Supremo on mission to make molehills out of mountains

29th June 2007 at 01:00
Glasgow's new head of education and social work is undaunted by the huge task ahead

MARGARET DORAN is clearly someone who relishes a challenge. Yet, the new head of education and social work in Glasgow says: "I'm in my dream job, to try to make a difference to the children of Glasgow."

She acknowledges the challenges of leading two services while making sure they act as one in a city that has the worst health record in Europe and came out at the bottom of all the league tables in the recent Index of Success survey carried out by Glasgow University.

Everything about Glasgow is on a huge scale. Ms Doran's combined budget, serving 84,000 young people, is pound;1.2 billion - almost the equivalent of the education budget for the old Strathclyde Region, which covered half of Scotland. The eastern area of Glasgow alone has an education budget of Pounds 69.9 million, larger than that of many education authorities.

Ms Doran has a reputation for being determined. She has already targeted her key priorities. The first is to build an early childhood strategy, so that every parent of a child from 0 to 5 has access to integrated childcare, health provision and education within "pram-pushing" distance.

But, she says: "If we are going to make a difference to the lives of families in the city, education cannot do it on its own." Thus another priority is to work with other parts of the council, as well as the voluntary and private sectors.

Her second task, she says, will be to step up a gear on behaviour support for pupils and schools, which, again, will require a multi-agency approach.

But Ms Doran also plans a positive "Be All You Can Be" strategy.

This will also involve working with other agencies, not least the cultural, sports and health services.

There seems a sense in which Ms Doran's career, shaped by her roots in a mining family, has been a preparation for her current job. One of her early experiences when she was a student was working on a literacy scheme in Glasgow with parents of under-fives.

Later, as depute and then headteacher at Kinneil Primary, Bo'ness, she was active in a number of primary initiatives, which gave her national exposure. After a period of secondment to Central Region's education department, she was appointed head of schools in the new Stirling Council in 1996. Then, 17 days before the new local authorities officially took over, came the event that tested the new council to its limits - the Dunblane massacre.

With day-to-day responsibility for schools, Ms Doran was in the frontline of rebuilding Dunblane Primary, in every sense, after the carnage. She put her experiences into a book, Should Crisis Call.

In Stirling, she also led the way in quality assurance, performance and staff development. As the HMIE report on the council put it, she provided "dynamic leadership".

A move to Southend in Essex gave her further opportunities to lead in the early years and school improvement spheres, before returning to Scotland as depute director of education in Glasgow in May last year. She visited 70 schools and nurseries in one year and says she has seen "some of the best teaching practice anywhere".

Ms Doran believes that, while children's needs and learning must be paramount, teachers have to be nurtured as well.

But "dynamic leadership" in school improvement will not be far below the surface. "We have to secure improvements and high quality in services for children," she says. "We do that by support and by challenge - but mostly by support."

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