First female head to break new ground

25th March 2011 at 00:00
Former pupil Frances Murray to build on strong foundations at Stornoway's Nicolson Institute

As the first female headteacher of Stornoway's Nicolson Institute, the largest secondary school in the Western Isles, Frances Murray will break new ground when she takes up her appointment this month.

With construction of a new school building under way, Mrs Murray sees the post as a great leadership opportunity. "I was interested in the post because of the challenges of the new building opening in August next year and the opportunity to combine that with the Curriculum for Excellence," she says.

"It's going to be the first time that the school has been under one roof and that will make a huge difference for us."

Hailing from Stornoway and a former pupil - and 1980 dux - of the Nicolson, Mrs Murray initially studied law at Glasgow University before switching to English and Scottish literature. She did her PGCE in teacher training at Jordanhill and her first post was at Castlebay School on Barra, where she taught for 16 years. In 2003, she moved to the Nicolson as principal teacher of English and, four years later, was made depute with responsibility for taking it through the Schools of Ambition programme. Early in 2010, she was appointed learning community principal.

It is a career that has equipped her with a mix of objectivity and an intimate understanding of how the school should evolve. "I want to look at how we can contribute to the whole of the Western Isles and how the Western Isles can contribute to us. I'm very positive about putting an accent on everyone learning from each other - pupils and staff. And I'm a great believer in what CPD (continuing professional development) can do."

Having recently used Skype to interview an applicant for a maths post while he was in the Middle East, she is excited about the prospect of embracing new technology in the school, and plans to develop virtual learning environments using Glow.

The Nicolson Institute currently has a roll of 1,011 pupils and well- established links with the FE sector in the delivery of vocational education from S3-6. Current economic pressures mean there are more young people staying on at the school and, with a sharp rise in the number of local students attending the island's Lews Castle College, Mrs Murray wants to see the relationship between the two strengthened.

As the steel skeleton of the new Nicolson Institute emerges, she is excited about what can be achieved, if phlegmatic about the significance of her own appointment. "We've now got a female director of education and the chair and vice-chair of the education committee are both women - so maybe it's about time."

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