Chapter One: Introduction
1.1 This report describes the process and findings of an independent review undertaken on behalf of the Deputy First Minister in response to a range of health and safety concerns around Buchanan and St Ambrose High Schools which are co-located on the same site in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire.
Purpose of the review
1.2 On 12 June 2019, the Deputy First Minister, in light of public concerns and with the intention of providing reassurance to parents, pupils and staff at the Buchanan and St Ambrose High School campus in Coatbridge, announced an independent review, with the following scope, agreed in conjunction with North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire:
"The Scottish Government, following consultation with North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire, have asked Paul Cackette, the Scottish Government Chief Planning Reporter, and Dr Margaret Hannah, former Director of Public Health, to undertake an independent and impartial review of the evidence in relation to the reported health and safety concerns at Buchanan and St Ambrose High School campus including the history and construction and maintenance of this site. The primary purpose of the review will be to provide further reassurance to the local community. This will include:
I. As a priority, a review of the public health measures taken and conclusions drawn by NHS Lanarkshire in relation to the health concerns expressed by the school and local communities. The review will address specific health concerns that have been raised including:
- possible exposure to unspecified chemicals resulting from previous land use now at the new school site
- attending the school and acquiring cancer, specifically bladder cancer
- the presence of copper in the drinking water supply
- attendance at the school and the acquisition and impact of elevated blood levels of arsenic
II. Assessing the information provided on public health related concerns raised by parents, pupils, school staff and the local community;
III. Reviewing the risk assessment made and validation of works undertaken across the site to assess whether all activity was carried out in accordance with appropriate Regulations and best practice to mitigate against any risk to public health. This review would be carried out by a party independent of the original works and with input from all other agencies involved.
"On the basis of the assessment of the evidence outlined above, the Review will determine whether additional evidence or action is required in order to provide such further reassurance to the local community."
"This Review will be independent. This process has the full support of both the North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire who recognise everything possible must be done to address the concerns which have been raised locally."
1.3 While recognising that it is for the Reviewers to assess exactly how long their work requires, the Deputy First Minister appointed Dr Margaret Hannah, a former Director of Public Health at NHS Fife, and Paul Cackette, Scottish Government Chief Reporter, to report to him, in sufficient time ahead of the planned opening of the campus for the 2019/20 school year, in order to inform decisions by North Lanarkshire Council as local education authority about educational provision at the campus and in particular whether to open on the planned dates. The key dates are 12 August 2019 for teaching staff and 14 August 2019 for pupils.
1.4 St Ambrose High School is a denominational school with a school roll at 2018 of 1312 pupils and 118 staff. Buchanan High School is a non-denominational additional support needs school with a school roll at 2018 of 139 pupils and 47 staff.
1.5 We set out below the steps taken by us by way of initial interaction with parents, pupils, staff and with relevant authorities.
1.6 We want to formally record our thanks and appreciation to:
- the headteachers of both schools - Ellen Douglas at St Ambrose and Michael McGinley at Buchanan High – and pay tribute to the quality of educational and support provision given to pupils at both schools, through the outstanding leadership provided by them
- Father Kane, school chaplain at St Ambrose, supported by the Diocese of Motherwell, for their leadership in challenging times for the faith community at St Ambrose
- North Lanarkshire Council and NHS Lanarkshire for their openness and agreement to co-operate fully with our work
- all parents, parent councils, staff and union representatives who we met in the course of our work. We don't underestimate how worrying these times have been, and remain, for those with a close interest in these schools, both in having their children attending and as teaching and other support staff in remaining wholly professional in their determination to provide a school environment of the highest quality possible
- pupils at both schools for their willingness to share their experiences in a mature and clear way, respectful of the views of others
- Claire Donoghue of St Ambrose Parents Steering Group and Lisa McCormick for their determination to work in the best interests of the school and the school communities
- expert contributors, including those we commissioned to undertake work on our behalf, those we sought advice from to help shape our investigations and those who contributed their comments, questions and additional data in response to our seeking new evidence
- local MSPs and MPs in recognition of their role in seeking to bring communities together
1.7 We would add thanks to the Deputy First Minister and others for respecting our independence and giving us the space to carry out our work in the short time we had.
1.8 As we hope is clear, we have concentrated attention on what seems to us to be the issues most of concern to the public or where we felt that deeper analysis was essential. That approach underpinned our decision to call for new or updated testing in certain respects and not in others (set out more fully below). We felt that certain testing was essential to assist us in such analysis and because – where essential – we saw no other way to provide acceptable levels of public assurance and reassurance. As can be seen from our recommendations, testing in July 2019 is in some cases not the end point.
1.9 We would also wish to thank the Review Support team within the Scottish Government for their unstinting professionalism in all that they have done – in difficult times and in sensitive circumstances – to juggle vast numbers of documents and emails and arrange all necessary administrative support for our work. This has been invaluable to us and it would have been simply impossible to have produced this report within the timescale we have without them.
1.10 Our especial thanks go to Clare Morley, Scott Johnston and Graeme Walker, but recognise that many others, too numerous to mention individually, have been vital in their support to us too.
1.11 In recognising that we are not specialist experts in all of the areas of concern and in order to seek to check and validate our findings, we engaged with a number of specialists in a range of disciplines who too have been invaluable in assisting with our work and the giving of their time and efforts and at very short notice. We narrate them in the Annex to this Report. We include in our thanks those supporting them in their organisations.