Two heads better than one?

Two new education leaders emerged this week. Andrew Burns and Charlie Gray outline their plans to The TESS

One of Edinburgh City Council's most controversial politicians has just swapped the hot-seat of transport to pick up the hot potato of education, following the election of Ewan Aitken as council leader.

Andrew Burns survived calls for his resignation when, as transport convener, he tried to introduce congestion charging.

Now, as executive member for children and families, Councillor Burns will have to employ all his negotiating skills to persuade parents of the benefits of merging primary schools and changing catchment areas at a time of falling school rolls.

He said: "There is a lot of work and initiatives which Ewan instigated that I will see through to the next stage and I relish that challenge. But I am still only a week into the job and I would be fooling myself if I said I had my head round all the issues."

The councillor for the city's Moat ward since 1999 went to Caldervale High in Airdrie, then studied modern studies and politics at the University of Ulster.

He said: "I was desperate to leave home. It was a very interesting time to be there. Bobby Sands (the IRA hunger-striker) died in 1981 and it was also a very tense time."

Cllr Burns said his interest in politics grew while working on a PhD in politics when he, as he describes it, "went native" before he completed his thesis.

Born in West Germany, his father served in the army for 22 years. It made his son appreciate the value of education.

"I was the first generation of my family to go to university," he said. "My dad joined the army and it was the making of him, but he has no formal qualifications.

"That is the way it was then. Education has completely transformed my life, so I want to increase and improve as many children's life chances as possible."

He believes teachers hold the key to raising education standards still higher. "Teachers are at the chalk face and anything I can do to help and support the teaching profession I will do," Mr Burns said. "I am very open to ideas."

Edinburgh's new education supremo has a background in retail management and also had a brief spell as an outdoors instructor. As befits someone who has spent a considerable part of his political energies persuading motorists to get out of their cars, he is a keen cyclist and is still a member of the Cyclists Touring Club.

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