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Hazelwood Takes Shape
On September 1st 1985 Hazelwood College opened its doors to its first intake of students, all 17 of them. Parents, teachers and students joined together in what was to become an annual event - the Opening Assembly of the school year. A 2 week Summer Scheme held in the North Belfast Scout hut during August had already familiarized the students with each other and with teachers so that beginning was not as traumatic as it might otherwise have been.
Some parents had indicated a desire that their children in 2nd form in other schools should be able to come to Hazelwood and a Form 2 class was quickly established - a privileged group of 6 students. For the three founding teachers, Principal Tom Rowley, Stephen Mitchell and myself, starting a new school was a strange, challenging and sometimes scary experience. Moving from well equipped, fully resourced large schools to a building with no proper classrooms, very few resources, no natural light and no outdoor space for children to play taxed our abilities during both class and play time. Strange also was the brief experience of sharing space with a primary school. Who could believe that such little bodies could make such a lot of noise?
By Hallowe'en 1985 the primary school had moved to their permanent premises in what had previously been Throne Primary School. Our Board of Directors were kept busy: raising money to pay wages and essential resources and searching for permanent premises. During our first three years we all became experts in raising money - applying to various charities, dreaming up schemes such as the Cavehill Challenge and organising ballots and social events. Essentially it was support from the Nuffield Foundation and the Rowntree Trust and John Paul Getty Trust which ensured the College's survival in those early years. The support of BELTIE (Belfast Trust for Integrated Education) in the fund-raising was invaluable.
Meanwhile the work of education commenced. Very few teachers are given the privilege of being involved in the foundation of a new school - constructing a curriculum to serve the needs of our children in an atmosphere which reflected the College's primary aim of reconciliation and integration. Our founding parents had expressed in their aims, their wish for a school which was child-centred and parent-friendly. We were determined that Hazelwood would deliver this.
Hazelwood's philosophy was based on an optimistic view of humankind: the belief that each individual has the potential for positive growth. Self-esteem is a prerequisite for such growth and for the development of mutual respect. Our task was to create an environment which would nurture the self-esteem of the individual and be conducive for development - academic, personal and social.
Symbolic of our personal approach to education was the adoption of the use of first names for staff and students. Our class tutor system was developed which encouraged strong links between parents, staff and students. Students were encouraged to be involved in school life through the formation of a Students' Council, by accepting responsibility for running a Tuck Shop and through "adopting" a village "Belfast" in the Transvaal for which they raised money. A "Hunger Lunch" shared by students, staff and parents became an annual event to raise money for this project.
All students followed a broad, balanced curriculum. In our first year we took full advantage of our city centre setting for Geography field work, history in the City Library and oral history with residents of Clifton House, PE in the YMCA and frequent visits to Art exhibitions and various events. Teachers and students alike were delighted when during the week various part-time teachers joined us to provide additional subjects - Frances for PE, Colette for Art, Finbar for Irish, Claude for French and Angie for IT. We had the staff and time to be innovative in teaching methods and apparatus. Enrichment classes were developed which as well as allowing for additional work
targeted at individual needs also covered a variety of activities allowing student choice. A folk club taken by a visiting American was very successful and who could forget the award-winning crocodile constructed from waste material from the Play Resource Centre? A new subject - Ulster Studies - was developed in which students studied their shared heritage of local archaeology, mythology, culture and Irish language.
All of those elements which contributed to Hazelwood's success were established and developed in that first year: our personalised approach, our "open door" policy to parents, our belief in our students' capacity to do well and our insistence that they should succeed, a varied interesting curriculum and regular events. The first of many "Folk Events" organised by, as well as starring, Tom, took place in York Lane, as did a famous French lunch when the students were less than impressed with their Salade Nicoise! By the end of our first year Hazelwood was being used not only as a name but also as an adjective. The Hazelwood way meant being friendly, open, encouraging, informal, welcoming and achieving.
A new site
Our first year had been exciting and challenging. Our numbers had increased over the year from 17 to 35. However, all of us suffered from the inadequate resources, lack of space and lack of natural light in our building at York Lane. Graymount Girls' School had been closed in June 1985 and after much wrangling and negotiation DENI instructed the BELB to sell it to Hazelwood. Tom and I paid our first visit to it in June of 1986 - a beautiful sunny day, and were overawed. The lilac and laburnum were in full bloom. Yes, the buildings might be dilapidated but such views of the Cavehill, of Belfast Lough, such space, such open air. It was with light hearts and great optimism that we planned our move to Gray's Lane.
We opened there in September 1986 with 35 new Form 1 students, a total student body of 70. 3 new full-time staff joined us: Mary Fitzpatrick, Barney Gadd and Frances Shannon, and 3 part-time staff - Anne Maynes, Caroline Mitchell and Lynn Robinson. With the exception of Barney, all are still with us and have made a significant contribution to our development.
