Ten-year legacy of mistrust

The appeal by the rector of the Nicolson Institute against a written warning is an uncanny replay of an exact parallel 10 years ago.

Edward Young, headteacher from 1968-89, also received a written warning from Neil Galbraith, now Scotland's longest-serving director of education. It alleged five grounds of mismanagement, including unauthorised contact with the media.

A council subcommittee, in a 10-hour sitting, upheld three of the five charges. The incident highlighted the claim and counter-claim which HMI now says has led to "a climate of distrust and suspicion". The school alleged excessive interference and Mr Galbraith complained that the Nicolson was a law unto itself. Timetabling and staffing were running sores.

The row eventually boiled over into a special meeting of the Western Isles Council, in an attempt to restore confidence in the school. Remarkably, councillors refused by 18 votes to nine to pass a motion of confidence in the Nicolson's management and staff.

In a broadside a couple of years later Allan Whiteford, the influential retiring depute and a vociferous critic of Mr Galbraith, proclaimed the Western Isles "an educational disaster area". Just five people had applied for the headship of what was then the council's only six-year secondary. Mr Macdonald got the job.

An Inspectorate report in September 1988 urged Mr Young to become a more "interventionist" rector. With heavy irony, Mr Galbraith promised to encourage him.

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