Journalist, author and teacher James McEnaney is joining The Herald to bring his experience to set the agenda and encourage debate around Scotland's education system. His coverage will challenge and celebrate issues affecting higher education, teachers and students.

For me, the spring of 2010 feels like a lifetime ago. I was living in Stewarton and getting by as a support worker in a residential care setting.

It is rewarding work, especially if – like me – you have a family member who depends upon it, but it is also physically, mentally, emotionally and financially exhausting. I needed to do something else – but what?

At this point I had an English degree, a little bit of experience in private tutoring, and no better ideas - so I applied to a few ‘Initial Teacher Education’ courses. I didn’t expect to get in - to tell you the truth, I was secretly hoping I wouldn’t make it – but within a few days I had been accepted and within a few weeks the course had begun. I was, it seemed, going to be an English teacher.

Twelve months, three placements, two schools and hundreds of pupils later, I found myself standing in my own classroom on the first floor of the Isle of Arran’s only high school. I had fallen in love with a job that had been, at best, something of a last resort, and over the next three years would do the same with Arran itself. I was very happy

Then, a few weeks after the 2014 referendum, my family and I reluctantly returned to Glasgow, having been forced back to the mainland by a combination of the cost of island living, the limited healthcare provision, and the general disdain with which this country treats its islands.

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With most of that year’s school jobs already gone, I took one in a college and became a lecturer in English and Communication. I expected to stay for nine months – that was nearly nine years ago.

Teaching in a college turned out to be every bit as rewarding and inspiring as working in a high school, and since coming back to Glasgow it has been a genuine privilege to be part of the life-changing work of the further education sector. Being a lecturer in Scotland’s biggest, most diverse, and arguably most troubled city as massively expanded my understanding of, and appreciation for, the power of education.

Despite my considerable doubts upon stumbling into the teaching profession, the truth is I have been incredibly lucky to spend so much time helping people. Education became a passion, maybe even an obsession, and I started to think that maybe I’d spend the rest of my days in classrooms.

But something else happened over the last few years: I somehow became one of the country’s leading education journalists.

It started with a hopeful Freedom of Information request about plans for standardised testing and then all got a bit out of hand: dozens of articles, including agenda-setting investigations like my work on the 2020 exam results scandal; media appearances, speaking engagements and contributions to new publications about the state of modern Scotland; and eventually my own book, Class Rules – the Truth about Scottish Schools, which was written and published during the dark days of the Covid pandemic.

But here’s the thing: all of that work, every single bit of it, was done in my spare time. It was squeezed into early mornings, late nights and chunks of weekends and holidays, and for every story that came together another ten were never told because I simply, mathematically, did not have the time.

That is about to change.

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After twelve years, I’ve decided to step out of the classroom and will be joining The Herald – on a freelance basis – as the new education writer. It is a huge change and a massive challenge, but it’s also an opportunity that was just too good to turn down, and while stepping back from teaching has been a difficult decision, I really believe that this is a job worth doing.

Alongside exclusive investigations, I’m going to be producing features, profiles, explainers, interviews and video content, and I’ll be travelling all over the country, and talking to as many people as possible, as part of the process.

I want to visit nurseries, primary schools, high schools, colleges, universities, outdoor centres, charities, hospitals, studios, community hubs, playing fields, workshops and all the other places where the power of education is evident.

I want to answer your questions about the vagaries and intricacies of the system, demystify some of the data it generates, and help you feel more informed about this vital aspect of our society.

I want to tell readers all about the big, bold, revolutionary projects taking place, but I also want to show them some of the tiny, life-changing, magical work that happens every day.

If that all sounds like a shift away from education coverage that often feels relentlessly negative then great – that’s part of the plan as well.

It is vital that we continue holding decision-makers to account and speaking truth to power, cutting through the spin and digging into the issues that those in charge would rather keep under wraps.

But we also need to do more.

I know that some people seem to believe, or at least claim to believe, that the educational landscape of Scotland is some sort of apocalyptic disaster zone populated by feckless teachers and illiterate kids keeping warm around a bonfire of our world-leading reputation.

I don’t believe that.

I believe that there are plenty of problems in Scottish education, that we have seen and will continue to see outrageous scandals, and that thousands of young people are failed by the status quo every single year.

I believe that the state of Scottish and UK politics is having a profound negative impact on Scottish education and that historic political decisions such as austerity and Brexit continue to wreak havoc.

I believe that the media in this country has sometimes been part of the problem, with too much time spent chasing clicks through controversy and, in the most extreme cases, manufacturing outrage, the result of which is a hollowed-out product that fails to properly inform the public

But above all, I believe that every single day, in every education setting in the country, learners of all ages, stages, abilities and backgrounds have their lives changed.

Those stories deserve to be told too.

From now on, they will be.