Educationalist with the Human Touch; after Nine Years at the Helm of Europe's Largest Education Authority Professor Tim Brighouse Today Stands Down as Birmingham's Learning Supremo. Richard Warburton Talks to the Man Responsible for Making the City a Byword for Learning Excellence

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard Warburton

Professor Tim Brighouse is a hard man to interview. It is not that he is unaccommodating - far from it, he even makes the tea - but thoughts enter his head so thick and fast that it is difficult to keep up.

Ideas zip through his mind like high speed trains and he hops from one to another at an alarming rate.

A conversation moves from the Aston Villa/Birmingham City derby to the requirements of good leadership to the benefits of constant flux in the world in the blink of an eye.

It is Prof Brighouse's passionate story-telling and lightening quick mind that is at the core of his personality and success as arguably Britain's most famous educationalist.

In true self deprecating style he claims that his role over the last nine years has been to talk up people's abilities and to get everyone involved in education in the city to believe in a 'can do' attitude.

'When I came here all it needed was for me to exploit the good managers that I had and just to tell accurate stories about what was going on and to be a bit of a coach,' he tells.

'I think I'm not bad at telling stories and I kept up a commentary of what we were doing across the city and people started to feel proud.

'That eventually became a virtuous circle, and people and staff from outside Birmingham began to look at us with envy and that became self perpetuating.'

There is no doubting that Prof Brighouse is every inch the eccentric academic, with windswept hair and crumpled suits, but he possesses a human touch that makes for a leader that people respect and believe in.

He believes the players at Manchester United are now too frightened of Sir Alex Ferguson to perform with their own individuality, so are underperforming.

This could never have happened at Birmingham's Education Department under Prof Brighouse - his whole leadership technique was based on getting staff to come up with ideas and to believe in themselves.

'I believe that everyone is special and I believe we should treat people like we believe they are special and I think that is the key really,' he said.

'We all like it when we are perceived as unique and children like that even more than adults and if there was one thing I wanted to instill in people it was that attitude.'

Prof Brighouse took over as Birmingham's Chief Education Officer in 1993 after spending his entire adult life in the world of learning.

After graduating from Oxford University he taught history in grammar and secondary modern schools before entering administration in what was Monmouthshire in 1967, after a stint in Adult Education.

Next stop was a position in Buckinghamshire and the Association of County Councils before moving on to become deputy chief Education Officer of the Inner London Education Authority.

In 1978 Prof Brighouse took over the Education Department at Oxfordshire County Council for ten years before spending four years as Professor of Education at Keele University.

He first encountered Birmingham when he applied for the job of chief executive of the council in 1987, but was pipped to the post by Roger Taylor. However, he returned to the city in 1993 when he was made Chief Education Officer.

'The inner city challenge was a major draw,' he explained. 'I had been in Oxfordshire but before that was deputy of inner London.

'The issue of how do you transform attitudes to get people thinking that it doesn't have to be like this, and that you can make changes to attitudes of 'education never did me any good' was a huge thing for me.

'I thought Birmingham had a set of teachers and support staff who took their professional development seriously as they disproportionately took on ideas and went on courses.

'So I thought that if there was the political will with a reasonable budget and teachers interested in ideas and the fact I knew something about school improvement, an emerging discipline at the time, we could make a lot of difference. …