Chalk Talk: Where in the world can you find a decent education?


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The Independent Online

First it was Michael Gove wanting to embrace the Swedish schools' reforms to try and inject new life into efforts to raise standards in schools.

Then there was Educom – the new, fashionable name for the Commons Select Committee on Education – whose members quietly slipped out of the country to visit Singapore to see whether this high-ranking country (in terms of performance) could offer us an insight into the successful teaching of maths and English.

The latest country to be included in the quest for the Holy Grail is Japan, which Labour's education spokesman Stephen Twigg plans to visit soon to look at how they have reformed education – it is in the top five of the world's best performing nations.

Expect, therefore, the words "Kounaikenshuu" and "jugyou kenkyuu" to replace "Kunskapsskolan" (the Swedish free school pioneers) in the political education lexicon in the future.

"Kounaikenshuu" is the term used in Japan for the kind of continuous school-based professional development Japanese teachers have that England's teachers can only dream of. "Jugyou kenkyuu" means lesson planning – an important element of "Kounaikenshuu", where groups of teachers meet regularly over long periods of time to work on the design of lessons.

Twigg believes that, if Britain could adopt these concepts, we could have a teaching body that is universally viewed as professionals. "Teachers are skilled professionals," he says. "But if we're honest, they don't have the same parity as doctors."

They do in Finland – another country cited by Gove in his search for nirvana – where teacher training courses are as popular as medical courses are over here. (The Government tends to overlook, though, that Finland also eschews league tables and doesn't have a chief inspector of schools or national curriculum testing.)

My point is not to belittle those who search overseas for answers to our education problems – just to suggest they should not put all their eggs in one basket.

After all, when I was visiting Sweden, I was told of one high-ranking education official I wanted to interview: "He's over in the UK – studying your education system."