Woman of substance

1st December 2006 at 00:00
Many people say politics and education don't mix, but Judith Sischy knows better. By Fiona MacLeod

When Judith Sischy talks, people listen. Her quiet determination, and an ability to recognise implications arising from the most complex of policy documents, have won her the ear and respect of politicians and headteachers alike.

As director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, since its inception in 1990, Mrs Sischy has increasingly found herself mediating between the often conflicting worlds of politics and schools, and is recognised as having greatly furthered the cause of the independent sector in the process.

Gareth Edwards, principal of George Watson's College in Edinburgh, says of her: "Without SCIS and Judith, the independent schools in Scotland would still be a group of 70-plus institutions without the cohesion we have now."

In recognition of her work, not just for the independent sector but for education in Scotland, Mrs Sischy was last week awarded the fellowship of the Scottish Qualifications Authority for the significance of her contribution. She joins a list which includes Craig Brown, the former Scotland football team manager; Frank Pignatelli, former chief executive of learndirect scotland; and Willis Pickard, former editor of The TESS.

A former languages teacher, Mrs Sischy is still reeling from the shock. "I was totally taken back - I still am," she said. "I'm quite mystified, but delighted."

She seems to be alone in her mystification. Those who have worked with her over the years use the same words to describe her: intelligent, dedicated, well-respected and incredibly hard-working.

A beneficiary of the independent sector, she went to Church High in Newcastle and, on leaving school, won a scholarship to study French and German at Bristol University. Another scholarship saw her study postgraduate French at the University of Toronto - and that was where she began her teaching career.

After two years, she moved to Scotland and began teaching at George Watson's in Edinburgh, in the days before it became co-ed. Eventually, she moved to work for the Merchant Company, which ran the school, until she took up the Scottish Council of Independent Schools post.

A key emphasis is to ensure the sector is not on the fringes. "We are part of the education sector: we don't like this black and white divide."

In fact, she sees private schools as a potential influence on the state sector, given the central role likely to be played by sport, the arts and music - strong traditions in independent schools - in A Curriculum for Excellence.

George Haggerty, past president of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, acknowledges Mrs Sischy's support for state schools. But he also pays tribute to her strong leadership and the political support she has been able to win for the independent sector.

Judith McClure, headteacher of the private St George's School in Edinburgh, described Mrs Sischy as a worthy advocate of the independent sector.

"When she stands up at a meeting of headteachers, she always commands respect because she has a tremendous understanding and knowledge of Scottish education which she expresses clearly," she said.

New face of SQA

The Scottish Qualifications Authority has turned to the business world for its new chief executive. Janet Brown, 55, has been managing director of industries at Scottish Enterprise for the past five years. Before moving perm-anently to Scotland, she was a director with Motorola in Austin, Texas.

Sheffield-born Dr Brown will take up her post in February, succeeding Anton Colella."I am thrilled to be joining SQA," she said.

"My international experience has helped me understand that Scottish education and Scottish qualifications have a very strong reputation across the world."

John McCormick, the SQA's chairman, said it was delighted to have attracted someone of Dr Brown's calibre, particularly her "proven profile of business, organisational, management and leadership skills".

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