Farquhar Macintosh

FARQUHAR Macintosh's career has been admirably covered in Matt Mclver's obituary (27 November) and the following comments represent merely a personal slant on his chairmanship of the Scottish Examination Board.

Two aspects of Farquhar's work for the board stand out - the introduction of Standard Grade and the difficulties of 1985 following the withdrawal of services by teachers.

The size and complexity of the task of introducing Standard Grade may not be widely appreciated. In terms of assessment and curricular theory, Standard Grade represented the most radical development for a century in Scottish secondary certification. New concepts such as criterion referencing and grade-related criteria were explored; older ideas involving the marriage of external and internal assessment were taken further; a comprehensive grading system for the whole age group was built in - all on the basis of a complete redesign of the secondary curriculum with specific course provision for the whole age group.

The Standard Grade programme, of course, represented a corporate effort by the department, the consultative committee on the curriculum and the board, underpinned by teacher and tertiary education support, but Farquhar's position was central and the smooth running of the scheme over 15 years owes much to his efforts.

The withdrawal of teachers' services in 1985 created a surreal situation. Farquhar and the late John Pollock (EIS general secretary at the time) had been chairmen of the board's examinations committee. John and I were paid-up members of the Ayrshire educational mafia (indeed John had been my local youth hostel secretary). Farquhar and I were, and remained, members of the EIS. On the other hand we were having cordial meetings with department staff. I was even playing tennis on Saturday mornings with the department's board assessor, Bill Fearnley.

There was never any doubt that the board had to do all in its power to run the examinations, and in this it was successful. Farquhar's role was pivotal, and it was largely due to him that, underlying the political situation, good relations with teachers and government were maintained - so that on resolution of the dispute teachers immediately, and with good will, renewed their vital contribution to the work of the board.

Farquhar presided at board meetings and other functions with elegance, aplomb and humour. He was cordial in his dealings with other bodies. His media relations were excellent (he was something of a TV star). His support of staff was 100 per cent. What more could be asked of a chairman?

It may seem odd, but when I think of Farquhar, I do not immediately bring to mind his board chairmanship; I think of his infectious laugh. Farquhar could see, and create, humour in any situation, as the many recipients over the years of his and Margaret's warm hospitality will testify. I also think of his singing. Farquhar enjoyed church praise. He had a strong voice, not quite Pavarotti (though the volume was there!); more the Free Church precentor.

He never tired of recalling how, after one of his particularly bravura performances in church, an elderly woman a couple of seats in front turned round and witheringly remarked: "You think you can sing." (This could not, I am sure, have been St Giles.)

The congregation at the Presbyterian Church in Brisbane we once attended certainly appreciated Farquhar's voice, judging by the many furtive glances cast in our direction.

Perhaps my abiding memory of Farquhar is also Australian. We were due at 9am to be received by our Australian hosts for a whole-day conference. Too early, we walked there, taking what we believed was a circular route that would bring us back to the conference building just on time. (This was Farquhar's fault and I am glad to have the last word in the matter.) It gradually became apparent that the route we (Farquhar) had chosen was not circular, but the situation was saved as, with the unerring instinct of an Elgol crofter, Farquhar spotted a shortcut through a field - and so it proved. To exit the field, however, we had, in full view of our Australian hosts, and as composedly as possible, to dreep down a high wall to land in front of a notice board which said "Welcome Mr Macintosh and Dr Walker from Scotland".

We then took our places as distinguished guests in the front row of a raised dais and proceeded to maintain the dignity of Scottish education, immaculately attired in our lounge suits - but with our shoes covered in fresh glaur. Was Farquhar put out by any of this? Not in the slightest. To him, it was a great laugh and he made his contribution to the conference with supreme equanimity. No wonder we will all miss Farquhar.

Dr Farquhar Macintosh, teacher and educationist. Born: 27 October, 1923, at Elgol, Skye. Died: 18 November, 2007, in Edinburgh, aged 84.