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Dutch MPs like what they hear

Civil servants in Scotland are enthusiastic about teachers. At least that is the conclusion of a group of parliamentarians from the Netherlands who paid a visit to their Scottish counterparts last week.

"One of our members said they had never heard such positive comments about teachers and schools as they heard from Scottish civil servants," said Clemens Cornielje, chairman of the committee for education, culture and science in the Dutch parliament.

In an echo of rhetoric on this side of the North Sea, the Liberal Democrat MP, who is a former teacher of biology and maths, said: "It's so important, you know, after many years of negative energy to acknowledge and appreciate the work that teachers do."

The Dutch MPs were particularly interested in two issues - how Scotland tackles the testing of young primary children and what steps are being taken to improve the standing of school science.

A packed itinerary took them to Hawthornden primary in Midlothian where they were given an enthusiastic endorsement of the PIPS assessment programme by Suzanne Thayne, the head, and her staff. One of the great debates in the Netherlands, Mr Cornielje said, was whether test performance should be linked to funding. The firm conclusion from their visit was that it should not.

The Dutch committee was also seeking to learn from the Scottish experience in promoting science. In the Netherlands, only 7 per cent of graduates in 2000 were from the sciences compared with a UK average of 18 per cent.

Mr Cornielje said there was an awareness of "the great Scottish tradition in the sciences", but the visitors heard also that school science "sticks too much to the formal and does not capitalise enough on the natural curiosity of children".

The committee's overall conclusion is that "while education is a priority for Scotland, there is also a great concern to improve quality".

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