Jackie Brock

You were one of the most senior civil servants in the Scottish government's learning directorate - what did that entail?

I was responsible for leading the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence with the support of the Curriculum for Excellence management board. It focused on ensuring that the CfE programme was on track - for example, around qualifications - but also looking at some of the underlying issues we wanted to address, such as improving teachers' confidence and parents' understanding of CfE.

How confident are you that the first group of pupils to sit the new National exams will not be disadvantaged?

Very confident. As a parent whose child will experience the new qualifications, I wish my older child was experiencing them, too.

This reform appears to have generated more controversy than any other in recent times - why?

It's been said many times that change is difficult and it's unfortunate that financial pressures facing local authorities have come at a time when teachers and schools really needed more flexibility around resources to help plan for their continuing professional development, etc. So actually, the progress that's been made by schools despite all of that is even more impressive. I received a piece of advice - whenever it gets too much, go out and see a school and you are reminded of what positive places they are and how uplifting they are. And I did it - it kept me sane - once a month.

Did the East Renfrewshire decision to delay introduction of the new exams muddy the waters?

They chose their local concerns - understandable from that local point of view - but I wish personally that they had also been aware of the impact that would have on the morale of others, in particular the neighbouring local authorities.

You're now on the other side of the fence when it comes to prospective legislation. How does that feel?

I genuinely don't feel I'm on the other side of the fence. I've got a great advantage, having worked as a member of Scottish government, in that I know how much determination there is to do the right thing for children and young people. And I know that increasingly now, from this perspective of the world. I've got a great opportunity to build a bridge in terms of understanding respective positions.

Is there a big gap?

I think there are some areas where there are significant gaps. I want to really help the education sector - but also the government - to understand the impact of the forthcoming welfare benefits legislation, because we already know that Scotland has significant challenges in terms of improving educational outcomes. We know those are linked to the socio- economic background of children - and this is going to get worse for children living in families dependent on benefits, but also for those who have to work really long hours to keep going.

Children in Scotland has been active in consulting other members of the sector on the Children and Young People Bill. What are the issues emerging already?

The issues are around implementation. People are pretty happy with the framework of the bill - childcare, early years, looked-after children, integrated services and children's rights. The worries are around implementation - how realistic is it?

One of your previous responsibilities in government was looked-after children. How can we improve the educational attainment of those young people?

I would really like Children in Scotland to be helping lead this debate. There's no shortage of ideas or proposals - I feel the key issue is that all the institutions must stop handwringing. We say in Scotland that we have a huge commitment to social justice - well we need to begin to make that real for those 16,000 looked-after children because we're failing at the moment. Those children aren't short of goodwill or ideas - there are some fantastic projects across Scotland. But together we're not knitting that together into a coherent package backed up by the resources required. I'd like to be part of helping that change.

Will working in the voluntary sector unshackle you from the confines of government and civil service regulations?

It's a mixed blessing. I spoke on Newsnight, interviewed by Gordon Brewer, and I'm quite keen never to experience that again. I've learned a lot from working with ministers and supporting them to work with the media, so it's a great opportunity for me to be able to develop a voice given the experience I've had.

Were there times you wished you could have said more but couldn't because of the way the civil service works?

I saw ministers at times under extreme pressure, facing calls to halt the (CfE) programme, delay it, and I admire the ability to withstand that pressure. I wish more voices had come and said that more publicly.

What is it about children's services that has made you want to remain in that sector?

When it came to the stage where I knew I needed to be moving on from government, I decided I wanted to stay within children's services because there's so much more to be done. We've got the right frameworks. but it's about making them real.


Born: London, 1962

Education: St Michael's Convent Grammar, London; Barnet College (sixth- form college); Southampton University (philosophy and politics)

Career: Various jobs in local government and voluntary sector, London; Edinburgh City Council; 10 years in Scottish government civil service, latterly deputy director for learning.