The fraught business of school evaluation is a case in point. In recent years "inspection" services have generally become more professional but also more mechanistic - matching schools against long lists of performance criteria. However, a research study part-funded by the European Commission has confirmed that there are still huge philosophical and organisational differences between school evaluation systems in countries such as England, Germany and Belgium.
In Germany, for example, there are no school inspectors. The nearest equivalents are supervision officers who not only monitor schools but appoint teachers (other countries expect inspectors to set examinations, provide in-service training or help with administration).
Unlike the English, the Germans reason that schools cannot fail because they are roughly of the same standard, says the report's author, Dr Clive Hopes. If results are disappointing the authorities tend to blame pupils or parents.
The Belgians do have inspectors but do not publish their reports, fearing schools might be permanently damaged by public criticism.
England and Scotland are, in fact, the only countries out of the nine surveyed where full reports are published. England is also the only country where the chief inspector is interviewed on radio and television.
Dr Hopes, an English academic now based in Frankfurt, told a comparative education seminar at Bristol University last week that the Dutch have the best-trained inspectors. His report also commends the professional development of Scots inspectors. However, he says that the German and Italian approach to training is "in dire need of review".
He also criticises the "philosophical weaknesses" underpinning the English inspections service. But Dr Hopes clearly welcomes reform of Europe's school evaluation systems. "New methods are replacing the classical model of inspectors visiting schools and writing reports with no particular consequence or impact on the system," he says.
"Assessing, evaluating and assuring quality in schools in the European Union" can be obtained from Dr Clive Hopes, Deutsches Institut fuer Internationale Padagogische Forschung, Schlossstrasse 29, D-60486 Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
The Bristol event was the last of six seminars on comparative educational research held in Oxford, Warwick and Bristol over the past two years.
The seminar papers will be collected in two volumes edited by Professor Robin Alexander, Professor Patricia Broadfoot and Dr David Phillips. The first volume is to be published this month bySymposium Books, price pound;28.tel 01491-838 013e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org Norf-sam9 l Education researchers who wish to disseminate their findings in The TES should send summaries (750 words max) to David Budge, Research Editor, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY. Tel 0171 782 3276. E-mail: email@example.com.