Proposal to Close NI Outdoor Education Centres

The club has recently become aware of a report from the new NI Education Authority which proposes closing several of the Outdoor Education Centres which have come into its care as a result of the merger of the Education and Library Boards. These include Ardnabannon, Bushmills, Delamont and Killowen and possibly Killyleagh. We have also found out that there is a current “consultation” with the public ongoing about these proposals which ends on Monday 6th February.

The executive summary from the Review of Residential and Outdoor Education document contains the following paragraphs:

“Throughout the review it was apparent that Residential and Outdoor Education is highly valued by all those who use the service, with regard to the quality of provision, the overall outdoor experience, the calibre and experience of staff and its value for money.

A number of areas for improvement have been identified which will enable Residential and Outdoor Education Centres to further improve.  Associated recommendations, have been summarised in section 5 of this document.

These recommendations include: the need for a rationalisation of existing statutory provision based on economic viability and proximity to other centres; the requirement for the development of a clear strategy and policy; and the establishment of more effective links to the School Curriculum, the assessed needs of young people and to meaningful and ongoing evaluation of outcomes”

Education Authority “Review of Residential and Outdoor Education”

To summarise the Outdoor Education Centres are highly effective and valued by the public, the EA authority wishes to improve them and its substantive policy to achieve this will be to close several centres. The suggestion is that this action is justified on grounds of “economic viability” and of the centres being too close together.

Reading the full document did not provide enlightenment – there is no clear justification of the economic argument,  the proximity argument and clearly no reassurance that this drastic, irreversible act will provide any benefit beyond allowing the EA to reallocate some financial responses to other unproven programmes. However, this is not a simple document so I was very pleased to find that Professor Paul Teague of the Management School, Queens University Belfast had produced an expert analysis, which is actually much easier to understand.

In his introduction he puts the closures in clear quantitative context:

The outcome of the review was a proposal for a large-scale restructuring of residential and outdoor education in the region, including the closure of four outdoor education centres: Bushmills; Ardnabannon; Killowen; and Delamont. The proposal can only be viewed as far-reaching: if it were to be implemented in full it would lead to a 41% reduction in outdoor education capacity, a near 50 per cent decline in employment in the statutory outdoor education sector and to about 44% fewer young people experiencing some form of outdoor education. Thus the proposed cutbacks are huge and will unquestionably radically change the scale and scope of outdoor education in N. Ireland. Moreover, it needs emphasising the irreversibility of these cutbacks – once implemented current provision can only be restored at prohibitive cost.

Taken from “A commentary on the Review of Residential and Outdoor Education Report
By Professor Paul Teague, Management School, Queens University Belfast

I would encourage you to read the full document.

My personal view of this report is that it is rather like as if Northern Ireland Railways had decided to commission a review of its “competitiveness” which discovered  that trains frequently ran with empty seats and then proceeded to suggest the solution of scrapping 40% of their fleet to ensure the remainder would all run at full capacity!

We should be looking to utilise this spare capacity imaginatively – not close it down.

Make up your own mind and if you feel strongly then please act – use social media – use email – use your voice!

The links below may be relevant