Top of the class

Fiona MacLeod and Elizabeth Buie profile the new education teams.

As new cabinet secretary for education, Fiona Hyslop brings youth and undeniable glamour to a role which has been dominated by grey men in suits in recent years. At 42, she arrives in the post with a reputation as a competent and careful shadow minister, with good listening skills - astute and aware. She is likely to keep the lifelong learning part of the expanded education department to herself, while maintaining an overview of schools and early years.

We can expect reforms such as A Curriculum for Excellence to continue under the SNP, albeit with a greater emphasis on Scottish history and culture.

Existing initiatives to reduce class sizes and increase access to early years education are likely to top her agenda. A list MSP for the Lothians, she has cut the majority of the Labour incumbent each time she has stood in the Lin-lithgow constituency - while combining a high-profile shadow education brief with a family of three children, from nursery age to P7.

The former Ayr Academy pupil studied economic history and sociology at Glasgow University, and spent 13 years working in sales and marketing, but politics always hovered in the background.

After joining the SNP in 1986, Ms Hyslop was appointed to the education brief by former party leader John Swinney in 2003, and was kept on in the role after Mr Salmond's prodigal return to the party leadership. She is thought to be closer politically to Mr Salmond than some of the other new ministers - a relationship which could benefit the education sector.

Maureen Watt, the new Minister for Schools and Skills, earned her spurs while sparring in the debating club at Keith Grammar with classmate James Naughtie, the BBC Radio 4 news presenter. She is the daughter of former Banffshire MP Hamish Watt, one of the 11 SNP MPs elected in the 1970s, who later served as chair of education on Grampian Regional Council.

She was elected to Holyrood in April 2006 and became the first MSP to take the oath in Doric and English. She studied French and German at Strathclyde University, switching to politics and keeping up German to finish her degree. On graduation, she moved to Birming-ham University to do her PGCE.

Mrs Watt's only job as a secondary teacher was at Bulmershe School in Reading, where she taught sociology and economics to senior pupils, and community studies to the early school leavers, for three years. In 1977, she moved back to Scotland to follow her political ambitions and moved into personnel work for a German oil company. After taking her Chartered Institute of Personnel Manage-ment qualifications at evening classes at Aberdeen College, she lectured there in employee relations.

She says her education mantra is: "every child has got a talent and it is important that that talent is found, recognised and developed".

Adam Ingram, a former economist, takes on the job of Minister for Children and Early Years - a role expected to encompass the social work, care and children's hearings areas. He will steer the SNP's proposals for more early years provision and more nursery teachers.

Mr Ingram is seen as coming from the fundamentalist wing of the party, having backed Alex Neil in the leadership contest with John Swinney in 2000. He has no track record of working with young children, bar his membership of the education committee.

He was educated at Kilmarnock Academy, Glasgow University and Paisley College, and graduated in business economics as a mature student of 29.

Most of his working life was in economics consultancy, but from 1987-88 he was a researcher and lecturer at Paisley College.

The opposition front benches For Labour, Hugh Henry, Edu-cation Minister in the last executive, returns to the education portfolio, picking up lifelong learning as well, as shadow to Fiona Hyslop. He had barely six months to make his mark as education minister when he inherited the post from Peter Peacock, due to the latter's ill health, but is understood to have hoped to continue in the education post if Labour had won. His deputes are Ken Macintosh (schools and skills), a stalwart of the education committee; and Pauline McNeill (children and early years), a former president of the National Union of Students (Scotland) and regional organiser of GMB Scotland.

For the Conservatives, Murdo Fraser, a former lawyer, takes on education and lifelong learning; Liz Smith, a former teacher of economics and modern studies at George Watson's College in Edinburgh, the children, schools and skills portfolio.

Points of information

The proportion of MSPs with postgraduate education has halved

73 per cent of new MSPs have a degree or postgraduate qualification

12 per cent of MSPs have no qualification beyond school

Figures from campaign group Engender

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