Controversial education leader steps down

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The head of education at one of Scotland’s highest performing local authorities, whose tenure has been marked by controversy as well as success, is to retire after more than 10 years in the post.

John Wilson, director of education at East Renfrewshire Council since 2002, oversaw an increase in the number of pupils getting five or more Higher passes to 32 from 20 per cent.

Schools across the authority have consistently delivered strong results under his tenure but Mr Wilson also ran into opposition from parents, other councils and the Scottish government over catchment areas and Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).

Councillor Elaine Green, convener for education and equalities, said his retirement would be “a tremendous loss” to East Renfrewshire’s education service: “John has worked in education across Scotland for almost 40 years and he and his team have delivered some outstanding results for our young people. John can quite rightly be proud of his successes.”

In 2010, Mr Wilson resisted calls to resign after his plan to remove hundreds of homes from the catchment area of a popular school was ruled unlawful. 

Lord Uist also decreed that the catchment area policy for the school, St Ninian’s High in Giffnock, which had been in place since 1996, was “wrong”.

Part of its catchment was in Glasgow but pupils from some primaries had been allowed to attend the school under a long-standing deal. However, East Renfrewshire said the agreement only applied to certain older streets, not the whole area, which deprived those in new developments of an automatic right of entry.

Robert Bowie, a father from Parklands Meadow, a housing estate in the area under dispute, challenged the council so that his daughter could attend St Ninian’s. Lord Uist ruled in his favour after a two-day hearing at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

East Renfrewshire also drew criticism when it decided to delay implementation of the Scottish government’s new National 5s curriculum, insisting pupils sit existing qualifications instead. Last February Mr Wilson, who has an OBE for services to education, told a hearing of MSPs that he was responding to the concerns of teachers and headteachers. They argued it was in pupils’ best interests to wait a year, he said.


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