Sinn Féin South Down MP Chris Hazzard has called on the Education Authority to give serious consideration to halting the proposed reconfiguration of outdoor education provision in light of the controversial decision to close Ardnabannon Outdoor Education Centre.
Speaking following several meetings with outdoor education staff; service users; and senior Education Authority officials, the South Down MP said the proposals as they currently stand are counterproductive.
Mr Hazzard said: “I share the frustration of staff and service users that we will see statutory facilities close and increasing numbers of children pushed into the voluntary and private sectors. This situation has given rise to genuine fears that in years to come Education officials will have little or no control over such a fundamental part of the learning process.
“Moreover, when you consider the huge push towards advancing shared education in recent years, it is madness to close the only statutory facility that is big enough to accommodate multi-school residential projects. The Education Authority should be investing to enhance such a facility, not disposing of it.
Mr Hazzard added: “A recurring theme amongst staff members I have spoken to in recent months is a sense that their views were not adequately taken on board by decision makers; that the huge wealth of experience and knowledge amongst staff on the ground was ignored in these decisions.
“In light of this I am heartened that senior Education Authority officials today agreed to my proposal to meet with Ardnabannon staff in order to listen to their concerns amidst growing calls for this controversial decision to be reversed. I would again reiterate that such an engagement should actively consider all alternative options available in order to save Ardnabannon Centre.
“Following these discussions today I will also now be requesting to meet with the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Education as we continue to build the case for Ardnabannon’s future.”
SDLP Angered At EA Decision
The SDLP has called on the Education Authority to reverse decision over the proposal over outdoor education centres in South Down.
SDLP South Down MLA and the party’s Education spokesperson Colin McGrath has called on the Education Authority to immediately reverse its decision regarding the closure of Ardnabannon Outdoor Education Centre and the downgrading of Killyleagh and Killowen Outdoor Education Centres.
Mr McGrath said: “The contribution these OEC’s make to not only the livelihoods of the children who attend but also the community’s which they serve, cannot be underestimated. Yes, there are many fun activities, but there is also significant learning that takes place here. Many children whose strengths may not be entirely classroom-based have excelled as a result of Ardnabannon. We are in a political vacuum and this decision shakes to the core why we need local accountable decision-makers.”
SDLP councillors John Trainor and Mark Murnin have also echoed this call and have submitted a motion to Newry Mourne and Down District Council to call on the Education Authority to reverse its decision.
Councillor Trainor said: “At Council we had raised many issues through the consultation process regarding the proposals to close any of the Outdoor Education Centres or to downgrade Centres and it is obvious that the Education Authority did not listen. We believed that this consultation and review of service was flawed from the outset and the recommendations presented would have a significant detrimental impact to the development of our young people.
“Our Outdoor Education Centres and the staff who have worked in them have been such a valuable asset over the years providing positive experiences for many young people and aiding in their personal and physical development promoting an appreciation for the outdoors and healthy living. We must resist this decision and call on the Education Authority to reverse it otherwise we do the thousands of young people across our District a great disservice.”
Councillor Murnin commented: “As the local Slieve Croob Councillor, Ardnabannon has been in the heart of the Annsboough Community for more than a generation with the majority of the staff stemming from the immediate local area. As such we must do all in our power to fight for this decision to be reversed.
In our Corporate Plan we have stated collectively, as a Council, that Tourism is our main economic driver. Ardnabannon is a key link in the tourism chain. Children come and experience the wonders of the Mournes whilst staying at Ardnabannon and go home and relay stories of its beauty.
“I have spoken to countless young people who continue to return to the Mournes and experience the outdoors on the back of their Ardnabannon adventures.
“I also know that Ardnabannon is used by Foster Children for mini-breaks, so not only are the children learning all about the outdoors but the Foster Parents also benefit by way of some respite. Who now is going to step in and assist in this way?”