Wizard of Oz aims higher

28th October 2005 at 01:00
Some are hoping for a repeat of the Moffett effect in rugby when Wales's new head of lifelong learning takes office, Felicity Waters reports

A former Australian primary school teacher could bring to Welsh education what fellow Antipodean David Moffett brought to Welsh rugby.

That's the hope of some in the education world who are keenly awaiting the arrival of the new director of the Assembly government's education super-department. This will be created when quangos ELWa, the post-16 education funding agency, and ACCAC, the Welsh qualifications, curriculum and assessment authority, are brought in-house.

And while Steve Marshall has only been to Wales once - for his job interview - he says he is delighted to be travelling to the other side of the world to head up the new education and lifelong learning department, which starts work next April.

Mr Marshall, who has been chief executive of South Australia's department of education and children's services for three years, says he is looking forward to "a wonderful opportunity to live and work in a beautiful country".

He wryly acknowledges his new job will require some "political savvy", but says he has experience in the field. "Whenever departments are brought together, people like to feel they are being listened to and know what decisions are being made. I'll be making sure that staff will have a voice in decision making and be able to put their ideas forward," he said.

Politicians, union leaders and other stakeholders have given a cautious welcome to Mr Marshall's appointment but many want reassurance that he is fully conversant with Welsh issues.

Behind the scenes there is also some disappointment that a Welsh candidate was not given the high-profile job. Peter Black, chair of the Assembly's education committee, said, however: "Expertise in the southern hemisphere has done wonders for the Welsh Rugby Union, and I hope Steve Marshall can bring something of the Moffett effect to education in Wales.

"There is no shortage of issues for him to get his teeth into, like the teachers' workload agreement, the lack of investment in school buildings, and the need for nutritional standards in school meals."

Iwan Guy, acting director of the National Association of Head Teachers in Wales, said: "We would want to be assured that Mr Marshall is fully aware of the education system in Wales and how it is diverging from England. We would also want him to take account of the sensitivities of the Welsh language issue."

But Mr Marshall, 51, is confident in what he wants to achieve and frank about what he doesn't know yet. "I don't presume to know what the needs are in any deep sense yet, but my key priority will be to meet staff and stakeholders to make sure I get good guidance and advice," he said.

He advocates looking at education in a holistic way and is keen to promote lifelong learning as a seamless service within schools and communities.

He began his career as a primary teacher in South Australia in 1977, later joining the South Australian department of education.

Since gaining his Bachelor of Education degree in 1976 he has gained further academic qualifications. He is currently researching a PhD about school renewal and low-performance schools.

"My research is about how schools can achieve what they want to achieve. I believe that schools shouldn't be blamed, but helped into lifting standards and genuinely creating change," he said.

Mr Marshall will take up his new post in January, but will be visiting Wales next month to find a home for him, his wife and their three teenage children.

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