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Time to pay tribute to a man who grasped what made teachers and their schools tick

By 2 June 2012No Comments

We have all known educationalists who inspired and motivated us.  For me one of these was Fraser Henderson, Lothian Region’s  former Depute Director of Education.  Fraser Henderson died on the 1st of May. 

Fraser Henderson was a light-touch manager.  In the 1990s I was managing a support base for school students facing the possibility of school exclusion.  It was hard, challenging work.  Although there was a manager to whom I reported daily, Fraser was my official line manager.  I saw him occasionally at meetings.  He visited our Centre – but rarely.  There were never detailed discussions of progress but on one occasion I had to visit headquarters.  I made a point of seeing him and, insecure perhaps in a vulnerable and peripheral sector of the service, I asked him his view of the quality of our work.
“You’re doing very well,” he said.  “I know that.  I speak to your local headteachers; I speak to other officials who work with you.”
I wasn’t satisfied.  “But how do I know that we are doing a good job?”
“Because,” he said, a twinkle in his eye, “you’d have been summoned in here a long time ago if you weren’t.”  It’s far from the detailed micro-managing which characterises schools and education today.  It took self-confidence and a genuine sense of having fingers on the pulse of the system.
There was a clear moral purpose to Fraser’s work. He was a champion of comprehensive schools and, even more, of the comprehensives serving the poorest areas of Lothian Region.  He encouraged, directed even, the best staff to teach in the most challenging schools.  He argued these schools’ cases within the system.  He advised and supported them in their pursuit of resources.
He also understood the importance of such schools to their communities.  He was an active proponent of the Community Schools concept, one which, when originally developed by Lothian Region, was explicitly committed to the idea of redistributing resources to the poorest communities to develop opportunities for young people and adults to learn together and enhance their social capital.
Fraser Henderson was also a talent spotter.  He identified bright, talented teachers and provided them with career advice and counselling which was a million miles for the formalised Professional Review and Development hoops through which staff and managers are forced to jump today.  It was enormously more effective.
The day may come again when schools operate within education departments rather than mega-departments led by generic managers and when education departments are led by educationalists who understand the weft and weave of schools and know by experience what makes them tick.  In the meantime I offer this as my tribute to one who was a model of such practice.
The above article was first published in the Times Educational Supplement Scotland on 1 June 2012

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