Professor of tough realities

3rd September 2010 at 01:00

Norman Drummond, former headteacher at Loretto School in Musselburgh and founder of Columba 1400, has been appointed visiting professor in educational leadership at Edinburgh University. Visiting professorships are often titular. This one may be different.

In his inaugural professorial lecture, he confronted current orthodoxy. "Perhaps for far too long, we have concentrated more upon what is in the heads of our young people as opposed to what is waiting to be elicited from their hearts," he said. "We have therefore valued a largely didactic system where knowledge or necessary facts are given out to be learned, assimilated and tested - and then measured and ranked to such an extent that verifiable certainty has taken the place of wonder and possibility amidst learning the lessons of life."

Columba 1400 has worked with young people from "tough realities" and enjoyed support from the Scottish Executive and Government, although one educational academic suggested "the Columba `mission' sits rather uneasily with academic approaches to leadership".

Drummond challenges the gurus of educational leadership by prioritising ethical issues. He has said "courage and integrity should be the drivers of inspirational leadership in a world where greed and mediocrity have become too common". He also said that a corporate world plagued by mediocrity, bureaucracy and greed causes people to underperform, and miss the purpose of their daily activities.

His lecture was explicit: "Success has been so judged in academic terms that qualifications come first and qualities second, if not last. Yet those who live in the real world of employment or lack of it, of opportunity or lack of it, know that, while qualifications may get you a job or achieve a position, it is qualities of character, the power within, that enable you not only to keep that job but to improve it, not merely to manage others in your charge and care but to lead and inspire them as well." That certainly implies disagreements with the inspectorate.

Drummond graduated in law at Cambridge and in divinity at Edinburgh before entering the Church of Scotland ministry. He served as an army chaplain, as chaplain at Fettes and as headteacher of Loretto. He has never taught in the comprehensive sector; many there will thus be suspicious. Yet almost all in the comprehensive sector who have worked with him hold him in the highest regard. Perhaps the very fact of being an outsider underpins his criticisms of Scottish education and society.

The appointment focuses attention on the future of Edinburgh University's school of education. Mike Russell's retracted parliamentary statement, that the Moray House campus would be sold, signalled a fundamental debate on teacher training. Universities are increasingly unwilling to have a separate education faculty. An appointment such as Drummond's adds a powerful voice in defence of Moray House to which a new dean, Professor Cara Aitchison, has recently been appointed.

University education departments, traditionally conformist, may be changing with appointments from outside the Scottish establishment such as Aitchison's and Tony Townsend's to the chair of public service, educational leadership and management at Glasgow University.

If Drummond's appointment continues that process, the Scottish educational world may be facing exciting times.

Alex Wood is head of Wester Hailes Education Centre, Edinburgh.

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