Director warns of dim treatment for the brightest

Orkney's veteran education chief fears for CfE's future

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The guiding principles of Curriculum for Excellence are in danger of being lost, with one set of exams simply swapped for another, according to Scotland's longest-serving education director.

Leslie Manson, who had held the post in Orkney for 16 years until he retired last week, said that the education system had improved during his tenure. However, he was concerned that the brightest students were losing out in the wake of the recent reforms being implemented by schools.

Mr Manson praised the underlying vision of CfE, but said he was worried that it was seen as a "panacea" for all of Scotland's educational ills. The principles were "slowly being lost as we replace one qualifications regime with another", he told TESS.

The former teacher and headteacher said the Scottish education system was now superior in many ways to when he started out. "It certainly ensures that those needing support are more likely to receive it, and it offers more opportunities in sports, arts and outdoor learning than previously," Mr Manson said.

But this had not come without a cost, he added. "Perhaps understandably something has had to give, and I suspect that is the attainment of the most able," he said.

Throughout his career, Mr Manson said, he had learned that "people who work with children and young people need to care about them and understand them and the contexts of their lives".

"Education is principally about people, relationships and communication, and without quality in all three, learning is diminished," he said.

Mr Manson said he took great satisfaction in having dedicated his whole working life in his native community, although there had been low points, most notably the tragic death of a teenager killed by a car after getting off a school bus. "I was months in the job. You are supposed to be the director and, really, there are so many things you cannot control," he said.

However, it had been a "continuous source of pride" to see education - along with his other remits covering leisure and housing - perform well, he added.

Most councils had tried to ensure that pupils were protected from the budget cuts of recent years, Mr Manson said, and had instead reduced administration and development. "That's OK in the short term, but the strategic capacity of councils has almost certainly suffered and the impact of that may take some time to show itself," he warned.

To achieve the level of change required and to make Scotland's public service fit for future demands, a completely new structure of local government was needed, he said.

Current attempts to streamline the structure felt like "sticking plaster on a system that is too complex and expensive for a country of five million people", Mr Manson said, adding: "I think there would be efficiencies and savings from a single public authority and so the expected future cuts would impact less on children and young people."

But he advised his successor not to focus wholly on the bottom line. "Public service is about people," he said. "Process and performance are to be acknowledged and done well, but if you get obsessed with process and performance there is a danger of losing the raison d'tre of the whole thing. Keep that in mind, young fellow, I'd say. Or fellowette, as the case may be."

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