IT HAS been quite a year for Bruce Robertson, Aberdeenshire's incoming director of education and recreation.
He is moving from the equivalent post in Highland after eight years. He has also been elected president of the Association of Directors in Scotland, so he will speak for them in a crucial year that could see new Scottish Executive and local government administrations elected.
He and his team triumphed in the Scottish Education Awards this year, scooping four, including Education Authority of the Year. And on Tuesday, his department's seasonal staff party saw him as "probably the first Doric Santa in Inverness".
As that suggests, his new job, which he starts on February 26, is a return to his roots; he was born in Ellon 55 years ago. He began his career in education as a history and modern studies teacher at Bridge of Don Academy, and was later depute rector of The Gordon Schools in Huntly, before a run of directorate posts in the former Grampian Region and Aberdeenshire, where he was head of education for two years until moving to Highland "I'm the product of rural education," he says. "I've worked in rural education, and Aberdeenshire was the only other authority I would have considered in Scotland."
He acknowledges that, while Aberdeenshire is an authority with high-attaining schools, the education service lacks direction and leadership, not helped by the abrupt departure of his predecessor Sohail Faruqi. "My priority in the first year will be to put the service back on track," he says.
He will have little option. The authority faces three scrutiny exercises next year - a "round two" inspection by HMIE, a child protection inspection and a best-value investigation by Audit Scotland.
"I won't be short of a few external visitors," he says.
Mr Robertson also returns to the north-east at a time when Aberdeenshire is struggling to attract teachers. It has begun an overseas recruitment campaign, but he believes it is not sustainable: "There has to be an overall policy, and that has got to begin with Aberdeen University to ensure the authority gets the possible crop of new young teachers, and then holds on to them."
He has mixed emotions about leaving Highland, where he has had the "best eight years" of his career. But he felt the time was right to move, having guided through the second round of school modernisation under a public private partnership and planning for the Highland Year of Culture 2007 (culture and sport were added to his remit in 2001 - "successfully", he believes).
Another factor in his decision to move was the departure of his chairman, Councillor Andy Anderson, with whom he had a productive relationship. In an independently run council with many discordant voices, it is quite a feat to be able to say that none of the recommendations from officials to the education committee has been defeated in eight years.
Mr Robertson has been seen by his colleagues as a man who gives firm direction and is an energetic innovator. "Aberdeenshire has a real talent in Bruce," one says. "He is one of the more competent directors of education. Things happen around him. He doesn't wait for things to happen to him."
At least Mr Robertson's new education chairman in Liberal Democrat-led Aberdeenshire will know about these qualities: Dick Stroud and he were once colleagues in Aboyne Academy.