Ardnabannon: Public backlash against decision

Ardnabannon: Public backlash against decision

11 October 2017

CALLS are growing for the reversal of a controversial decision to close Ardnabannon Outdoor Education Centre.

The Education Authority last week confirmed it will axe the 100-bed residential facility in December, spelling the end to 50 years of service.

There has been a massive public backlash against the cost-cutting move, which follows a consultation on the future of outdoor education provision.

Almost 8,000 people have now signed an online petition to save the centre, while parents, politicians and principals have united against the plan amid warnings that popular opinion must not be ignored.

Many have accused education officials of “riding roughshod” over public opinion by pushing ahead with the closure despite the fact that almost 90 per cent of respondents to the consultation disagreed with the recommendation to close four centres, including Ardnabannon.

As thousands of schoolchildren face disappointment over cancelled bookings, primary school principals from across the area have slammed the behaviour of the “faceless suits” that made the decision.

Roy Greer, from Moneyrea Primary School, warned that there was growing unrest among principals about the Education Authority’s erosion of frontline services.

“I believe every single school that takes children to these centres will stand against this decision,” he said.

“The Education Authority has failed. If the decision makers at the top think I am overstating my opinion, I would challenge them to ask schools about the level of satisfaction for the direction of travel they are taking.”

A staff member from Ardnabannon, who asked not to be named, agreed the decision to close “flew in the face” of the consultation process.

“There appears to be no rationale as to why Ardnabannon was picked. It is the most cost effective centre because of its size and economy of scale,” the staff member said.

“Once this centre goes there will be no centres big enough to cater for large groups. This seems nonsensical particularly when the government is focused on bringing school groups together through Shared Education and the available funding for that initiative.

“Although we were not allowed to take full bookings after January, we had taken almost 50 expressions of interest from groups of typically around 70 children, the majority of whom were keen to stay for four days. We were oversubscribed.”

South Down MP Chris Hazzard has called on the Education Authority to halt the review of outdoor education.

He said there was disbelief that the Education Authority would take the “counterproductive” move of disposing of the only statutory facility large enough to accommodate multi-school residential projects, considering the massive push towards Shared Education.

Mr Hazzard said he had requested a meeting with the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Education and was heartened that senior officials had agreed to meet staff to listen to their concerns.

An Education Authority spokesman said they were seeking to provide a residential and outdoor learning service that meets the needs of all children and young people.

“The new framework includes specialist outdoor learning provision at Delamont, Gortatole, Shannaghmore and Woodhall and the Delamont site will provide an extensive range of youth provision which includes sailing and canoeing,” the spokesman said.

“Staff from Killyleagh and Ardnabannon will have the opportunity to lead and support provision at Delamont or take up other roles within the wider Youth Service.”