Children who get promoted ahead of their age group at school can do well at university and in life, a new study has found.
Dr Ann Easter, who has done the doctoral study at Waikato University, says her research dispels many teachers' fears that "accelerating" children into higher classes with older children may harm their social development.
The 10 students she interviewed, who started university aged 13 to 16, struggled with what she calls "the three 'D's - dating, drinking and driving". Many were too young to go to bars or get their driver's licences, and several boys found it hard to find girlfriends of their own age.
"But they were very realistic about that," Easter said. "They were there more for the learning than the social side."
One student told her: "If I did meet someone, they'd always invite me into town and I'd have to say no, simply because I was 16... no way of going to town for the next two years."
Academically, she found that her sample of students found university liberating, after being bored at school.
One boy, who was reading at a 14- to 15-year-old level when he was 7 or 8, said his teachers accused him of being "away with the fairies" because he was often daydreaming and seemed to be under-achieving.
"Many students, because they are not challenged in their learning, just switch off," Easter said.
"They are not identified [as gifted] by their teachers and their needs are not met - particularly for creatively gifted students. Traditionally we have not catered for that group well, and I think you would find there are a number of those students in our prison system, who have turned to negative ways of using their creativity."
One of her sample dropped out of university, but the others all completed degrees and in most cases postgraduate degrees. All felt that starting university early was the right decision.
Johnathan Leung, a King's College student who is not quite 16 but did stage 1 maths at Auckland University last year and is now doing stage 2 maths, said he just really liked maths.
"I just like the intellectual logic," he said. "I'm quite a logical learner so maths is quite good for me."
He sat his first Cambridge maths exam, which most students sit in Year 11, when he was in Year 5 at King's School, and achieved Cambridge A-level maths, which most students do in Year 13, in Year 7. So he skipped Year 8 and went straight into Year 9 at King's College.
He does not see any social disadvantages.
"I just made friends with some people in school, they have become quite close friends, so not much social difficulties in school," he said.
Tristan Pang, who graduated with a science degree last week aged 17, skipped secondary school entirely. He started studying maths at Auckland University part-time when he was a 12-year-old at Ficino School in Mt Eden, and went to varsity fulltime from age 13.
The university accepted him only on condition that his mother was on campus at all times when he was there, otherwise his lecturers would have had to be vetted by police under the Vulnerable Children Act.
When he became president of the university maths club last year, his parents had to accompany him to a function for all club presidents so that he could get into the venue, Shadows Bar.
Easter said most NZ schools had strict rules keeping students in classes matching their age group. Only between 2 and 4 per cent of children in each primary school year level in 2017 were younger than the standard age for their year level.
She became interested in the issue when she had to fight for her own son Ashley to skip Year 3 because he was bored.
Ashley Easter, now 31 and a scientist at AstraZeneca in Britain, said: "In my first week of school I remember my mum talking to my entrance teacher who said, 'Why on earth did you teach him to read - now what do I do with him?"
"I constantly found myself knowing answers that were being taught already," he said.
But Association for Gifted Children president Brooke Trenwith said Associate Education Minister Tracey Martin had promised that 600 new learning support coordinators in schools would guide independent learning plans for gifted children as well as students falling behind.
"It's the most movement we've had in gifted education in 10 years," she said.
Ann Easter, who coordinated a national team of 20 gifted education advisers until funding was axed in 2010, said she was "hopeful" about the new roles, but warned that teachers would need training to identify and support gifted students.