Scotland Education and children's services

In conversation with Glasgow Executive Director of Education Services, Douglas Hutchison

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Glasgow City Council

In this interview, Douglas Hutchison, Executive Director of Education Services at Glasgow City Council, gives an insight into the work of his department and the challenges it faces going forward.

His remit might be Glasgow, but Douglas Hutchison has compelling views on the Scottish education system as a whole. The City Council’s Executive Director of Education Services, who took over from Maureen McKenna following her retirement in January 2022, believes that a long-term perspective for education in the country is set out in It’s Our Future: Report of the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessment (with the review also known as the Hayward Review), which was published in June last year and calls for reform of the Scottish senior school phase. It is this that Douglas says he would bet on in terms of driving change, with the education boss sceptical of the present exam system’s influence within secondary learning.

“At the moment, I’m not convinced the current system is meeting the needs of our children and young people, nor is it meeting the needs of employers,” he says. “It needs to be reviewed, and we need to start that journey now, otherwise in five years from now, we’ll still be saying: ‘I wonder if we should [undertake] reform of our qualifications?’ The medium-term challenge is to deliver on some of the recommendations in Scotland’s education reports and not take a short-term view on them. We need coherence in the short term and clarity on where we’re going in the medium to long term.”

Promising development

Two years after Douglas began his role at the council, Glasgow is making significant progress within the educational landscape. The city has continued to outperform its comparators in terms of attainment, and exclusions are lower than the national average. Young people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds significantly outperform their peers with regard to qualifications, and there has been a substantial increase in the number of students going to university. “A lot of that is down to the really good work done by Maureen — I’ve only been here two years and can’t claim the credit for that,” Douglas reflects. “In terms of absolute numbers [however], the story continues to be positive.”

Since taking up his post within Education Services, Douglas’ work has included helping to redefine the vision, purpose and values of his department. This culminated in the publication of its All Learners, All Achieving document for 2022 to 2027, which sets out the goal of delivering inclusive high-quality education along with the challenges the department is addressing. “That was a good exercise for me in terms of engaging headteachers as senior officers of the entire education authority and seeing themselves as having a collective responsibility for the direction of travel and the success of our children and young people,” Douglas says.

Education Services has also been involved in managing the arrival and departure of families and children from Ukraine following Russia’s invasion of the country in February 2022. “There was a significant number of them here because [MS Ambition, which housed Ukrainian refugees] was moored at the docks,” Douglas explains. “That was managed very well by Education staff in conjunction with Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) staff, and schools welcomed the children and young people and their families. By and large, the refugees have now moved across Scotland, but that process I would say was a particular success.”

A passion for education

Before joining Glasgow City Council, Douglas was Depute Chief Executive and Director of People at South Ayrshire Council. The Executive Director has a background in educational psychology and was formerly principal psychologist for South Ayrshire, before moving on to work for Education Scotland as an inspector. However, after five years in this role, Douglas had a desire to return to local government. “When you do inspections, you’re in and out of an establishment or in and out of an authority,” he notes. “When you’re in a local authority, you’re part of a community and you’re there for the journey.”

Douglas moved to South Ayrshire Council to take up a role as Head of Education, later becoming Director of Educational Services within the same organisation. While his final role at South Ayrshire Council was much broader, it is clear that education is where his real interest lies.

“The real attraction for me of leadership in a local authority is working with headteachers, the central team and the elected members in terms of shaping policy, shaping the direction of travel and trying to marshal the resources we have to improve outcomes for children and young people in a defined community,” he says. “I wasn’t particularly attracted to becoming a chief executive of a local authority — the thought of running an election fills me with fear. I’m very happy to be in the world of education, which I know and where I think I can make a difference.”

Looking ahead

According to Douglas, the big challenge for his department at Glasgow City Council continues to be the budget. “The challenge is the reduction in the people around schools who provide support,” he says. “If there are fewer admin and clerical staff, then that shifts the burden on to deputy heads and headteachers. If there are fewer Support for Learning Workers, then that increases pressure on teachers because they’re there to support the most vulnerable children with the greatest needs. If there are fewer technicians, then people begin to feel the pressure.”

The Executive Director notes that there are reductions on a national level, including in Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) funding. “DYW was funded nationally, and that has been cut,” he says. “The workers have contributed significantly to Glasgow achieving its highest-ever post-school positive destinations. If they’re not around, can we sustain that, because they’re the ones who actually go out and make sure young people turn up at college? They’re the ones who are actually doing the legwork in terms of the young people who are at greatest risk.”

While Douglas is also concerned that the Verity House Agreement between the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (which has shared priorities of sustainable public services, tackling poverty and a just move to net zero) means that there is a sense that there will no longer be protection for education in Scotland, he says that protecting one section of the council means that the burden will fall substantially more on others. “What I would like to see going forward is sustainable funding for local government because I believe it is the part of the state that makes the biggest difference to people on a daily basis,” he remarks. “We are the ones who empty their bins and clean the streets and deliver education, early years provision and homecare. We need a sustainable model of financing.”

With so many reports relevant to education in Scotland, Douglas additionally believes that the task “is to bring coherence to the system in a context of a never-ending cycle of elections”. “The risk is that we look at political short-termism,” he says. “If you look at successful education systems, they take a 10, 20 or 30-year perspective.”

Other relevant issues

While Glasgow City Council had forecast a decline in its school-age population, a significant decrease had not come to pass at the time of speaking to Douglas. However, the Executive Director admits that getting the school estate right is a challenge.

“It’s a challenge we share with Scottish Government, and the task is making sure that the workforce is right as well — making sure that we have the right number of teachers and professionals and paraprofessionals that support around education,” he says. “We need to get it right, and it needs to take account of demographic change, but the demographic issue is probably more challenging in the context of Glasgow because it’s a dispersal city and one that people want to come to when they’re travelling from across the world.”

As for how Glasgow City Council and the directorate work to keep The Promise — Scotland’s 2020 vow to care-experienced children and young people that they will grow up loved, respected and safe — Douglas notes: “We have Glasgow Virtual School here. [There’s] a small but dynamic team, and it works hard on making sure that our care-experienced young people get the best possible deal out of education. In terms of Education’s response to The Promise, it is principally about them working closely with schools to say: ‘How can we get better outcomes for our care-experienced children and young people?’

“There was a time when Glasgow had a significant number of young people placed out with the local authority, and there has been a sustained effort to bring them back here. That has been led largely by the HSCP, and in Education, the sharp-focused work comes from the virtual school, but the actual delivery takes place in schools across the city.”

While Douglas acknowledges that his job has its challenges, he describes his experience within the role as very positive. “A significant number of children and young people are living in relative deprivation in Glasgow,” he says. “If we can shift the dial for those people, it makes a significant impact across the whole of Scotland, and particularly for the children and young people of the city. It’s great to do everything I can to try and support headteachers, teachers and staff across schools to deliver for their children and young people.”



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One thought on “In conversation with Glasgow Executive Director of Education Services, Douglas Hutchison

  1. I was delighted to learn that one of Mr Hutchison’s priorities is to have cared-for young people brought back to their community, as living away from their original routes can often increase emotional and mental health. I hope the virtual learning is a success and that more children are returned to Glasgow.

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