Glasgow education director Maureen McKenna to retire

One of the most powerful voices in Scottish education, McKenna has been Glasgow's education director since 2007

Henry Hepburn

Glasgow education boss Maureen McKenna to step down

Maureen McKenna, Glasgow’s executive director of education, has announced her intention to retire at the end of this year.

Ms McKenna's decision will bring the departure of one of the strongest – and at times most outspoken – voices in Scottish education after 14 years in the job. In that time she also had a spell as president of the national education directors' body ADES.

Staff across schools, nurseries and the council have been informed of the news today.


LISTEN: Maureen McKenna on the Tes Scotland podcast

Recap: What inspectors said about education in Glasgow in 2019

Maureen McKenna on exclusions: Scottish schools get rid of exclusion ‘reflex’

From the archive: How we reported Maureen McKenna's appointment in 2007


In a statement, Glasgow City Council said that "Maureen’s main aim throughout her tenure has been to empower schools and staff to nurture every one of Glasgow’s children, young people and their families".

The council added: "Maureen has led the transformational change of the city’s learning and teaching, which has resulted in significant increases in attainment and achievement with more young people leaving to go to higher and further education than ever before and a monumental drop in exclusions – down 94 per cent since 2007.

"'If children and young people are not in school, they are not learning' has been a phrase well used in Glasgow’s schools during Maureen’s time at the top."

Maureen McKenna 'changed the landscape of education in Glasgow'

The council said that "key highlights" of Ms McKenna's tenure included "outstanding recognition for Glasgow’s learning and teaching practices" and "success in reducing exclusions and youth violence [which] has resulted in a number of English local authorities and the London VRU (Violence Reduction Unit) looking to Glasgow to learn".

It also noted that "nurturing approaches" had been "nationally and internationally recognised for the innovative practices that have reaped rewards in the city’s schools and nurseries".

In March 2019 Glasgow's education services were praised by Education Scotland for improving learning and raising attainment and achievement across the city, and making excellent progress in closing the national poverty-related attainment gap.

In 2015, Ms McKenna was made an OBE for services to education in Glasgow and Malawi – she is the founding member of Malawi Leaders of Learning, set up in 2011 to share learning and teaching good practice and keep girls in education in the country in southeastern Africa.

In an interview for the Tes Scotland podcast in November 2019, Ms McKenna – a former maths teacher – said that the probation scheme for teachers was the greatest success of Scottish education in recent years.

She also took issue with criticism of Scottish education but conceded that there could be a danger of it operating in an echo chamber at times, and was concerned that that the politicisation of education in Scotland "stifles the opportunities to be innovative and creative, because people are too concerned about what the backlash might be".

In the Tes Scotland podcast, she also defended the controversial mass rollout of iPads in Glasgow schools and spoke about being forced by budget cuts to propose action that she does not believe in.

In the podcast she reflected on why it was right that school exclusions are now so rare in Scotland, the unique challenges that teachers face in Glasgow, how to nurture a love of maths, the "lifelong challenge" of sectarianism, and the astonishing sexism she faced as an international basketball referee.

Susan Aitken, leader of Glasgow City Council, today said: “During the last 14 years Maureen has led the city’s education service with over 12,000 staff and with them has changed the landscape of education in the city.

“Maureen’s first and last thoughts are always with Glasgow’s children and young people – she puts them at the heart of every decision we make.

“They say that teaching is a vocation – and there is not a truer word to describe Maureen and her commitment to education.”

Ms Aitken added: “Teaching in a big city like ours can often be challenging, but, despite the issues many of our families face, our schools and nurseries have never been more successful and that is down to the hard work, dedication and passion shown by Maureen, her leadership team, head office staff and all our staff in schools and nurseries.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Maureen for her determination and hard work during her time as our education director – she is a dominant force of nature and her legacy will live on in our pupils and their families and continue to impact for many years.

“Maureen will be a hard act to follow.”

Ms McKenna said today: I came to Glasgow in December 2007 because I love Glasgow and I knew education in the city could achieve so much more than it was doing at that time and together we have, over the years, proven that we have made the right transformational changes to improve the life chances of our pupils.

“Working in Glasgow has never been an easy shift, but it is unbelievably rewarding when we know that we are making a difference in the support given to our families.

“Education in the city is changing lives for the better and it will continue to do so because you and your staff are passionate about this commitment to your families.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the work that our schools and nurseries do every day, and this is much more than learning and teaching – it is well documented how our nurturing approaches and early interventions are turning lives around.

“The last 18 months have been very challenging but the leadership from our schools has been inspiring to say the least.

“We have got through this time with compassion, teamwork and empowerment at all levels and I want to take this opportunity to pass on my heartfelt thanks once again.

“I will always love Glasgow, I love my job and will be forever grateful that I was able to work with you all to deliver the very best education, which is what our children and young people deserve.

“I know that the city will continue to go from strength to strength with nurture at the heart of everything we do.”

Recruitment for Glasgow's new executive director of education will open this Friday.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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