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August 13, 2005

Donaldson's sell-off 'needed to take college into future'

From: Scotsman, United Kingdom - Aug 13, 2005


THE new headteacher of Scotland's deaf school has said the controversial sell-off of its Victorian building in Edinburgh is necessary to bring the school into the 21st century.

Janice MacNeill, who has just taken over as principal of Donaldson's College, believes the existing school, which is 153 years old, will not be fit for purpose for much longer.

She has taken over the reins of the school as it prepares to move from its base in West Coates to a newly-built school in Linlithgow, which will boast state-of-the-art facilities and is set to be finished by summer 2007.

The college, which is in one of the Capital's most eye-catching buildings, is to be transformed into private flats in a multi-million pound deal.

Donaldson's, which is Scotland's national school for the deaf and speech and language impaired children, is believed to have made around £15 million from the sale, but may still need to find funds to build the new school.

Admitting that there will be a "great sadness" to the move, the new principal has pledged to make sure that the school's heritage is preserved when the relocation goes ahead.

"The move will be a great thing. Donaldson's is an absolutely beautiful building, but it is possibly not now as fit for purpose as it might be," Ms MacNeill said.

"There are lots of high ceilings, which make it quite a difficult environment because of the acoustics.

"There is a great sadness to leaving, and I would like to retain a lot of its heritage. But we want to take the school forward into the 21st century, one which the whole of Scotland can be proud of."

Ms MacNeill took over from former headteacher Janet Allan, who took early retirement this summer after more than six years at the helm of Donaldson's.

She previously worked as the head of inclusion at West Lothian College in Livingston.

There will be 70 pupils aged between three and 19 from across Scotland and the north of England starting the new school year at Donaldson's next week.

In 2005, Ms MacNeill's work at West Lothian College earned her a place as runner-up in the West Lothian Women in Business award for Female Employee of the Year.

During her four years at the college, she increased the number of special needs students from 80 to more than 550 each year.

A qualified primary and secondary teacher, she worked for Capability Scotland before spending 16 years as headteacher at Stanmore House special school in Lanark.

John Chalmers, the chairman of Donaldson's board of governors, said: "We are delighted to have been able to appoint Janice MacNeill at this most demanding time for Donaldson's College as we move to our new purpose built site in Linlithgow."

Ms MacNeill added: "It is absolutely exciting, I am so delighted to have the opportunity of taking the college forward in its move to Linlithgow."