When the pandemic struck he oversaw an almost overnight education overhaul in Dundee.
When Braeview Academy went up in flames he led efforts to get children back to class quickly.
And when nursery entitlement was expanded to 1,140 hours he was responsible for creating the capacity to provide it.
As Paul Clancy prepares to retire, he recalled some of the challenges and achievements of being boss of Dundee City Council’s children and families service.
He also spoke of his sense of fatherly duty as the corporate parent of the city’s care experienced children, and how more needs to be done for them.
Mr Clancy, 59, will stand down as executive director on December 23 after almost five years in the role, and 36 years after he began teaching music, first at Arbroath High School, then Arbroath Academy and Morgan Academy.
He has also served in various other council roles over the years, including head of service for educational development.
Responding to the pandemic and the 2018 fire which engulfed Braeview Academy were the two events, he said, which gave him the “greatest cause for pause”.
When the pandemic closed schools in March last year, Mr Clancy and his team supported them in quickly implementing remote learning, transforming the way teachers taught and learners learned.
His team also had to ensure they remained in contact with families who needed support from social workers and others.
It was a “frightening” time, he told us, and worrying about children in need of protection kept him awake at night.
He said: “We targeted hundreds, hundreds of young people we felt we needed to see.
“The team worked tremendously, I think we had the community support centres open within a week of schools closing.
“And looking at the numbers we were taking in, it was more than double the national average.”
Keeping children safe is the most important thing we do.”
An “awful lot of people” were involved in a response he described as a great achievement.
But he said: “It was a worry, it was a concern and that’s where I would lose sleep, around the child protection issues, making sure that children were being looked after.
“Child protection is always the number one concern, above everything else. Keeping children safe is the most important thing we do.”
Braeview Academy fire
Late on the evening of September 11, 2018, Paul heard on the news of a massive blaze at a Dundee secondary school.
He jumped in his car and raced to Braeview Academy.
Paul said: “We were standing looking at this building burning and thinking ‘how do we get these kids in school?’
“Plans were put into place very, very quickly. We managed to split them between two schools within a very, very short period of time. Everybody dropped everything to get the kids back to school.
“Watching the way the school responded to it, you look back on it with a sense of satisfaction but at the time there was a lot of head scratching.”
Come August 2025 – all going to plan – the school and Craigie High School will be replaced by a new campus which Paul said will be “the best school in Scotland.”
Children across Scotland are now entitled to 1,140 hours of early learning and childcare.
This, Paul said, will help close the poverty-related attainment gap but creating the infrastructure and human resources to provide that was one of the biggest challenges ever in education.
He said: “It can’t be underestimated the number of staff that required training, the physical set-up of the new buildings, the relationships with parents, the private sector.
What a tremendous start that has given our young people…”
“It was a huge undertaking, but I have a brilliant team and the officers leading that have been exceptional.
“It’s a great thing to see that availability in the city, that vulnerable two-year-olds and others are able to access education, and a guarantee of 1,140 hours for all three and four-year-olds.
“What a tremendous start that has given our young people, so that we’ve got less of a difference when they go into primary school.”
Care experienced children
As their corporate parents, Dundee City Council’s greatest responsibility is its care experienced children, according to Paul.
Improving the support provided to them and having as many as possible with their own families or relatives in the city is his hope for the future.
He said : “Although we are doing well, we are doing better, there’s more that needs to be done to improve these outcomes.”
In retirement father-of-six Paul hopes to spend more time with his wife and grown-up children – including two sets of twins. A well-known musician, he also intends to spend more time performing.
But the welfare of others will remain a focus, as he also plans to return to university to study counselling.
Paul described it a “great privilege” to serve the city’s children and families.
Children and families service convener Councillor Stewart Hunter said successes of the service were down to how Paul’s leadership.
He said: “We do have a great team in Dundee but teams only work if they are led properly.
“Paul’s personality and the way he is able to relate to people and on a really human level is why that team has excelled.
“It’s going to be a sad day for us in December when we lose him because he has been an integral part of everything that’s happened in education, certainly in my time as a councillor and long before that.”