A Fife school almost two centuries old will welcome its first female rector as it enters a new era.
Madras College’s new head Avril McNeill, 47, will take up post in August, bringing all three secondary schools and the university in north-east Fife under female leadership.
As well as overseeing pupils’ return to school almost five months after the country went into lockdown, Mrs McNeill will preside over the long-awaited move to the St Andrews school’s new building next summer.
Having been rector at Glenrothes High School for six years, she said: “This is a new challenge for me and I can’t wait to get started.
“I am absolutely delighted and very, very proud to be the first female rector, albeit acting rector, since the school’s inception in 1833.”
Mrs McNeill acknowledged the work of retiring rector David McLure as she looked ahead to an “exciting time” for Madras College.
Construction of the £50 million new building at Langlands, which will replace the school’s campuses at South Street and Kilrymont Road, recently resumed.
Its completion will be a new chapter for the school founded by the Rev. Dr Andrew Bell, a chaplain who taught children in India using what was known as the Madras system where older pupils help teach the younger ones.
Mrs McNeill said: “This will be a fantastic facility for the whole community and the young people.
“What I will be making sure of is that the community gets good communication about that and where we are with it.”
When she takes up the helm on August 10, her first priority will be “ensuring the wellbeing of staff and the young people on their return and getting back to a new normal”.
I am absolutely delighted and very, very proud to be the first female rector, albeit acting rector, since the school’s inception in 1833.”
Mrs McNeill said: “It will be about making them feel safe and happy on their return and getting them ready for potential exams in 2021 for those young people who have missed out on that.”
Coronavirus restrictions on normal life will have had an impact on pupils, she said.
“They will have missed the social contact with their friends. We need to make sure they have that social contact.
“For me, a big part of it will be getting them back into the routine of going to school every day and rebuilding their confidence.”
Pupils will have learned to varying degrees during lockdown, she said as she praised the support of Fife Council and the Scottish Government in ensuring access to educational material.
Teachers will be absolutely delighted to see the young people back again.”
She said: “Once they are back we need to make sure we are supporting them in their learning and bringing them back up to speed.
“Teachers will be absolutely delighted to see the young people back again.”
Mrs McNeill will be familiar to some Madras staff, having taught history and modern studies there from 1998 to 2005.
Trained at Jordanhill College and originally from Renfrewshire, Mrs McNeill, who is married to Alasdair and mum to Finn, 16, and Oran, 12, has also taught at Kirkland High School, where she was principal teacher, and was depute rector at Perth Academy between 2010 and 2014.
Her appointment, temporary for now due to the current situation, was welcomed by Madras College parent council.
A spokesperson said: “Not only will Avril be the school’s first female rector but she will bring an energy and a drive and a passion to the role that should be welcomed by all.”
The other female rectors in the area are Carol Ann Penrose, at Bell Baxter High School, in Cupar, and Elizabeth Smart, at Waid Academy, Anstruther, while at St Andrews University Professor Sally Mapstone is the institution’s second female principal.
The area’s Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain welcomed the appointment of another woman.
She said: “I’m pleased to see that women are rising through the ranks of our education sector here in Fife.
“As the first woman MP for North East Fife, and with Sally Mapstone leading St Andrews University as its principal, it’s great to see women in leadership roles across secondary education as well.
“I look forward to meeting Avril in her new role and wish her the best of success at Madras after the summer.”
I’m pleased to see that women are rising through the ranks of our education sector here in Fife.”
Wendy Chamberlain MP