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‘Our young people constantly amaze me’: One year on from devastating fire, Woodmill High pupils face fresh challenges

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Eactly one year on from the fire which devastated Woodmill High School in Dunfermline, pupils face fresh challenges as they continue their studies amid a pandemic.

The blaze, which destroyed the Department of Additional Support (DAS) and large sections of the school in Shields Road, meant 1,400 pupils and staff had to be decanted to eight separate sites.

After a major construction project to create a new wing at Woodmill, nearly all pupils, with the exception of youngsters from the DAS, are back on site.

Inside the new wing at Woodmill High School.

With the Covid-19 pandemic creating uncertainty for schools across the country, rector Sandy McIntosh said:  “I’m not taking anything for granted given the world we live in just now so I’m being a wee bit cautious around that but it’s really nice having all of the kids back in.

Woodmill High School rector Sandy McIntosh.

Mr McIntosh described the past year as “really challenging” and said the thunderstorms and flooding which coincided with the first day of term did not help.

“It has felt like we’ve been getting picked on as a school community at different times but having said that we’re really, really fortunate that we’ve got a strong culture within the school.

“Our parents have been fantastic. They’ve done a lot to support the young people within the school and the young people have been amazing as well. They’ve worked really hard in those challenging circumstances, so I’ve been very, very proud of our young people, and they’ve been really resilient through all of this.

“But I’m not underplaying the fact that it’s been a really hard year for them.”

The aftermath of the fire.

He said working across eight sites had been “a real stretch” but everyone is expected to be back on site in October, when the new DAS at Woodmill and facilities including a new dining hall and science classrooms are due to open.

“I’m not overly complacent yet. We still need to get our young people from the DAS back into the building and only at that point I think will I pause for breath but we’ve been very fortunate in that a massive range of partners have worked really, really hard to work on quite tight timescales in really difficult circumstances to have a school that pupils are proud of.

Smoke billowing into the Fife sky during the blaze at Woodmill High School.
The fire burning late into the night.

“It’s been a very challenging year but our young people constantly amaze me with what they are, what they’ve done and what they’ve put up with, and with how well they have done.

“But we still need to be careful. It’s a really challenging time that young people are going through just now so we’re keen to do everything we can as a school to support them.”

Pupils had ‘head start’ for home learning as a result of the fire.

Christy Henderson.

Sixth year pupil Christy Henderson considers herself fortunate to have been given the chance to continue her schooling at Fife College following the fire but is relieved to be back at Woodmill.

And the 16-year-old said having had to get to grips with home learning after the fire, pupils were prepared when schools were closed during lockdown.

“I think at the start it definitely made it harder to concentrate, working from home. But because of that practice it made covid a lot easier.

“There was a lot of working from home so we had that head start against other schools in Scotland.”

Christy said despite being scattered across different sites, pupils pulled together.

“Everyone was helping each other a lot more. I don’t know if that came from us just being in the senior part of the school or if it came from the fire, bringing everyone together as a cohort. I think that made it easier for studying.

“We definitely felt there was a stronger connection within the year groups.”

Christy herself helped by running a virtual guitar group, adding that it provided an opportunity for younger pupils to seek help with their school work.

Describing being back in school as “amazing”, she added: “Woodmill always feels like a home environment. There are always people there to help you and I missed being with everyone. Not just my friends, but being able to work in groups and not have things be online.”