SDLP anger as Minister presses ahead with Woodlands closure

Foyle View Special School in Derry where a second child has died of Swine Flu. Picture Margaret McLaughlin'see story
Foyle View Special School in Derry where a second child has died of Swine Flu. Picture Margaret McLaughlin'see story

Foyle SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey has said he’s “appalled and angry” at the decision by Education Minister John O’Dowd to press ahead with the closure of Woodlands Speech and Language Unit at Belmont House School

In a statement yesterday evening, shortly after the announcement was made, Mr Ramsey said the decision came “despite outright opposition from parents and pupils, and the overwhelming evidence of the benefit the young people get fromthe sterling work undertaken at the unit.”

Mr O’Dowd announced that three new speech and language units would be built in mainstream primary schools across the north west, a move he said would promote inclusion in education.

The specialist units will be build in St Anne’s Primary School, Rosemount, Ebrington Primary School and Ballykelly Primary School and will replace the existing Woodlands unit.

Children currently enrolled at Woodlands will be able to stay in the unit, which will remain open for two years.

The Minister said the move has the potential to create additional employment.

However, Mr Ramsey commented: “I am appalled by the decision of the Minister to implement the development proposals that would close Woodlands and scatter the classes throughout the North West. There has been wide-ranging and prevalent opposition to this proposal from every section of the community. I cannot comprehend how the Minister could come to such a decision in the face of overwhelming and tangible evidence that the in-house facility at Belmont was giving new hope to parents and children who have speech and language difficulties.”

Mr O’Dowd has approved proposals to amalgamate Belmont House and Foyle View schools in Derry. The minister said the merger would be supported with an investment of more than £7.5 million.

Explaining the decision to replace the Woodlands unit, Mr O’Dowd said it was taken in response to demand for speech and language services in Derry and across the north west and to ensure the provision was compliant with legislation on inclusion.

“I have made clear from the outset that my primary focus is ensuring the best possible speech and language provision for children in the area,”

“I have had to consider the best long-term solution for children with speech and language needs in the area. It is evident that the Woodlands facility has served children well but there is also a strong case for providing increased and more localised provision for the future.”

“I firmly believe that the key to success for the proposed changes will be a managed transition to the new arrangements to ensure that quality provision is in place before any change is put in place at Woodlands,” he said.

The Minister also said the merger of Belmont House and Foyle View schools would improve special education provision in Derry. “In making my decision I was mindful that there has been a significant level of opposition to the closure of Belmont House. However, I must consider the long term interests of the children. Having examined the proposal I am satisfied that the amalgamation will provide a more sustainable school and meet the needs of the children more effectively,” he said.