Heads condemn plans to close outdoor centre

Heads condemn plans to close outdoor centre

11 October 2017

SCHOOL principals have launched a blistering attack on “the faceless suits” who want to axe Ardnabannon Outdoor Education Centre.

Branding the Education Authority a failure, primary school principals have accused officials of “riding roughshod” over public opinion by closing the 100-bedded facility despite overwhelming support for its future in a recent consultation exercise. 

Roy Greer, principal of Moneyrea Primary School, Niall Stevenson, from Downpatrick Primary School, and Steven Moore, from Academy Primary School, are horrified that the opinion of 90 per cent of respondents to a recent consultation has been ignored,

They are now urging people to back a growing online petition to secure Ardnabannon’s future through a reversal of the decision.

Accusing officials of disregarding the voices of children, teachers, school leaders, governors and parents in 

the consultation, Mr Greer said the “faceless suits should hang their heads in shame” over their inability to protect services for future generations and their disrespect for the legacy of outdoor centres and children’s wellbeing. 

Warning of the growing unrest among principals about the direction of the Education Authority, which he said had “failed”, he feared education was being taken over by people “who know very little” about it.

“Did anyone who reached this decision put on a cagoule and walking boots and go out with the children on site? I doubt it,” he said.

“Most of those involved have no experience of schools, what is good in schools and what makes a good education.

“The Education Authority was created to reduce the duplication of services and was supposed to release funding to schools, but instead we are seeing an erosion of frontline services.

“Outdoor education is not a luxury, it is an essential component of what we do.

“I believe every single school that takes children to these centres, and knows of the benefit to their wellbeing, will stand against this decision.

“Over 85 per cent of consultees were against the closure of Ardnabannon but these people are riding roughshod over their opinion.

“I do not know of any school principal who is happy with how the Education Authority is running education. 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.”

Mr Stevenson said he feared the criteria used in the consultation process was “flawed” and designed to close Ardnabannon.

“It is an absolute scandal and disgrace that they are taking out a 100 bed facility in their drive to cut money,” he said.

“They were using unrealistic capacity figures and saying it had a low occupancy rate when it does not.

“Now the centre will be lost without consideration for the independence, adventure, confidence and organisation skills acquired by the children. It is a crime.”

Mr Moore was staying at Ardnabannon with 58 children when news of the impending closure broke.

He said it was “very unpleasant” to witness the visible upset of instructors.

“There is the human side that people often do not see when announcements like this are made,” he said. 

“There are kitchen staff, cleaners, drivers, teachers. They were glum and there was disbelief, but they were professional at al times.”

Mr Moore said he had yet to meet a principal who thinks closure was a good idea. “It is a disgrace and I would urge people to use whatever influence they can to back petitions circulating,” he said.

“Ardnabannon is one of the few facilities that caters for groups of more than 60 children and it would have been full between now and June.”

Mr Moore said there was concern that the Education Authority considers outdoor education as “an extra” for school children rather than an extension of the classroom. 

“I am outraged by the Education Authority, these people know nothing about children or young people and what are their needs and wants,” he said. “It worries me that they are closing this, what next?”