With a total of 17 countries and over 20 languages being spoken at this event, it has been a great start to the EPOS vzw/Ryckevelde vzw Comenius Contact Seminar. There are three Brits here, two of whom can speak Welsh (bizarrely – I mean I speak bizarre Welsh, the other teacher was fluent but it was bizarre that two out of three Brits had a grasp of the language), a French headteacher who is bilingual French/Breton, several Flemish (loud and enthusiastic, by and large), Spaniards, Portuguese, Latvians, Finns, Swedes, Poles, Germans, Romanians, Cypriots, Italians, Dutch, Turks, Slovenes, and one other nationality I can’t remember now. Supper at our table was with two Latvians, a Swede from Helsingborg, a German from Karlsruhe and the Breton guy who is rapidly becoming a good friend and who might end up on any project we do.
After the meal (unidentified soup followed by unidentified meat casserole – but nice!) we listened to a couple of teachers who form a local folk group playing diatonic accordion and pipes – really good folk singing (in Dutch and Swedish) and fine playing, a treat for those present.
Then there was a free beer (a lot of that going on here) followed by a late night tour of the city which ended up with a long discussion in a bar somewhere discussing the merits and demerits of English education with a Finnish teacher and a deputy head from Blackpool. These things do degenerate.
Anyway, without expecting to, I have this evening conversed badly in French, Dutch/Afrikaans (what I spoke really was a mixture), Welsh, and German. Some radical improvement is needed in each of these departments, I quickly realise.
The conversation with the Finnish guy in the bar was the most enlightening – and depressing – part of the evening. He argued, and I think we have to agree on this, that the English inspection sytem (OK, so we got talking about OFSTED) was actually detrimental to children’s development and educational health. The Blackpool deputy disagreed, saying that without inspection and rigorous observation, his teachers would just fail to improve. The payoff here is that Finns train their teachers well, to pretty much masters’ level, and we don’t. But the thing about OFSTED being detrimental was acknowledged by us all. The Finnish teacher (whose wife had worked in Tottenham for three years and experienced an inspection, so he did have an insight) said that he didn’t feel that the OFSTED system was sustainable. Well, I am sure the government wants it to be. But damaging, it most certainly now is.
One last thing that has been a cause of concern for all teachers I have spoken to tonight is the challenge presented by immigration. There has been no overt racism in anything I have heard, but the worry is definitely there, and the various solutions or non-solutions adopted by different countries have been a source of interested discussion.
All of this stops me having to think too much about the wretched decision of the General Synod of the Church of England (let’s hear it for the proud House of Laity!) to deny the ordination of women bishops. Nick Baines has a helpful perspective.