A feature of Hazelwood life has been the intense media interest in our development. Over the years many TV companies from around the world visited and reported on our work as far afield as America, Australia, Canada and Europe. An early visitor was a Swedish TV company involved in a series of dramatised documentaries illustrating the lives of children living in troubled spots around the world. They came to Hazelwood and under the guidance of Thomas Daniellon and Stig Holmquist, a storyline was developed and a short drama filmed. The film "The Petrol Bomb" was broadcast throughout the world and several times on BBC. It told the story of two friends, one Catholic, one Protestant, meeting in Hazelwood.. A petrol bomb attack forces the family of one girl to leave but through the intervention of her classmates and friends, her family are persuaded that she continue in Hazelwood and the friendship is able to continue. Starring Marie Campbell and Suzanne Ferguson in the main roles, all of us, staff, students, Maxie, our caretaker, had walk-on roles and a very enjoyable time watching and being involved in the production.
Spring 1986 was exciting for us for reasons other than film-making - we were expecting our first General Inspection. From 11th May 3 inspectors spent a week examining our curriculum and schemes of work, visiting classrooms, talking to staff and students. Our report was the first report to be published under a new policy of DENI to provide more information to parents. To our relief, but not to our surprise, it was a glowing one.
By September 1987 our numbers had doubled again and the number of staff continued to increase. However, severe financial pressures remained. We were now beginning our third year and still were not receiving a penny of support from
the Government. A concerted campaign began to win maintained status from the Department of Education. We were happy that we had proven our viability, both in the quality of the education we were providing as evidenced by our General Inspection Report, and in the continuing growth of our student numbers. Would the government, balancing the need not to upset vested interests, wary of the whole idea of integrated education, have the confidence to grant us recognition?
A series of meetings was held with the then Minister of State for Education, now Chairman of the Conservative Party, Dr. Brian Mawhinney. A campaign of support was orchestrated with politicians, leaders in other fields speaking on our behalf.
On 31st August 1988 Dr. Mawhinney visited the College on another beautiful sunny day and to students, staff, parents and press announced the granting of maintained status. We celebrated with an afternoon off!
This announcement was significant both for Hazelwood and for integrated education. For us it marked the end of uncertainty and worrying about money and resources, for parents it validated their faith in Hazelwood. Most importantly it legitimised the position of integrated education. From 1981 to 1985 there had been only one integrated school - Lagan College. The two Hazelwoods and Forge Primary School were established in 1985. The granting of recognition to Hazelwood gave a spur to the integrated movement - since 1988 the growth of integrated education has been steady. There are now 20 integrated primary schools and 8 secondary schools and the numbers continue to grow.
The recognition of Hazelwood was followed by the Education Reform Order of 1988 which enshrined government support for integrated education. This Order also opened the way to us to apply for Grant Maintained Integrated Status.
Our parents were balloted and voted unanimously for this option which entitled us to 100% funding direct from the Department of Education.
Our financial position was secured, our numbers continued to grow. The Department had given us a quota of 120 students per year. In September 1991 we were fully subscribed for the first time and have continued to be ever since - a remarkable achievement against a background of falling pupil numbers and an open enrolment policy which allowed grammar schools to increase their intake. Our success and our symbolic importance during the darkest days of the troubles ensured that we continued to be the focus of media attention. Intense excitement was generated in February 1991 when we were told by the Northern Ireland Office to expect a very important visitor. Who was it to be? Royalty? Maybe Princess Diana? A major cleanup took place. Students were warned to be in their best uniform and on their best behaviour. Security forces combed the grounds and before the great day one or two of us knew that the visitor was none other than the Prime Minister, John Major. The date of the proposed visit: 23rd February 1991.
However, Saddam Hussein, unaware of our preparations and the importance of this proposed visit, was busy making his own plans. His invasion of Kuwait unfortunately coincided with our visit. John Major, with the Gulf War on his mind, cancelled his visit to attend to it. We were not totally disappointed. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Brooke, accompanied by Lord Belstead, Minister of Education and Patrick Carville, Permanent Secretary of Education came instead, toured the school, spoke to students and met staff and parents. There was intense media coverage and great excitement and John Major did send a message of regret.
1991 was "Best of Belfast" Year and Hazelwood rounded off the school year with a Crafts Exhibition, a series of events for students and an Evening of Song, Dance and Poetry which celebrated local culture. These events were supported by the Outer Belfast Action Team which had already made a considerable contribution to the College. They had provided a grant for a minibus
and in Spring 1991 they funded the establishment of the Community Computer Resource Centre. A major innovation, this sited in the College an up-to-date computer facility whose aim was to serve the College by producing our in-house publications and to serve the community by providing "user-friendly" computer training and providing a business service for community groups. The Centre was opened by Richard Needham, Minister for Economic Development, in April 1991. This story is told in detail elsewhere in this magazine.
Two major challenges now faced the College - one academic, one of resources. Our first intake of students had completed their GCSEs in which they had been very successful but had had to move on to complete their studies. It became urgent that we provided Post-16 opportunities for our students. Various exams were investigated with the I@@@@@@@@@ Baccalaureate as pioneered in Lagan College being the main option. However, a change in regulations by the Department of Education made possible the option of "A"-Levels and in September 1992 we started our first "A"-Level courses.
