Past may haunt him, but Manson's future is fearless

4th December 2009 at 00:00
The new president of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland speaks to Emma Seith about budget cuts, island life and sea kayaking

When a young Leslie Manson told his P1 teacher he had spent his weekend riding a white elephant through the streets of London, little did he know his flight of fancy would come back to haunt him as an adult. When he took up his first teaching post at the same school, Papdale Primary, his former teacher told the entire staff. It was an early lesson learned. "In a place like Orkney, you can't get away from your past," says Mr Manson, now Orkney's director of education.

Working in a small community, you have to be consultative and democratic, he continues, qualities he hopes to bring to his new role leading Scotland's education directors. He admits he is not familiar with the levels of deprivation some of his colleagues have to deal with, or the scale of some of their operations. But his perspective is not hugely different, he argues, and he is prepared to listen.

Mr Manson decided to become a teacher at university after spending a summer working as an auxiliary nurse. The experience made him realise he wanted to work with people in public service, he says: "I was also influenced by my father, an engineer who had retrained to become a technical teacher."

However, he did not want to be "in a box teaching just maths". He wanted to share with pupils his passion for sport and literature, so he trained as a primary teacher, becoming director in Orkney in 1998.

He was the third youngest director in Scotland after John Stodter, former education director of Aberdeen City, and John Christie, former education director in the Borders - both ADES luminaries.

Budget cuts will be "the number one issue" over the next couple of years, predicts Mr Manson. One of his greatest fears is that access to the "crucial" area of culture, sport and outdoor education for pupils will go.

Partaking in such activities helped shape him, feels the father of five and self-confessed lifelong learner. Over the past two years he has learnt to play the side drum and started sea kayaking, thanks to his wife, a chartered teacher, also called Lesley.

Other sporting achievements include winning The Ba', Orkney's mass football match held on Christmas Day and New Year's Day. The accolade is given for consistency, being a team player and being dependable. If this were the view of all teachers in Orkney, Mr Manson would be unique among directors of education in Scotland.

He is described by one observer as "intelligent, sharp and focused". And, while he is not regarded as coming from the brutal wing of the directorate, it is said that "pleasing people is not high on his agenda".

  • Age: 56
  • Born: Orkney
  • Education: Kirkwall Grammar; Aberdeen University; Aberdeen College of Education
  • First teaching post: Papdale
  • Primary in Kirkwall
  • Current post: director of education in Orkney.

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