Obituary: Alan Macdonald, teacher

Alan Macdonald

Alan Macdonald

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Alan Macdonald, teacher, born 1 April, 1942, in Dunoon. Died 22 August, 2016 , in Kirkcaldy, aged 74

Alan Macdonald was a well-known and highly-respected figure in Scottish Education and a leading light in curriculum and pedagogy.

Alan was the younger child of Gisèle and John (Ian) Macdonald. His French mother played cello to concert performance standard and his father had a first class honours degree in English so perhaps Alan’s musicality and wonderful facility with words came from both nature and nurture.

After prolonged hospitalisation for scarlet fever he returned home a deeply withdrawn little boy. The gift of a child’s violin proved the turning point and playing music gave him and others great pleasure throughout his life. Alan wrote stories and poetry from a young age. He attended Greenock Academy where his father was head of English. He was also involved in a theatre group run by his contemporary Bill Bryden.

After graduating from Edinburgh University, Alan played music around Europe, was a DJ in Amsterdam and enjoyed climbing in west coast America. When his father finally called time on Alan’s Grand Tour the Job Centre dispatched him to teach English at Port Glasgow High. Alan’s lifelong passion for teaching started there.

Alan was headteacher at Donibristle Primary School, Dalgety Bay from 1979 to 1997. As a school maker, he developed and opened this new school around his own unique vision and philosophy of primary education.

He always put children at the heart of his work and did his best for them. As a creative thinker, he was a champion of active learning, using meaningful contexts to ensure learning was real and stimulating for children.

In doing this, Alan was renowned for having his own way of doing things, he knew what he wanted to achieve and supported his staff to take risks and be innovative. Donibristle School was widely recognised for these innovative approaches to learning, with “Mr Togs the Tailor” being one example of the many successes which came out of Donibristle based on Alan’s vision.

In many ways, Alan was a headteacher ahead of his time, as what he was promoting in child-centred learning within a purposeful, interdisciplinary context, now embodies much of what is being advocated in Curriculum for Excellence.

His philosophy on education was always clear. Not only evident within Donibristle, but through his work nationally with bodies such as the Scottish Committee on Language Arts, Alan left a legacy in education which is still recognised and relevant today.

Before Donibristle, Alan was headteacher at Philiphaugh Primary School, Selkirk.

In 1989 he joined the Dunfermline folk group, Heritage, (playing fiddle and mandolin) and proved to be the best of company on a trip the group made to Wilhelmshaven that same year, and on another, to Villeneuve sur Lot in 1990. He also contributed to what would prove to be their swansong recording, Tell Tae Me, released in 1993.

Alan was a lifelong socialist. He could be outspoken and on occasion expressed his opinions in highly articulate letters to newspapers, local authorities and others.

Alan enjoyed and was very knowledgeable about art and ballet as well as music. He loved hill walking, travel and the natural world and took many stunning photographs. He also had a quick and at times wry sense of humour.

For several years after retirement, Alan was a valued member of the Children’s Panel. He then started to create the beautiful garden which he happily shared with many admiring visitors. He was an excellent cook and enjoyed making wonderful meals for friends.

Alan was an endlessly thoughtful and caring friend. Generous, protective and supportive, he was extraordinarily kind and patient. Those close to him felt truly cherished.

He died of sarcoma on 22August 2016 after a very short illness. Alan is survived by his sister Marie, his nephew David and his niece Catherine. He will be greatly missed by the many people who held him dear.

Alan Urquhart (HMI), Dr Isobel Campbell and Alistair Marshall

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