What must happen next after ‘horror’ Fife school fire - Scott Reid

The scenes of fire raging through Woodmill High School on Sunday evening caused understandable shock and horror.

Monday, 26th August 2019, 6:37 pm
Firefighters continue to hose down Woodmill High School in Dunfermline. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Dunfermline residents, and those living for miles beyond, will have been haunted by the image of a thick black pall of smoke darkening what had been the perfect late summer’s sky.

What appeared at first to be a relatively controllable blaze confined to an outbuilding rapidly spread with the result that a major secondary campus housing 1,400 pupils and providing a community hub and sports facilities is out of action for the foreseeable future given the extent of the devastation.

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Fire-hit Woodmill High School in Fife to stay shut for rest of this week

Woodmill is my alma mater – a place of learning that can count Scots singer and actress Barbara Dickson among its alumni.

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The past few days and flood of images have rekindled memories of the place: most happy, some more painful, literally.

This was the late 1970s and early ‘80s when the dreaded Lochgelly tawse was the punishment of choice for many a teacher.

Double PE first thing on a chilly Monday morning was never a delight either.

Over the next few testing days, Fife Council will draft contingency plans for the pupils and staff affected.

It will be an anxious time for hundreds of parents too, whose kids had only just returned to the classroom after the summer break.

Compounding the stress and heartache is the knowledge that the fire may have been the result of a deliberate act.

Perhaps the only good news that may come out of this disaster is the acceleration of plans to upgrade or replace the school, much of which dates back to the late 1950s and 1960s and already showed signs of bursting at the seams when this particular hack was being tutored there all those years ago.

Thanks to its lower property costs and ease of access to the Scottish capital, Dunfermline’s population has mushroomed in recent years. There is little if no slack within the town’s schools.

Council officials and education chiefs have been running the rule over proposals to improve school capacity or amalgamate campuses for some time now, yet the explosion in house building and population in the town’s Duloch area continues. Unlike Dunfermline High School and Queen Anne High, Woodmill and the nearby St Columba’s High have not benefited from modern replacement buildings.

It is likely that ad hoc arrangements to teach the displaced pupils will continue for some time and temporary buildings may need to be erected, possibly close by. Longer term, council bosses must pull out all the stops in progressing with their school building plans. 

- Scott Reid is a former pupil at Woodmill High School and The Scotsman’s business editor

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