Obituary

28th August 2009 at 01:00

Sir James Munn, who died earlier this month at the age of 89, was one of those eponymous figures in Scottish education, indelibly associated with reports that bear their name - Dunning, Pack, Stimpson, Houghton, Clegg, Main, McCrone.

Munn was a perfect choice to chair the committee which investigated the S3-4 curriculum from 1975-77 and led to the founding of Standard grade. He prided himself on being a consensus man and, indeed, his well-modulated tones suggested a civil servant rather than a product of Bridge of Allan. But that is what shaped him - the civil service, not Bridge of Allan. It was not any old civil service, but the Indian Civil Service, which attracted many bright young things of his generation and where he spent his early career from 1941-48.

Not surprisingly, he cut a somewhat patrician figure and stood out from the ranks of Scottish dominies on that account. A modern languages man, Munn began his teaching career in Glasgow after his return from India following that country's independence, moving eventually to several posts in Falkirk. In 1966, he was appointed rector of Rutherglen Academy and then of Cathkin High in Cambuslang where he remained for 13 years until his retirement in 1983.

Gradually, he began to acquire his reputation as an indispensable safe pair of hands. He was a member of the University Grants Committee and chaired the Scottish Consultative Committee on the Curriculum (forerunner of Learning and Teaching Scotland) from 1980-87, having been a member since 1968.

When Scottish ministers were looking for someone to take on the controversial job of chairing the Manpower Services Commission's committee for Scotland in 1984, the avuncular and urbane Sir James was an obvious candidate. The commission was widely mistrusted in schools over what was seen as its ambitions to mount a raid on education and training for 16-18 year olds. The shrewd choice of Munn gave the MSC respectability in educational circles.

But his chairmanship of the committee to review the S3-4 curriculum was his chief legacy, particularly the "eight modes of learning" which passed into orthodoxy. It was not without trenchant critics - notably a young Gordon Kirk, a member of his committee who wrote a dissenting minority report and went on to greater things as principal of Moray House College of Education.

Munn's skills were undoubtedly honed by his civil service past. Symbolically, one of his first tasks in the Indian state of Bihar was to recommend that a bridge be built across the Ganges to improve communications. His education career could be said to be the embodiment of building bridges.

Sir James is survived by his wife Muriel. A daughter, Elizabeth, predeceased him.

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