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Birds of a feather

This is a tale of three education ministers, to wit Messrs Peacock, Mallard and Hen. Yes, we realise we couldn't have made it up: now, no metaphors please.

During his trip down under over Easter, Peter was guest of Trevor, his Kiwi counterpart, at a dinner in the Beehive. The place, given its name by its shape rather than anything else readers might have in mind, is home to the Wellington parliament. It was, of course, buzzing.

It didn't take long to emerge that, decentralised although New Zealand's schools system is, Mallard has been left to peck at all the thorny issues - school closures, transport, exclusions and special needs. Suddenly local government in Scotland looked oh so attractive.

While Mallard might propose, he doesn't often dispose, as was well illustrated by some U-turns on school closures which were deftly executed during the Scottish visit. But it's a different story in Singapore where Peacock met the third political bird on his itinerary, Ng Eng Hen, Singapore's Minister of State for Education.

Ng, a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, it turns out, also runs a centralised system. But it is altogether more efficient. Indeed we were told that he can issue a decree and, within 30 minutes, it is implemented. Peacock could be forgiven for looking a little wistful at this point.

But there was more to come. Singapore, we learnt, has average class sizes of 40, streams pupils at the P4 stage and produces youngsters who bow when adults walk into their schoolroom. Are these perchance related?

By this stage, Peacock's wist was well and truly full. Of course, it seems unnecessary to add, there will be none of that nonsense here.

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