A man who knows what he wants

10th August 2007 at 01:00
Continuing our series profiling education conveners, Henry Hepburn speaks to Glasgow's Gordon Matheson

GORDON MATHESON embodies the go-ahead philosophy that defines modern-day Glasgow.

The city council's executive member for education and social renewal is not prepared to fall back on poverty and deprivation as ex-planations for poor performance in schools. Far from it he believes Glasgow has never had it better, and this should be reflected in its schools. "It's not acceptable, and it's not necessary, that Glasgow should be down the league table of educational attainment," he says.

"If we don't get it right in the current climate, when will we? While the economy is buoyant and there is genuine partnership working, this is the time to address some of the long-standing problems."

Matheson identifies three areas of educational success that he hopes to look back on, come the 2011 local elections. He wants to see professional morale raised, increased attainment and achievement, and "a situation where not one of our pupils leaves school and goes on the dole".

Yet he does not come across as an enforcer brought in to knock everyone into shape. He has a reputation for having tremendous energy and making it clear where he stands, but also for demonstrating a lighter touch.

The 40-year-old, who is in his third term as a councillor, can draw on a diverse range of experience. He followed a Glasgow University sociology degree with a postgraduate diploma in equality and discrimination from Strathclyde University, later working for the Citizens Ad-vice Bureau and in economic development in Castlemilk.

In recent years, he has been with the Royal National Institute for the Blind he is working his notice to concentrate on council business as an employment consultant and latterly on the campaigning side.

He may not have worked as a teacher, although he was vice-convener of the council's old education services committee for two years, but it has been predicted that he will make up for any lack of educational experience with his enthusiasm, astuteness and an open-minded approach.

Union leaders have been encouraged by his willingness to hear their views; they do not expect to en-counter the intransigence that hampered some past relationships. Former colleagues say he has a knack of getting big decisions right.

One of his first challenges has been to take in the findings of the city council's education commission. A "zero tolerance" policy on failings in literacy and numeracy was the focus, a stance Matheson backs completely. If put into practice, some 90 teachers will form "champion teams" of three to dev-elop numeracy and literacy in the city's 29 learning communities.

"Call me old-fashioned, but our kids should be able to read and write after 11 years of compulsory education," he says.

The idea of specialist schools is another that Matheson supports, while stressing that this would be different from the English model where the focus is on a particular area of the school. He visualises a broader interpretation of "specialism", where schools could establish links with Glasgow-based institutions such as BBC Scotland, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra or organisations in prominent industries, such as tourism.

He points to the wide variety of activities in the learning units at Celtic and Rangers football clubs, where children might discuss sectarianism, write match reports or look at financial affairs. "This could stretch our more academic-ally-minded kids too," he says. "It's not only about those who are difficult to engage."

Matheson also talks up the commission's idea of business-style appraisals for heads. "I am very enthusiastic about A Curriculum for Excellence, and I want more creativity and development of the curriculum led by teachers in schools," he says. "But the flip side is that we all need to be convinced that teaching and learning is robust."

Get Matheson talking on education and he is difficult to stop, but these are not stream of consciousness ramblings more a succession of bold statements of intent: "I have passion and focus I know what I'm trying to achieve."

After years of industrial decline, there is a bullish self-confidence to Glasgow. With the upbeat, effusive Matheson at the helm, the education sector will be no exception.

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