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Thursday, 5 October, 2000, 03:08 GMT 04:08 UK
Teachers swap ideas with US
Estelle Morris
Estelle Morris: Wants to learn from good US practice
By BBC News Online's Gary Eason in Washington DC

Teachers in tough schools in England are to get an opportunity to find out how their American counterparts are doing.

Fifty teachers working in "challenging" schools in England are to get the chance to visit the United States to share ideas on driving up standards.

The places are being set aside on the Teachers' International Development Programme, it was announced at an Anglo-US conference on how best to turn around under-performing schools.

The School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, said: "We need to learn from each other if we are to build education systems which are fit for the 21st Century."

She is heading the English delegation of about two dozen education officials and head teachers who are meeting their American counterparts at the conference in Washington DC.

Failure 'not acceptable'

"I hope the US and UK can share good practice and learn from each other," she said.

"I very much hope that the contacts we make on this trip will be nurtured and expanded to benefit more schools in both our countries."

The international development scheme is to help thousands of teachers a year to make exchange visits or overseas study trips of up to two weeks - although there is no funding for covering their teaching responsibilities while they are away, so they are supposed to travel during school holidays.

Ms Morris's sentiments were echoed by her host, the US Education Secretary, Richard Riley.

Although the American and UK education systems differed, he said, schools that were not doing what it took to create the shared desire for a "universe of learners" were unacceptable no matter which side of the Atlantic they were on.

Disadvantaged backgrounds

Ms Morris said the gap between the best and worst performing schools in both countries was too great.

"We can not accept that some children are likely to fail because of their background or the school they go to.

"Whatever school a child goes to, there must be the opportunity to achieve - we can not allow exclusion from society because of failure of the education system."

At secondary level, there were 530 schools where fewer than one in four pupils did not get five good passes in their GCSE exams - half of them in rural areas.

But there were schools in deprived areas that did have "outstanding" results.

Leadership

"Good leadership is critical, and that is why the government is establishing the National College for School Leadership to give heads and other school leaders the high quality support, challenge and refreshment they need."

Giving them the chance to see how the US tackled the same difficulties should inspire school leaders, she said.

Secretary Riley said the key was to turn theories about what worked into practice.

Being a country music fan, he quoted a song by Kathy Mattea, wondering as she watched children play what they would be one day.

"Some will dream big dreams, and make it all come true and others will go on dreaming things they'll never do" - seeds which landed in fertile soil or in sand.

He said all children had potential which had to be fostered and helped to flourish.

And he invoked the now unfashionable "special relationship" between the two countries by quoting former British prime minister Winston Churchill about joining the nations' forces and convictions to make clear the future for all, "not only for our time, but for a century to come."

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See also:

04 Oct 00 | Education
Anglo-US drive on failing schools
22 Aug 00 | Education
US bid to patch up crumbling schools
20 Apr 00 | Education
Students 'should study abroad'
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