AS DIRECTOR of Education for Lothian Regional Council until his retirement last July, David Semple was responsible for a department with 24,000 employees, 400 educational establishments and a budget of around pounds 400m a year. In his 19 years in the post he was involved in all the developments which have taken place in education since the reorganisation of local government. The management and educational challenges of his position were immense against a background of rapid change, and were a strong test of his management skills. They were not found wanting.
David Semple was born in Grangemouth in 1933. After graduating with an honours degree in geography and subsequently completing a teacher training course in Glasgow, Semple joined the Colonial Education Service in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. It was a period of his life from which he derived great satisfaction, and together with his wife, Margaret, looked back on it with much
His first posting was to a remote rural station in the north of the country where he assumed responsibility for the administration of the education service in an area larger than Scotland. After 10 years in Zambia, where he became Chief Education Officer and later Acting Director of Technical Education, he returned in 1968 to Scotland where he was appointed Assistant Director of Education in Edinburgh. From there he was appointed Director of the new Lothian Regional Authority in 1974.
The job in Lothian, Scotland's second largest education authority, was such that he could have been forgiven for not participating in the wider field of educational activities. This however was not so. He was for many years an educational adviser to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, a member of the University Grants Committee, and a member of UK Advisory Committee on Unesco. He was also a member of the Howie Committee on the future provision for fifth- and sixth- year pupils in secondary schools and took part in the development of educational programmes on television in Scotland.
As General Secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, a position he held from 1986 until his retirement, he was influential in many national developments. In public recognition of his work, he was apppointed CBE in 1991 and received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Education from Napier University, in Edinburgh, in the development of which he played a major part.
My memories of him, extending over 25 years, will be as a friend and a loyal supportive colleague. In many ways an example of the best expression of a public servant, a term not always in favourable currency, he set for himself and for others the very highest standards of performance, and was very loath to make concessions that would compromise these standards.
The challenges of a manager in the public sector are various and require the highest integrity, professional expertise, the best standards of management ability and a sense of judgement in deciding when professional advice should be modified to meet a policy objective. Above all, it has been said that these challenges require courage. David Semple had these qualities in full
This blueprint might imply a dryness of character and a lack of flair. That could never be said of Semple. He had a sense of fun, enjoyed life to the full and pursued his wide range of personal interests with the same energy and thoroughness as he did his work. On the last occasion I visited him, a week before his death, he produced a newspaper cutting about the Gay Hussar, Soho, in the upstairs room of which, 24 years before, we had spent an enjoyable extended lunch with friends and colleagues from the ILEA discussing education. He reminisced with pleasure, and with no hint of resentment at having been robbed of the retirement he so richly deserved.
One of my enduring memories will be of the bravery and cheerfulness with which he confronted his illness up to the very end, supported by the devoted care of his wife, daughter and son.
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