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Voyages of discovery can pay off

Travel may indeed broaden the mind but it can also expose you to strong criticism, as Jane Davidson discovered again this week. Tory Welsh Assembly member David Davies has derided the education and lifelong learning minister for jetting off on a 12-day fact-finding trip to New Zealand.

Is it true that Ms Davidson could learn all she wants to know about antipodean education by merely surfing the web? Of course not. Anyone who has visited schools abroad knows how vivid the memories remain long after the dry facts that can be gleaned from the internet have been totally forgotten. Yes, Jane Davidson likes to clock up air miles. In one seven-month period in 2002 the hyperactive minister made five trips to Italy, Spain, Holland, Denmark and then Italy again. She has also visited Canada, the Basque region of Spain and, more controversially, Cuba, where she signed a "memorandum of understanding" committing the two countries to work together in education.

It is debatable how valuable such gestures are, but Ms Davidson has returned from other trips bursting with ideas that she has then put into practice. She was, for example, so impressed by the French immersion classes for Angolophones that she saw in Canada that she decided to launch a six-month crash course in Welsh for 10-year-old English-speakers in Wales.

One suspects that something similar will happen this autumn if she is smitten with some initiative in Wanganui. Ms Davidson has long been committed to learning from best practice in other countries and she has a lengthy shopping list of items to discuss in New Zealand - early childhood and bilingual education, vocational programmes, information and communications technology in the curriculum and collaborative learning.

So the charge that she is a junketeer does not stand up to scrutiny. But it does seem unfair that Welsh teachers do not have the same opportunity to study good practice overseas because the Assembly has slashed funding for the General Teaching Council's continuing professional development programme.

No doubt Ms Davidson will be more determined to rectify that inequity when she returns tanned and enthused from New Zealand.

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