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England's no show at international teaching summit a 'disgrace'

Ministers representing many of the world's top-performing and fastest-improving school systems gathered in Wellington, New Zealand, last weekend for a high-level summit.

But while big hitters including Arne Duncan, the American education secretary, was there, along with representatives from the likes of Finland, Japan and Poland, there was a notable absence: England.

Topics under discussion at the fourth annual International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) included how to attract high-quality teachers to schools with greatest need.

But despite his enthusiasm for international comparisons and high-performing nations in Pisa (the Programme for International Student Assessment), neither England's education secretary Michael Gove, or any of his team, made the trip.

The Department for Education has explained that Scottish education minister Michael Russell was at the summit representing the UK, but the Scottish National Party politician has no power over education in England and all Mr Russell’s contributions were billed as coming from United Kingdom (Scotland).

“I think it’s a disgrace actually,” said John Bangs, from Education International, the global teaching union federation and joint organiser of the summit alongside the OECD, which produces the Pisa rankings.

“I think Gove is a fish out of water at these summits because he is constantly confronted with evidence that says that to create an education system is not simply a question of devolving power to individual schools.”

It is possible that union involvement in the summit was one reason. But the education secretary has always been keen to emphasise the “importance of teaching” – the major underlying theme of the international conference.

Another explanation for Mr Gove’s absence could be the sheer distance time involved in travelling to the other side of the world, but last year’s summit was held in Amsterdam, a mere hop over the north sea, and there was no minister from England there either.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The secretary of state was unable to attend due to diary commitments. Scottish Education Minister Michael Russell MSP attended on behalf of the UK.”

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