten per cent of pupils in every secondary and primary school in the country.

Earlier this month, CfBT Education Trust won a contract to help these children receive targeted help, and has proposed to use its £65 million budget from the government to provide these children with credits to access further classes.

“The government is seeing this as part of school improvement rather than a lifeboat for a few bright children,” said development director Tim Emmett. “If you can raise the meter for ten per cent of children in a school, you can do it for the other 90 per cent as well.”

The Conservatives recently scrapped plans for a £5,000 voucher for all pupils in England to spend on either state or private education each year, and any suggestion of Labour introducing a similar plan is likely to be controversial.

As a result, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) today stressed that the proposals for a voucher scheme were still at a preliminary stage, and said the final details of the contract would not be finalised until February.

However, schools minister Lord Adonis is championing the new extended talent register, saying it would allow thousands more gifted children to be identified, “especially late developers and those underachieving because of social disadvantage”.

He said: “This register will ensure they are identified early and get the appropriate learning opportunities inside and outside school.”