A man for all changes

27th August 2004 at 01:00
Neil Munro talks to the new chief executive of Learning and Teaching Scotland

One man who will be hugely disappointed if the Scottish Executive's forthcoming curriculum review simply tinkers around the edges is the person charged with supporting the changes - Bernard McLeary, new chief executive of Learning and Teaching Scotland.

"I hope the review tackles the problem of the overcrowded curriculum," Mr McLeary says. "It will also need to address the issue of the critical skills which pupils will need if they are to grow up with the intellectual values and life skills that will be important for them and for society.

"Teachers will also have to be given more professional freedom and pupils allowed to follow their interests, but to do so in depth.

"We still need to get it right in terms of knowledge, content and achievement - but we need a balance. Not only is the curriculum overcrowded, there is also too much certification. What we need is a more personalised curriculum, one that develops youngsters' skills and attitudes."

Mr McLeary's personal "manifesto" follows naturally from the preoccupations of his previous job as director of education in Inverclyde. His emphasis there on social inclusion and continuous improvement in schools, which earned high praise from HMI, will have chimed with the inclinations of his new bosses.

His own career history brings the kind of perspective that LTS will want to promote. Although Mr McLeary taught modern studies and Russian, he does not regard himself as "a subject-specific man". He was a guidance adviser and much of his directorate life had been spent in special needs: indeed, he ran one of the first "sin bins" in Scotland at St Stephen's High in Port Glasgow where he taught for 11 years.

He believes this background gives him "more of a holistic view" of the school curriculum than many others. "I want LTS to take on a stronger strategic and leadership role, doing more innovative thinking," he says.

"And we need to explain more coherently what is happening."

As a former education director, Mr McLeary can be expected to be sensitised to any perception that LTS is stepping on the toes of local authorities.

Their view of the organisation has not been the most glowing at times in the past, so the word "partnership" springs frequently to Mr McLeary's lips.

But he adds: "There is too much reinventing of the wheel in the 32 education authorities, too much duplication. So we need to sharpen our contribution to what they are doing. There is a lot of cutting edge thinking in this organisation and we should be making that more available.

What we can offer should also help reduce the workload on authorities and on schools."

Mr McLeary sees a particular role for LTS in working with smaller authorities, perhaps seconding LTS staff to them. "I was very aware as a director that every time a new initiative came along, a small authority like Inverclyde had to respond in the same way as much larger places like North Lanarkshire with the much greater resources it can call on."

But even small authorities can think big and he cites Inverclyde's 5-14 pack to mark the visit of the Tall Ships Races to Greenock four years ago, which it was able to sell to others. "There is a lot of good work of that kind at local authority level," he says. "LTS should be able to quality assure these and make them available online. This is where our added value should lie."

The LTS chief believes there are also exciting developments in the offing which will energise continuing professional development, through the internet and the digital curriculum. He foresees the development of online communities and networks of people with similar interests, both pupils and teachers.

Mr McLeary does not plan to exist in an educational silo, however. "There are broader Executive policies that we need to address, such as the social justice and social inclusion agendas and preparing for the knowledge economy. We also have to recognise that schools are changing, with a growing number of non-teaching staff as we move to the ratio of one adult to 15 pupils.

"There is also the emphasis on the whole child, through the development of community schools, learning communities and the integration of children's services.

"We also have to be alert to the lifelong learning agenda, to a 3-18 curriculum which will include FE as well as schools, to the sport and health agendas - and to the ever-present march of technology."

Mr McLeary suggests he brings strengths from his previous job which will help LTS deal with these big challenges. "I like to think that I listen to people and take staff with me. I believe I also have clear management skills in focusing on objectives and delivering on them.

"I am a great believer in raising the bar and being ambitious to realise your objectives. I didn't accept, for example, that we should be complacent when I was in Inverclyde and use our social circumstances as an excuse for remaining as we were."

LTS has been warned.

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