The world through his eyes

19th October 2007 at 01:00
In an occasional series on leading organisations in Scottish education, Neil Munro looks at Learning and Teaching Scotland.Sitting in his rooftop command post overlooking the Glasgow skyline, Bernard McLeary makes one point clear: he does not want to take over the world.

That may not be how everyone sees Learning and Teaching Scotland and its chief executive. It appears that barely a month goes past without the organisation taking on ever more responsibilities - mostly, it has to be said, at the behest of the Scottish Government or as a consequence of its policies.

McLeary points out that LTS has actually shed staff since he took over three years ago. The staff have also been "re-balanced", with more teachers now involved on seconded tasks and fewer support staff (reduced from 80 to 30). He is also keen to point out that LTS has moved away from a "project by project existence": everything it does now fits into five programmes of work. Its various websites have been streamlined into LTS Online.

Nonetheless, its span remains vast and varied - from supporting the curriculum and assessment reforms to creating online resources for schools and developing links with parents. It is the driving force behind the biggest event in the education calendar, the Scottish Learning Festival; this year's visitors who went along to soak up its eclectic mix of gurus and classroom practitioners numbered 6,994, which was a 21 per cent increase on last year.

And, of course, there's Glow, the oddly-named and fledgling schools intranet for Scotland which had its official launch at the festival last month. It was singled out for commendation by no less a person than First Minister Alex Salmond, who told a seminar of public sector leaders recently that Glow was a perfect example of the kind of efficiencies for which they should be striving, in that it was encouraging education authorities to pull together - "21st century technology for 21st century learning", as Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, put it.

So, although the Howat report into public sector efficiencies, published during the summer, questioned whether LTS should continue to exist, McLeary is in no doubt it has friends in high places and will survive. "If LTS did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it" is almost the mantra.

McLeary does not foresee a merger with the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which he suggests would fly in the face of current wisdom: he cites Ed Balls, the education minister in England, who said he did not want the body that supports the curriculum to be setting the exams. Sharing the same building and back-office facilities with the SQA seems, for now, as cosy as it is going to get.

McLeary, unsurprisingly, sees LTS as pivotal to Scottish education: it is popular and valued, he declares, calling in evidence the three million hits a year on its website. But he is nothing if not a "big picture" man, believing that the organisation has a role in helping to deliver the wider agendas on skills and achievement. Tackling deprivation and poverty, to drive out the inequalities they impose on education, has been one of his passions, from his time working in special needs and as an education officer.

The LTS chief is keen to acknowledge that his organisation cannot do it all, reeling off a string of partners from Careers Scotland to HMIE. As a former director of education (in Inverclyde), he has been careful to rebuild links with authorities, which reached the point where 31 of the 32 were on display with their good practice at the Scottish Learning Festival.

LTS has established six area advisers to work with the authorities, unearthing good practice and passing it on. McLeary believes this will become more important as councils move to "outcome" reporting on their performance.

LTS may not be "taking over the world", but its ambitions show no signs of diminishing. It is moving beyond traditional boundaries to include international education, youth work, skills for work, teacher training - even computer games technology for learning.

"We are in an integrated learning landscape," as McLeary puts it. "So, while we focus on schools and teachers, we have to focus on the early years and lifelong learning as well. We have to be seen to add value to the system."

His vision for LTS chimes with that of Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, who said the corporation should not just be about "putting on programmes at 5 o'clock every night but about creating content that can be disseminated by a variety of mechanisms".

He adds: "We don't mean content that just sits there but content that can be used and has a purpose. That's why we have to work in partnership with others."

World domination ends here.

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