West Lothian education: First look at St Kentigern’s temporary classrooms in Blackburn after RAAC discovery

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Temporary classrooms at West Lothian high school impress councillors

Looking at the classrooms set-up at St Kentigern’s in the wake of the discovery of RAAC earlier this year and ‘temporary’ isn’t the word that springs to mind.

The £5 million laid out to ensure the school can continue to operate on-site in Blackburn shows modern well-fitted prefabricated buildings, barely distinguishable from permanent new builds.

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RAAC is a lightweight, 'bubbly' form of concrete commonly used in construction between the 1950s and mid-1990s. It is predominantly found as precast panels in roofs, commonly found in flat roofs, and occasionally in floors and walls.

An interior view of  one of the classrooms at St Kentigern's in Blackburn.An interior view of  one of the classrooms at St Kentigern's in Blackburn.
An interior view of one of the classrooms at St Kentigern's in Blackburn.

As the executive councillor for education Councillor Andrew McGuire said: “these are very different from the past.” Councillors were given an update on the demolition work at St Kent’s at this month’s meeting of the Executive.

The new classrooms were installed over the summer as the first stage of a relocation programme from parts of the 1970s building which were identified as having RAAC roof panels.

At the Executive meeting, Councillor McGuire asked Siobhan McGarty, West Lothian Council’s head of education, how the school’s day to day running was working out with the start of demolition work, and how pupils had adapted to the temporary classrooms.

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Mrs McGarty told the meeting: ““The learning village is actually really well established now. It fits in very well with the school timetable and school curriculum. It covers a range of the curriculum, modern languages, music and we have our large dining hall which is actually a multi-purpose area which is used for parents evenings and assemblies. It’s being well used.”

The new classroom units at St Kentigern's.The new classroom units at St Kentigern's.
The new classroom units at St Kentigern's.

She added that Sally Cameron, an education officer with the council, has been appointed to work from the school to communicate with staff, pupils and parents about the progress of the work which is being undertaken. As with last year, the forthcoming exams in the Spring will be held in the Blackburn Partnership centre.

More than half of the original school building will have to be replaced, and is scheduled to open in 2026.

Headteacher Andrew Sharkey confirmed that the work to undertake the new build is significant but that every effort has been made to mitigate the impact on pupils and staff.

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He said: “You cannot undertake a project on this scale, which includes the demolition of a large part of the school, without it having an impact. However, I have assured parents and pupils that we have gone above and beyond to ensure that the work is not impacting on teaching.

“Considerable efforts have been made to ensure that learning is not adversely impacted. We have put in place a number of measures to enable us to achieve that; including; the establishment of a temporary learning village to accommodate learning/dining/assembly spaces lost due to the ‘closure’ of RACC affected areas of the school; internal re-organisation of administration, pupil support bases and alternative timetabling for the delivery of PE.

“We will have fantastic new facilities for our pupils and staff in place for Summer 2026.”

Councillor McGuire told the LDRS: “I was very impressed with the temporary units at St Kentigern’s when I went to see them in place. I appreciate some may have a different impression of temporary school units from the past, but these modern, hi-spec units provide great facilities for education.

“The £35 million project to rebuild St Kentigern’s is now well under way, and we aim to have pupils into brand new learning spaces by 2026.”