Headteacher and educationalist.


Born: March 26, 1946

Died: October 11, 2014.

An appreciation.

Rosemary McDonald, who has died aged 68, was one of the leading and most respected figures in Scottish education for many years. In a long and remarkable career involving a variety of teaching posts and a spell in teacher training, she distinguished herself as a wonderful and inspiring teacher, an extremely able administrator, a successful and innovative headteacher and a colleague of unfailing loyalty and support.

She was born in Rutherglen in 1946, the eldest of five children born to Kathleen and Michael McDonald. She attended St Columbkille's Primary School before going on to Elmwood Convent School, becoming head girl in her final year there. She went on to Glasgow University where she obtained a degree in English and Latin in 1967. She had considered a career in law but opted to go to the former Notre Dame College of Education to take a teacher's diploma.

She started her teaching in St Margaret Mary's Secondary School in Castlemilk, before becoming assistant principal teacher guidance to Sacred Heart High School, Paisley (now St Andrew's Academy) where she later became principal teacher guidance. During this time she began studying for a master's degree in education at Glasgow University, a course which she crowned with a first class honours degree.

Shortly after, in 1973, she joined the staff of Notre Dame College of Education, as education and psychology lecturer. She remained there for three years, becoming a member of the board of governors. In 1976, she returned to school life as assistant headteacher, guidance, in St Columba's High School in Gourock. Three years later she became depute headteacher in Trinity High School, Renfrew.

She was a splendid communicator with staff and pupils. Her experience as a lecturer in Notre Dame Teacher Training College attested to her deep and wide knowledge of all aspects of educational theory and practice. As depute in Trinity High School she deployed all these skills and qualities. Her success in administration and leadership made her an exceptional candidate for promotion to the role of headteacher. For those who knew her well, her progress was inevitable. In 1984 she was appointed headteacher of St Aidan's High School, a large secondary school in Wishaw, at the youthful age of 38.

She faced considerable challenges in St Aidan's. At the time of her appointment the areas of Wishaw, Craigneuk, Newmains and Shotts were in decline after the closure of Ravenscraig, resulting in massive unemployment and deprivation across the area. Two immediate problems needed to be tackled. Firstly she had to keep the morale of staff up. Secondly she had to establish the "bargaining power" of St Aidan's among the other headteachers in the consortium of schools regarding timetables and the shared allocation of minority subjects.

She raised staff morale by adopting a consultative approach to management, involving staff in decision-making. She believed staff would become committed to decisions if they knew their opinions had been taken into account. She saw staff - and not just teachers but also office and ancillary workers, janitors and dinner ladies - as her greatest asset.

The consortium problem was difficult. It was one in which a new, young headteacher might reasonably be thought to be at a disadvantage, but through meticulous planning and determination to succeed, she soon established St Aidan's as an equal partner in the local school consortium. St Aidan's went from strength to strength.

She brought intelligence, wit and common sense to everything she did, with a very clear vision of what she wanted for her school but with an awareness also of what was achievable. Her manner was unassuming but that disguised the quiet conviction of a deep thinker. She showed transforming, supportive, challenging leadership. Results were soon evident in approaches to teaching and learning, pupil guidance and support and levels of attainment and achievement. She asked for the best from staff and pupils. She established a firm but fair discipline policy. School uniform was de rigueur. She was determined to provide the best possible educational experience for her pupils. They knew they were valued and respected, as did parents and staff. St Aidan's became a real beacon of hope and pride for the community.

In 1994 an HMI Inspection resulted in a glowing report. In 1995 St Aidan's was selected to represent Scotland in the prestigious Bertellsman Competition, an international award for innovation and excellence. Her school came second only to Toronto High School. International recognition followed.

She was now a member of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum and in 1995 was offered a post on North Lanarkshire Council's Directorate of Education. Initially she was tempted, but with characteristic feistiness she turned it down in favour of staying at St Aidan's, saying that running a school successfully was the ultimate challenge. She retired from St Aidan's after 22 years of service as headteacher.

Her sense of humour was never far away. Her senior management team was, for a short while, almost exclusively female. She enjoyed the joke when told that, locally at least, St Aidan's was being referred to as Tenko High.

Stories of her exploits, mishaps and adventures are legion. She marked the first August of her retirement with a fly-past, as co-pilot, over her beloved St Aidan's just to check all was well and to wave a final farewell - a gift from her family. The prodigious workload was replaced by plans to see the world and have long lunches with the numerous friends she had kept since schooldays, university and teaching. Lifelong friendships were her trademark.

She refused to be defined by myeloma, the illness that dogged her last six years. That was a private battle. Generously, courageously, she lived life to the full and was a wonderful sister, friend and colleague, never to be forgotten. For those who loved her, her death was sudden and untimely. It was a privilege to have known her.