The world keeps on turning

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Lessons from abroad are never straightforward. They require cultural and contextual caution. So it proved with the study visit by Peter Peacock and his team to New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. There were many issues that might have provoked ministerial envy, such as the deferential attitudes of Singapore pupils which means that indiscipline is, literally, a foreign concept even in a country with average class sizes of 40 (a deliberate strategy, it seems, in order to maintain teacher quality).

On the other hand, as even the Singapore education ministry admits, regimented and pressurised schooling leads to stress and an absence of creative thinking. So even apparently successful systems, as measured solely by attainment, have their challenges. As a result, none of the three countries had been sitting on their educational laurels: as Mr Peacock observed, schools may yearn for stability but few governments are obliging them. There may not be permanent states of revolution, but there is certainly a permanent air of reform.

The most indelible impression left from this particular Easter break was the fact that very disparate systems have common problems and a shared agenda for facing up to them - even a shared language. Now this may be due to the peculiar narrowness of policy-making communities the world over, and to the jargon that goes with it. But the criticisms from political and teacher opposition also sound remarkably familiar. The comments from the News South Wales Teachers' Federation are a throwback to the contentious days of Michael Forsyth's ministry. So perhaps things do move on.

Mr Peacock will now have to digest what he has learnt. Whatever emerges, one thing is certain: reforms will be home-grown, informed by an acceptance that in education "there are few right answers".

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