In January 1993 results in public examinations were published for the first time. We were not surprised but were proud to find that our results put us at the top of the non-grammar school league tables in the BELB area. The following year with 481 of our students gaining 5 or more GCSEs at Grade C or above our results were the best in the non-grammar sector in Northern Ireland. Our commitment to comprehensive education and to the Hazelwood approach, which labelled no-one as a failure but expected the best from each, had been vindicated.
The second challenge facing us during this period was of buildings. As our numbers increased, our space decreased as mobile classrooms were erected to meet our needs. Meanwhile the state of our permanent buildings continued to deteriorate. A programme of health and safety work had been carried out during which the back block of Graymount House had been demolished. But no major work had been carried out to the fabric of the house itself which continued to peel and crumble. In May 1994 the Minister of State for Education, Michael Ancram, visited the College, met students and staff and saw for himself the state of disrepair of our buildings. By March 1995 we had moved into a top priority category and a grant of £9.9 million was announced to provide us with a new school. This build will commence in Spring 1996.
One of the most striking characteristics of Hazelwood is the "busyness" of the College. Each year is marked by a cycle of events which involves and unites the total College Community - Opening Assembly, Carol Service, Peace Assembly, Presentation Assemblies, productions, Sports Events, Fun Day. In addition we have a constant stream of visitors interested in our work of reconciliation and in our approach to education. It was because of the former that we were visited in May 1994 by Patrice Burret and Jean Pierre @@@@@@ from the award-winning French television company Point du Jour. This company had broken new ground with their series "A Street in Sarajevo" which was broadcast daily and depicted the daily life of ordinary folk living in the horrendous circumstances of a city under siege. The events of the day were filmed and edited and broadcast in a three minute slot each evening. The moving story and unusual presentation won many awards.
So we were honoured when Patrice and Jean Pierre visited the College with the aim of making a similar type series from Belfast. After discussions and meeting with the Board of Governors and parents and students it was agreed that Hazelwood College should be their Location and our 6th Formers their eyes for observation of life in Belfast.
By September 1994 when they took up residence in the "bungalow" the ceasefire had been announced. Their daily programmes, broadcast each evening on Channel 4, became a historical record of the unfolding of the Peace Process as seen through the eyes of our students and their
families and friends. For all of us in the College it was an intensely interesting and challenging experience and an invaluable one forcing us into the open discussion which had been such a characteristic of Hazelwood in its early days. Each evening's show was watched avidly by all and dissected and discussed in the playground and in the classroom and staffroom the following day. The strength of Hazelwood was evident from the open discussion and argument which took place in our atmosphere of trust and respect. A final documentary, an hour's compilation of the series "Belfast Lessons", was broadcast throughout Europe in December 1994.
It was with great sadness we said "au revoir" to our French friends. However, we visited them in Paris in February 1995 and they again visited us in March 1995 when they made a "Vis-á-Vis" programme between Belfast and Sarajevo.
To the general public Hazelwood is known as an integrated school succeeding in bringing the communities together in the divided area of North Belfast. In the educational world we were attracting attention because of our academic success. The National Commission of Education had been founded in 1991 by the British Association for the Advancement of Science with the support of the Royal Society, the British Academy and the Fellowship of Engineering. The purpose was to identify and examine key issues facing education and training in the UK in the next 25 years.
On 6th March 1993 a group from the National Commission led by Sir John Cussells visited the College as part of a fact-finding tour of schools in Northern Ireland. They met students, staff, governors and parents. A year later we were notified that Hazelwood had been chosen by the Commission as an example of an effective school. A team of independent researchers had been appointed by them - Dr. A Gallagher, lecturer in educational research, QUB, Prof. R Osborne, School of Public Policy, Economics and Law at UU , Robert Cormack, Professor of Sociology in QUB, Irvine McKay, member of BELB board and Stephen Peover, DENI, with the brief to conduct a field study of the College which would identify those aspects which made it successful.
This research was carried out between October 1994 and May 1995 and the findings were published in a chapter in the book "Success Against The Odds" which was launched on November 8th 1995.
It is fitting that our 10th Anniversary Year should end with such a public celebration of our work. What did this research find? Which aspects did they identify as contributing to our success?
1) The ethos of Hazelwood College which is clear and unambiguous and which unites staff, students and parents in a shared sense of mission. Most importantly this ethos is put into practice on a daily basis throughout the College structures.
2) Staff-students relationships which are open, friendly, positive and characterised by trust and respect.
3) Staff. The quality and commitment of the staff was quoted as making an important contribution to the success achieved by the College.
4) Monitoring and assessment. The report praised our systems for assessment and monitoring which through close involvement of student and parents are instrumental in raising the attainment levels of all students.
5) Ritual. The investigating team was particularly struck by our use of ritual to celebrate both the achievements of integrated education and the individual achievements of students and staff.
The report concludes "If Hazelwood tells us anything, it is that human resources provide the bedrock for a successful school."