The very model of a modern chairman

13th September 1996 at 01:00
The report, Learning to Succeed in Scotland, is unlikely to pass into common parlance as the "Moncur report".

But this is unlikely to keep Charles Moncur awake at nights. The former civil servant turned BP executive is self-effacing to a fault. It made him an admirable chairman of a commission that was graced by the loquacious experience of people who were themselves well-versed in taking the chair.

Dick Louden, Strathclyde's former senior education official and the commission's secretary, said Mr Moncur was "a low-key chairman who let the discussion flow and the consensus emerge naturally. He adopted a light touch but focused discussion where necessary".

He already had a track record. Henry Philip, the former head of Liberton high school in Edinburgh, where Mr Moncur once steered the parent-teacher association, recalls him as "sensible, level-headed and approachable - someone who listened to other parents but was good at exercising leadership as well".

Mr Moncur's career suggested an inspired chairmanship for a body whose membership was generated by the Law Society of Scotland and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow, in what was an attempt to ward off charges of partiality.

Mr Moncur seemed to have three qualifications beyond those already noted. He left school at 15 without qualifications for university, which he acquired at night school; he is an economist in trade; and he had an industrialist's eye-view of education as BP's head of public affairs in Scotland.

Only the last of these and the fact that he worked in the Scottish Office for 13 years might not have put him beyond suspicion in the eyes of the education community.

But Mr Moncur started from a supportive stance. His commission would not start its work from the perspective of a system in crisis, he told the TESS in 1994: "We have agreed to take the view that here is a system which is good; what can we do to make it better?" The commission's report echoes that sentiment and also reinforces the determination not to let resources drive the educational agenda. On the other hand, the report is firmly in line with his plea to "start regarding education as an investment for the future in the same way that businesses treat plant and equipment, and not just as something that weighs heavily on the public finances - which, of course, it does".

There speaks the judicious mix of economist, businessman and enthusiast for learning - perspectives faithfully mirrored in the "Moncur report".

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