Coronavirus: The pupils separated from their school for 10 months

By Morag Kinniburgh
BBC News Scotland

  • Published
Mum Kelly, Josh and Kieran have had to deal with 10 months of upheaval after the fire at Woodmill
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Mum Kelly, Josh and Kieran have had to deal with 10 months of upheaval after the fire at Woodmill

It has been a devastating 10 months for the pupils of Woodmill High School.

First a fire ripped through the well-loved high school and additional support unit in Dunfermline.

Then, just as the remaining pupils prepared to return to the site, the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Pupils looking forward to getting back to their classrooms, friends and teachers were sent home with the rest of the country and their world was turned upside down again.

It could now be August - or later - before they are reunited.

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More than 80 firefighters were involved in tackling the blaze

The upheaval, worry and disruption has sent shockwaves through many families in the area.

The fire started in the Department of Additional Support (DAS) within the school and completely destroyed it.

Children with additional support needs felt the effects of the forced change, as did siblings within the mainstream parts of the school.

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Kelly has seen her whole family affected by the fire at the school

'We hit a brick wall as a family'

Josh, 13, only had three days at senior school when fire wrecked the building and the school was forced to shut.

His S1 has been spent with lessons at a nearby community centre, without full educational facilities.

He told BBC Scotland: ''Since the fire I've not really had much practical work at school so I've just like been doing the theory side of stuff."

He said he had missed a lot of science experiments and home economics.

Josh was getting ready to go back to Woodmill this Easter after the construction of new portable classrooms and parts of the original building having been refurbished. But then came the Covid-19 lockdown.

His mum Kelly, 40, said: ''Over the last 12 months it's just been a rollercoaster really for them and they have been really impacted."

Her older son Kieran, 18, has special needs and a range of disabilities.

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Kieran moves to adult support this summer and wanted to say a proper goodbye to the school that supported him through his childhood

His sixth year came to an abrupt halt, all important social contact was lost and Kelly says they needed emergency help.

She said: "By week three [of lockdown] we had kind of hit a brick wall as a family. Kieran was quite distressed and was making himself ill.

"He wasn't eating, he was making himself vomit, that was his way of expressing how he felt."

Kieran said: "Lockdown has been very hard and I have been missing my friends from school."

Kelly explained he is due to move to adult support services this summer and had really wanted a chance to say goodbye to the school community that had supported him through his childhood.

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Emma (left) is struggling socially with the extended time out of her class and Callum may struggle with social distancing

'Academically she's managing but socially it's destroying her'

Things have also been a challenge for Suzanne, 44 and her two children who have additional support needs.

She said the past year had taken its toll and caring for them at home without school had been immensely stressful.

She said 11-year-old Emma was worried about making the transition from P7 to S1 during lockdown.

"Academically she's doing all right but socially it's destroying her," she said. "She's becoming quite withdrawn."

Callum's special needs mean he is very anxious as well as highly tactile so he may have to stay at home for another year.

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Suzanne fears a vaccine will be the only end to lockdown for her son

Suzanne said: "Even when the world starts to move again he's obviously not going to be able to stick to social distancing rules that are going to be put in place so I do feel that this'll impact onto us until such time as they come up with a vaccine for the virus because Callum really can't go back to a normal life in the meantime.''

Woodmill's head teacher Sandy McIntosh confirmed letters were sent to parents this week to update them on how the current pandemic crisis had affected plans to rebuild the school.

He said: "Construction work had to stop at the school in March due to the restrictions caused by the coronavirus crisis, and this has inevitably led to a delay in our plans to have the new accommodation ready for pupils by August.

"The good news is that we are re-starting this business critical work in the next few weeks, taking into consideration all the new safe distancing requirements, and we should be on track for pupils to return to Woodmill DAS after the October holidays."

Fife Council has said there is support available for vulnerable families.

Head of Education and Children's Services, Shelagh McLean said: "Schools and head teachers are working closely with colleagues across our social work teams to make sure our most vulnerable children are being supported through this crisis and, and collectively we are contacting and meeting with families at least once a week to understand and respond to any changing needs.''

Woodmill High - timeline of disruption

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New classrooms at Woodmill High were to be ready after Easter

25 August 2019 - On the first Sunday of the new school term, Woodmill High goes up in flames. Members of the community watched as firefighters battled through the night and the devastation of the fire was revealed at first light on Monday morning.

27 August - The local community raises £6,000 to help replace damaged equipment in the school, in particular for the Department of Additional Support (DAS) unit based there, where the fire started and which was completely destroyed. About 1,400 pupils are displaced and work begins to accommodate them elsewhere. But other local schools are at capacity. Pupils are split across a number of sites.

4 September - Fife Council announces that a £150m new education campus will be built to replace Woodmill High and incorporate St Columba's High and Fife College in a new purpose-built facility. The bad news is that the facility is unlikely to be completed until 2024.

7 January 2020 - Woodmill High reopens to older year groups with a combination of salvaged classrooms and new temporary classrooms. It is hoped the rest of the school will be back for Easter and that the DAS pupils will be relocated back to the old site by August 2020.

18 March - Fife Council, in line with Scottish government guidance, prepares to close all schools by the end of the week.