Book details the formation of integrated schools

Noreen Campbell.
Noreen Campbell.

A new book detailing the history of integrated education in Northern Ireland features the personal accounts from former Hazelwood Integrated College Principal, Noreen Campbell.

‘There Were No Desks – a collection of oral histories about Integrated

Education in Northern Ireland’ has been published by the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE).

The project has captured, recorded and archived the memories and experiences of some of the people behind the foundation and development of integrated schools across Northern Ireland.

Noreen was a founding teacher at the Whitewell Road school, established in 1985 and served as Principal there from 1996 until 2006.

In 2009 she was appointed as NICIE CEO and retired from that position in 2015.

Following the formation of Lagan College and its success, Noreen attended a meeting to discuss setting up an integrated primary school and college in north Belfast.

Commenting on the early period of Hazelwood’s history, Noreen said: “Hazelwood approached integration from a different angle than Lagan. Lagan was set up as a school to bring together children from two denominations.

“Hazelwood was concerned more about the societal/tribal division. It was established to promote reconciliation and mutual respect in a divided society and to create a space for young people from both main traditions to learn about and with each other. We did subscribe to a Christian ethos but, essentially, the religious beliefs of the students were their parents’ responsibility.”

Noreen also details many of the pressures the pupils and teaching staff were under in the early days of the new school.

She added: “The first year of the school was very difficult, for a number of reasons. First of all, we were surviving financially from month to month and, secondly, we were in what had been a warehouse.

“The Anglo-Irish Agreement had just been signed in 1985 and there were many protests and much tension; it was a very fraught time.”

Looking to the future, Noreen said: “Integrated schools are now accepted; they are well established and respected; they are part of the educational landscape.

“I think integrated schools changed for the better other schools. Integrated education in NI has been adopted and adapted in other divided societies. It has been my privilege to have been part of this movement of change through education.”