UNISON Northern Ireland

UNISON joins a trade call for all 8 Outdoor Education Residential Centres to remain fully operational

Today trade unions representing staff that provide outdoor education in Ardnabannon, Bushmills, Delamont, Killowen and Killyleagh are calling on the Board of the Education Authority not to implement controversial proposals to remove current service provisions.

Following a public consultation on the Education Authority’s proposed closure of the above Centres a new proposal has emerged which would see Ardnabannon close and the Centres at Bushmills, Killowen and Delamont re-purposed to provide services for children and young people in the Education Otherwise Than At School (EOTAS) category.

Joint Trade Union Secretaries said:-

            “The Education authority claim to have listened carefully to those responding to the public consultation document, but they have not.  It is difficult to understand how such a set of proposals, which were not subject to public consultation, can be claimed to reflect the response from respondees, 88.43% of whom rejected the closure of the Centres and removal of the current services they provide.”

They also raised concerns that during the public consultation the Education Authority argued the physical state of the Centres would require significant funds to be spent, one of their justifications for the proposed closures saying:

            “The challenge presented by trade unions and others to this claim is now found to have been totally justified as the re-purposing of some of the Centres to EOTAS provision clearly demonstrates the Education Authority  misled consultees about the state of buildings as one of the justifications for the proposed closures.”

The Joint Trade Union Secretaries added:

                        “An equality screening exercise has raised a number of concerns in terms of negative impacts on Section 75 categories.  Despite this the Education Authority has indicated it does not intend to undertake a full equality impact assessment (EQIA).  This is being challenged and trade unions are calling for the full EQIA to be undertaken.”

            “While trade unions have no objection to an enhanced EOTAS provision where required, it should not be at the expense of ceasing current outdoor education provision.  Around 645 children and young people were registered in 2014-15 as attending EOTAS Centres.  While this may have increased over the past few years it does not in any way compensate for the withdrawal of outdoor education from the thousands of children and young people catered for in Ardnabannon, Bushmills, Delamont, Killowen and Killyleagh.  It is estimated that in excess of 123 schools and 4690 children and young people who had booked into these Centres over the period January 2018 to June 2018 will not get access to these services.”


            “Trade unions do not accept the claim made by the Education Authority that these thousands of children and young people will be catered for under alternative voluntary and private sector provision.  Indeed those service providers have higher charges than the statutory provision.  If these proposals proceed many children and young people from social and economically deprived areas will no longer have outdoor education available to them.  That is why we are calling on the Board not to proceed with these current proposals and instead to engage with highly experienced staff, their trade unions and other interested parties on an alternative model that caters for more appropriate EOTAS provision and the retention of existing outdoor education provision.  That is what almost 89% of the 1850 responses to the public consultation covering parents, children and young people, trade unions, schools, sporting organisations, political representatives and others and over 35,000 citizens signing the trade union petition called for.”