Teacher makes plea for end to ‘stalemate’ between college and Education Board

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A teacher at Hazelwood Integrated College has written to the chief executive of the Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) asking when the stand-off between the school and the Board is likely to end.

In her letter, the teacher outlines the hardships being faced by staff and students due to the ongoing row between the college and the Board over the use of land on the old Cedar Lodge School site.

Earlier this week principal Kathleen Gormley said that she was forced to send hundreds of pupils home after the BELB padlocked the gates to prevent access to the new classrooms and sixth form centre at the site.

The mobile classrooms were financed privately by Hazelwood through money donated by the Integrated Education Fund and the Belfast Trust for Integrated Education at a cost of around £150,000. However, the BELB has said the college did not have the necessary permissions, including a lease from the Board, to go ahead and erect the building on the site.

In a letter to the head of the BELB, Moving Image Arts teacher Jennifer Johnston said: “Many of us helped to clean the rooms, put up displays, move teaching materials, wash chairs and tables, clean floors, carry boxes and generally prepare rooms for teachers and students. Ordinary teachers, classroom assistants, cleaners and caretakers gave up their holiday time to make the new buildings habitable, and to provide a better learning environment for students.

“Since the site has been locked, teachers have been camping in the assembly hall, sharing classrooms and using stores to try to deliver teaching. The difficulty is that we cannot simply go back to the way it was because two months of free time were used to get us to the point we are at now. Teachers original rooms have been re-purposed and re-equipped. Computers have been moved, re-formatted and set up with new class lists. I can tell you very honestly that the ongoing stalemate is seriously affecting morale as well as teaching and learning.”

Her letter continues: “We are only just managing to hold things together and are feeling seriously pressured. Despite our efforts to minimise impact, naturally the students pick up both on pressure and the evident overcrowding. Our Vice-Principal is daily creating a brand new timetable for all staff, trying to squeeze teachers and students in wherever possible around the school. This daily uncertainty combined with a lack of clarity surrounding a timescale for resolution is adding considerably to the stress that teachers and staff are facing.

“Whether or not the school is at fault from your perspective, I am appealing to you to assist in helping us out of this situation and to please give us a timescale for when the current crisis may come to an end.”

A BELB spokesman revealed that the Board did receive a written request from the college in May 2013 to acquire a lease in relation to the Cedar Lodge site. However, he said that it was “inappropriate to commence any work on the site” without the necessary paperwork being in place.

On Thursday afternoon Mrs Gormley confirmed that negotiations are continuing between college officials and Department of Education representatives in a bid to find a resolution to the issue.