Professor John Howie dies at the age of 75

editorial image

PROFESSOR Emeritus in Mathematics at St Andrews University, John Howie, who played an influential role in shaping Scottish school education, has died. He was 75.

In the 1970s, he served on the Dunning Committee, whose recommendations led to the introduction of Standard Grades.

From 1990-92, he chaired a committee appointed by the then Secretary of State to investigate the post-compulsory (16-18 years) phase of secondary education.

The challenging Howie Report (Upper Secondary Education in Scotland) recommended the introduction of a continental- style baccalaureate to replace Highers. Although this proved too radical for the government of the day, the analysis in the report provided much of the motivation for its own initiative in the introduction of “Higher Still.”

The report recommended a separate stream of vocational qualifications for pupils who wanted to stay on at school beyond the age of 16, but were not academically gifted.

While his suggestion of a twin-track approach was ultimately rejected, the Howie Report paved the way for subsequent reforms of the school system.

Professor Howie, who was awarded a CBE in 1993 for his services to education, was appointed to the Regius Chair of Mathematics at St Andrews in 1970 and held that post until his retirement in 1997.

In 1982, he was awarded the Keith Prize of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Professor Howie was chairman of the Board of Governors of Dundee College of Education from 1983-87, and was a governor of the Northern College (Aberdeen and Dundee) from 1987-2001.

He also held numerous high-profile positions within mathematics circles, chairing the Scottish Mathematical Council from 1987-93 and convened the Mathematics Panel of the Scottish Examination Board from 1970-73.

In 2000, he received an honorary degree of Doctor of the University from the Open University.

Educated at Robert Gordon’s College, Aberdeen, where he was Dux, he achieved first-class honours in mathematics and philosophy at Aberdeen University in 1954.

He was awarded a D.Phil by Oxford University in 1961 and a D.Sc from Aberdeen University in 1970.

Prior to coming to St Andrews in 1970, he was a lecturer in maths at Glasgow University from 1963-67 and a senior lecturer in maths at Stirling University from 1967 for three years.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1971.

He made numerous research visits abroad including to the USA, Australia and Portugal, Turkey and Italy and also lectured in Hungary, Germany, Japan and New Zealand.

He served on the Scottish Examination Board from 1967-73 and from 1970 was convener of its Mathematics Panel, was chairman of the Scottish Central Committee for Mathematics from 1975-81 and president of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society from 1973-74.

Professor Howie also served on the London Mathematical Society, including as chairman of both its education committee and public affairs committee.

Aside from academic interests, Professor Howie was well known in St Andrews as a musician and was organist and choir director at Hope Park Church for more than 30 years.

He was a founder member and past president of the St Andrews Chorus from 1995-97, president of the University Staff Country Dance Group 1996-97 and also 1999-2000 and treasurer of St Andrews Music Club.

He was also a member of the University Renaissance Group.

Professor Howie is survived by his wife, Dorothy, daughter Anne - he was predeceased by another daughter, Kathy - and four grandchildren.