Watch the change, not the tables

30th October 1998 at 00:00
Edinburgh's new director brings a commitment to attainment and social inclusion, reports Neil Munro

ROY JOBSON, who has just taken up the Pounds 81,000-a-year post as Edinburgh's new director of education, makes no bones about it. He is English and has spent all of his professional life in the English system.

The man from Manchester has not rushed to claim the obligatory Hielan grannie but, for the record, he has grandparental roots in the Borders which bequeathed to his mother the maiden name of Burns. "I realise there will be a steep learning curve," he says. "But people are people on both sides of the border and most of the problems you have to deal with are human ones."

Edinburgh's new director is not a high-profile figure like Tim Brighouse, his Birmingham counterpart, and does not appear to have left many waves in his wake. He did have an early run-in with the unions over teacher suspensions at a Manchester secondary. But Harry Spooner, local secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, says that "he could be fair to deal with" and "on the whole" the unions had a good relationship with him.

Mark Hackett, the Labour education chairman in Manchester, which is officially classified as the second most deprived authority in England, says he "has not been a great innovator but that is not what has been asked of him. He has been asked to manage the service in the very difficult times we have come through and has done so in a way that leaves us a great deal stronger than we were a few years ago."

Mr Jobson is a Northumbrian whose grammar school also produced Bobby and Jack Charlton. Although he has been in educational administration for 18 years, the last 10 as chief education officer in Manchester, his appointment to the Edinburgh job came as a surprise - not least because he is only the second Englishman to become a Scottish director in recent times (Ian Dutton, a fellow Northumbrian, headed the Borders directorate for a spell).

Jobson says the Edinburgh vacancy, created by Liz Reid's move to the London borough of Hackney, occurred just as he was contemplating the challenge of a career change at the age of 50. "I have a degree of nervousness about going to a very different system - there would be something wrong with me if I wasn't nervous - but that's part of the challenge I was looking for."

His nervousness about finding any friends in the north would not have been allayed by being told that his wife, a primary head in Rochdale, would have difficulty finding a teaching job "because she is English". Happily, she has been appointed head of Gorebridge primary in Midlothian.

Mr Jobson might have been forgiven for looking to Edinburgh as an escape route following the bizarre circumstances surrounding the criticisms by the Office for Standards in Education of Manchester's education service, the first full authority-wide inspection in England. He was taken aback because the interim report was complimentary and had no inkling of the imminent bombshell when he arrived in Edinburgh for his interview.

"In this job, things may not always be your fault but they are your responsibility," he says. What that meant became embarrassingly public when he had to defend the authority in acrimonious exchanges with Jeremy Paxman on BBC's Newsnight.

He has since had cause to reflect on the ways of the media which, in this instance, confronted him at the last minute with the aggrieved mother of a dyslexic child, the details of whose case he did not know and whose experience of the authority supposedly embodied Manchester's faults.

Ofsted criticised the city's provision for special needs, noted it had too many surplus places, complained about its schools' hefty budget deficits - and, famously, found 140 excluded pupils who could not be traced. Manchester has now had to draw up an action plan in response.

Mr Jobson said the circumstances of the report's appearance - in advance of the agreed date - were as disagreeable as the contents. The first he knew was when he had to field press enquiries, "to which I had to ask, which report?" Only one copy was sent to Manchester, and that was to the leader of the council late on Tuesday afternoon, only hours in advance of a press conference early the following morning; he had to ask Ofsted for his own copy.

The whole episode further soured his relations with Chris Woodhead, the Ofsted chief, with whom he had already crossed swords, particularly during his stint as chair of the Association of Chief Education Officers last year.

He believes Mr Woodhead deliberately leaked details. "The result was an unbalanced report rushed out to grab headlines, rather than an objective account of an authority which undoubtedly has problems but was doing its best to address them in difficult social circumstances - which was the tone of the interim report."

If Mr Jobson brings any experience to Edinburgh, it will almost certainly be his preoccupation with those "difficult social circumstances". He could accurately be described as CEO of two cities: the prosperous Manchester with its capital of Didsbury (where he lived) and the vast outer swathes of deprivation. Half of Manchester's pupils are on free meals.

The inevitable failure of many schools to perform well in exam leagues has given Jobson a jaundiced perspective on performance tables, which should find him natural allies in Scotland. "Poor exam results do not equate with bad schools," he says.

"The key question is whether the quality of teaching and the quality of the management are as good as they should be, and whether the levels of attainment match that. And, since attainment is affected by what happens outside school, it means you need a multi-agency approach. Education must therefore be at the heart of economic regeneration programmes, which is why I welcome so much what the Government is at least trying to do with its social inclusion policies.

"I always say that you could parachute 5,000 of the best teachers into Manchester, but if the kids don't turn up and their absence is condoned by their parents, you are wasting your money."

Edinburgh's new director may be unusual as an import. But he is not the first export from the Mancunian education department. John Dobie, Edinburgh's acting director since Liz Reid's departure, came from the same stable.

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