Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Fellow principals back Belfast school head at the centre of Facebook protests

Kathleen Gormley at the send-off earlier this year from her previous school, St Cecilia's in Derry, where she spent 10 years as principal
Kathleen Gormley at the send-off earlier this year from her previous school, St Cecilia's in Derry, where she spent 10 years as principal

Head teachers have rallied to the defence of a principal at the centre of a dispute with parents who have accused her of saying their school is not for “sluts or scruffs”.

Some parents at Hazelwood Integrated College were left angry after Kathleen Gormley — who denies calling pupils names — introduced sweeping changes at the north Belfast school following her recent appointment.

As revealed by the Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday they have also complained that pupils have been ordered to tidy up their appearance with a ban on make-up, false eyelashes, hairpieces, body piercings and dyed hair.

Ms Gormley has vowed she will not be swayed from raising standards at Hazelwood.

Those who have backed her strict stance include Andy McMorran, the former head of Ashfield Boys and Adeline Dinsmore, the past principal of Ashfield Girls.

Both Mr McMorran and Mrs Dinsmore successfully transformed the academic fortunes of their respective non-selective schools in east Belfast schools.

Mr McMorran said: “I think the governors, parents, staff and pupils should be delighted that they have attracted someone of the calibre of Kathleen; she has a proven history”.

Mrs Dinsmore added: “Nowadays it’s all about school improvement. Kathleen is a seasoned head.”

And parents from Ms Gormley’s last school — St Cecilia’s in Londonderry — have also thrown their support behind her. Mother-of-three Caitriona Burke said: “A better teacher you will never meet, a teacher who cares about the children's appearance, their attitude, their timekeeping and most importantly their education.

“St Cecilia’s loss was Hazelwood's gain.”

As well as clamping down on behaviour and sharpening up pupils’ appearance Ms Gormley has revealed that she intends to overhaul the curriculum, fight to get better facilities for the school and forming closer links with local employers — all aimed at ensuring every pupil leaves school with five GCSEs at grade C or above.

“To achieve this will take hard work from staff, pupils and parents,” she said. “We are preparing children for going out to the world of work. We are reinforcing those standards as any good school should.”

And she explained that she yesterday met with Gina Crowe, a concerned parent who set up a Facebook page criticising Ms Gormley’s actions.

“I met with a group of those parents. I met with the creator of the website,” said Ms Gormley who added that the great discussion had proved very useful.

Mrs Crowe could not be contacted but one mother who has two children at the school said: “If she doesn't like our children then she should do the honourable thing and walk away from Hazelwood with her head hung in shame”.

Story so far

A number of parents at Hazelwood Integrated have set up a Facebook page protesting against the “zero tolerance” approach adopted by Kathleen Gormley. They claim they set the page up after Ms Gormley told pupils during a special assembly “this school is not for sluts and scruffs”. The headmistress denied that she had called pupils names.

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