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We want to travel, too

Minister's trip Down Under backed but teachers want same opportunities. Karen Thornton reports

Teachers are backing education minister Jane Davidson's 12-day trip to New Zealand - but want the same opportunities to see good practice overseas.

Ms Davidson's late announcement of her mission Down Under - on the day the Welsh Assembly went into recess - has been criticised by David Davies, the Conservatives' education spokesman. He said it denied members the chance to suggest areas of interest they would like her to look into while overseas.

But teachers believe seeing good practice is part of the minister's job, though their own opportunities for overseas visits have been curtailed by cuts at the General Teaching Council for Wales.

The GTCW awarded 280 international visit grants last year, but no longer has a separate budget for overseas professional development. The overall professional development budget has been cut this year from pound;5million to pound;1.5m.

However, teachers can apply for pound;500 training bursaries, which can be used to fund visits to schools and to see good practice both in and outside the UK. The GTCW still has bursaries available, and they have to be allocated by next March or the money will return to the Welsh Assembly.

Sandra Morris Jones, head of Welsh at Penglais secondary school in Aberystwyth, spent a week visiting French immersion classes in two English-medium schools in Ottawa, the Canadian capital, last October. Her own school is English medium, but teaches both first and second-language Welsh to pupils from English-speaking families.

She said: "It was incredibly interesting and I would recommend it to anyone. I had read a lot about Canada before, but being there really makes the difference.

"We have to be prepared to learn from other people. It's essential for ministers to liaise with their counterparts in other parts of the world, just as teachers are expected to with other teachers."

Angela Jardine, a key stage 1 teacher at Gabalfa primary, Cardiff, and an elected member of the GTCW, went to Italy last October to look at the child-centred approach to early-years education adopted by its reggio emilia centres. The aim was to prepare for the introduction of the new foundation stage in Wales.

"Since then, we've set up a network and been working together to produce materials and disseminate them to a broader range of teachers and pupils.

You can read papers and articles about reggio, but there is nothing to compensate for going there."

She believes Jane Davidson is right to visit other countries to see good practice. The problem is the perception of it being a "jolly".

She added: "I hope international visits can become a valuable and accepted part of professional development - and move away from this idea that it's a 'jolly'."

Gethin Lewis, secretary of the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said ministerial visits could be extremely useful, but said travel grants are no longer available for serving teachers.

Anna Brychan, director of the National Association of Head Teachers Cymru, said: "We're glad to know that there is enough money in the budget for our education minister to go on fact-finding trips like this. Maybe Ms Davidson could take a delegation of teachers with her next time."

In her letter to the Assembly, Ms Davidson says she plans to focus on early-years education, vocational and bilingual provision, with visits to pilot early-education centres as well as schools.

"I expect the visit to enable me to link Wales with best practice gained from a flexible and innovative education system that has institutions working in challenging circumstances and shares a number of common interests with us as regards lifelong learning and community centred learning," she said.

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