Teachers at breaking point as children left baffled by constantly moving classrooms
Teachers at Hazelwood Integrated College admit they are at breaking point. Timetables, which are drawn on up on a yearly basis, are being produced every day by staff and principal Kathleen Gormley as they attempt to squeeze nearly 900 pupils into the classrooms they have.
The problem should have been resolved. The north Belfast school commissioned the construction of 18 mobile classrooms on vacant land at the back of the school, to house its maths department, IT classes, careers and alternative education suites and other facilities.
But that structure, funded to the tune of £150,000 by integrated education charities, was padlocked shut on Monday evening, hours before the new school term, over health and safety concerns.
Belfast Education and Library Board, which owns the land, argues it cannot release the lease until the issues are resolved – yet building control and planning approval has been secured.
The result is a bitter dispute, which saw 200 pupils sent home early on Tuesday and a growing campaign by pupils and political representatives for the Education Minister to intervene and get a resolution to open the facility.
"It has gone on long enough. We had thought we would get in in a few days but it's getting annoying. When you come in here you do not know where you are going because the classrooms are moving. We are trying to get time to study but we are running around like headless chickens," Peter Houston (16), a Year 13 pupil at the school, said.
"Time is for education and we are not getting time for our education because we are moving about so much," he added. The school was built to accommodate significantly less than the current 893 pupils. With the new unit shut, 199 sixth form pupils are using canteen tables in a makeshift sixth form study in the Assembly Hall.
"Staff have really rallied together but there is only so long we can keep the adrenaline going," said Bronagh McLaughlin, marketing and enterprise manager at the school.
All staff point to rising frustration with the situation, which they do not believe will be sustainable for much longer.
"I'm angry," said Gary Brennan, assistant principal of the school's sixth form study and the pupils' year head for the last five years.
"These pupils worked really hard and got the best GCSEs ever. We have the largest intake coming back, and not being able to offer them these facilities... it's bit beyond me how this has not been resolved."