Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle has highlighted the importance of outdoor education centres. Mr Lyttle was speaking during an Assembly debate concerning the consultation launched by the Education Authority on the future of a number of centres in South Down.
Chris Lyttle said: “When we think of education, understandably, we think of schools, given the central role they play. However, we must also acknowledge that education ought to take many forms and include the vital contribution the Youth Service and outdoor education make. Outdoor education provision accounts for only a small portion of the overall education budget, but it provides unique learning opportunities and skills development for around 150,000 children and young people every year, which is approximately as many pupils as attend all our post-primary schools put together.
“Residential and outdoor education centres across Northern Ireland provide a wide range of positive education experiences and opportunities to develop interpersonal and practical skills, teamwork and communication skills and social and emotional resilience through a wide range of physical activities that all aid our children and young people’s ability to achieve a positive future for themselves and contribute to their community.
“That has been supported by the correspondence I have received from primary and post-primary schools in my constituency of East Belfast regarding just how valuable the outdoor education centres at Delamont, Ardnabannon and Killowen in South Down are to them. The Education Minister and the Education Authority must, therefore, ensure that all children and young people have the opportunity to participate in all forms of education, including youth services and outdoor education.
“As Deputy Chairperson of the Education Committee, I was glad to support our decision to invite the Education Authority to update us on its approach to this matter. The Education Authority cited over-provision, duplication, economic viability and failure to meet delivery models as reasons for the proposed closures. However, I must say that serious questions were raised by all parties about the reasons the Education Authority gave for the proposed closures of the outdoor education centres. There is clear concern that this exercise is more about cost-cutting than about improving education provision for children and young people in our community.
“There is shock that some of the busiest, largest and most popular centres are being proposed for closure. They are centres that are consistently busy throughout the year during and out of term time. They are centres that accommodate school and youth groups from across Northern Ireland and bring children and young people from across our community to exciting, outdoor, shared spaces that are vital to the aim of building a united community in Northern Ireland.
“Given its natural resources, it should be no surprise that the south Down/Mourne area has a concentration of outdoor residential centres, however the proposed cuts will reduce the number of bed spaces and opportunities available for children and young people to experience outdoor residential activities throughout Northern Ireland. These centres are too valuable to lose.”