THE announcement by Glasgow’s education director Maureen McKenna that she is to retire at the end of the year leaves us with some of the biggest shoes in Scottish public service to fill.

It’s hard to overstate the transformation Maureen has led in her 14 years in the post.

Were I to sum up her legacy it is that she leaves our school communities with the very clear belief that nothing should be out of reach for the children of Glasgow. Glasgow’s schools are good enough for anyone’s children.

I was struck by one particular comment Maureen herself made earlier this week when announcing her decision.

She said that when she came to Glasgow in late 2007 her view was that “education in the city could achieve so much more than it was doing”. She knew that our schools and our children deserved more.

Poverty and inequality are the greatest challenges Glasgow faces and will continue to face for the foreseeable future. After all, over a quarter of children from Scotland’s most deprived areas attend a Glasgow school.

But as difficult a shift as addressing Glasgow’s challenges can be, these could not be used as something to hide behind.

Neither would change happen overnight. If Glasgow’s teachers and school staff were to improve the life chances of children and the positive destinations for school leavers then that nurturing had to happen at a young age. And if education was to be the route out of the challenges which long hung over the city then the necessary interventions had to done so early in life.

Since 2007 the number of children being excluded from school has dropped by 94%, with staff encouraged to better understand why children behave in a certain way rather than banishing them from classrooms.

Our approach has been so successful that other major UK cities where exclusions continue to rise have been keen to learn from our model.

When the SNP became the administration in 2017 we were determined to build on the work Maureen had led on. We ensured we were at the vanguard of the provision of additional funded early learning and childcare, expanded free school meals and made sure kids didn’t go without food during school holidays.

And we were determined to ensure that attainment and opportunity were open to every child and young person in Glasgow, regardless of their background or the challenges they face. In the last few weeks figures show school leavers in Glasgow going on to achieve their best destinations ever. The last couple of years have been tumultuous but for the first time we are matching the national average. That’s real progress.

One thing which has particularly pleased me during my time as Council Leader is how Maureen and her colleagues across education have challenged so many of the old ill-informed tropes about our schools.

Even senior politicians who should know better still measure success by how many school leavers go to university. More and more of our young people are leaving school with Highers and Advanced Highers, going to college and university and, crucially, they’re staying there.

But Glasgow’s focus is also on giving pupils the widest range of opportunities, recognising that skills are often as important as qualifications.

We are absolutely clear that we provide a rounded education, that pupils become young adults with a broad range of learning and experience; from art, literature, and sciences through to the critical thinking and analysis which will stand them in good stead in the modern world. And we’re not about churning out workers. Instead we’re giving our young people the power to make choices, to determine their own future.

I’ve also respected Maureen’s readiness to call out school league tables, promoted for little more than commercial ends and yet stigmatising schools, staff, children and entire communities with partial barometers of success.

Maureen’s retirement is a milestone in the progression of Glasgow. She will be a hard act to follow. But she’s set in motion and cemented an approach which has been committed to improving learning, raising attainment and reducing the impact of poverty on learners. She has led on lifting all our children and young people. Well done Maureen and thank you.

A REMARKABLE statistic which underscores the challenges and context our teachers operate within is that for nearly a quarter of all pupils English is their second language.

Many of our new Glaswegians arrived here from the European Union and have played a vital role in our economy. Others have fled persecution, war, and natural disaster to seek sanctuary in Glasgow.

The need to resource the educational and social needs of children who arrive as refugees or seeking asylum is just some of the assistance Glasgow has required from the UK Government as part of our active role in the dispersal system.

Tomorrow, the SNP administration will put forward a motion demanding more support from the UK Government if we are to properly assist those fleeing the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

We have a proud record of accommodating those seeking refuge and work is now underway in the city to identify suitable accommodation and support to facilitate additional Afghan asylum seekers.

But our motion is calling for the city’s 85 councillors to support work which can make sure all avenues are explored “to further increase the numbers of Afghan refugees we are able to accommodate safely and securely in the city”.

Glasgow has so far received over 70 Afghan refugees in recent weeks with several hundred more already in the city. But I’m concerned that some of those arriving as well as those already here may be traumatised by the turmoil and bloodshed in Afghanistan.

Even on this matter alone it’s clear that Glasgow requires additional support from the UK Home Office.

No-one in the SNP administration has any confidence in the Home Office’s ability to support the work to assist Afghans without commitment and close working with local authorities. We have concerns that any rushed decisions by the Home Office on accommodation, including dumping people in hotels, could result in another tragedy.

It is crucial that the UK Government hears Glasgow speaking with one voice in our calls for support. A mass tragedy is unfolding in front of us. That’s why this motion is important.