Woodlands move ‘in best interests of kids’

Education Minister John O'Dowd
Education Minister John O'Dowd

A controversial decision to close a specialised speech and language unit at Belmont House school was taken in “the best interests of all children”, the north’s Education Minister has said.

John O’Dowd’s said plans to close the Woodlands Unit would promote inclusion in education.

His comments come as parents of kids who attend the Woodlands Unit prepare to oppose its closure with a protest in Guildhall Square at 1pm tomorrow, and days after SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey claimed the Minister did not fight to save the unit.

In Tuesday’s ‘Journal’ Mr Ramsey claimed it was clear the Minister did “not listen to all those who objected, all those who signed petitions, local schools and even the Education and Training Inspectorate”, when choosing to close the unit.

Mr O’Dowd announced in September that three new speech and language units would be established in mainstream primary schools - at St Anne’s Primary School, Rosemount, Ebrington Primary School and Ballykelly Primary School - to replace Woodlands.

Now in a statement to the ‘Journal’ the Sinn Fein Minister said “decisions on all development proposals are always based on what is best for the children who will be affected.”

“I took note of all the points raised during the consultation period and I also visited the school to meet with the Principal, governors, staff and pupils to listen to their views. I am aware too, that, while many parents and local stakeholders were opposed to the closure, there were others who were in favour.”

“The change I approved to provision in Derry ensures that children who currently attend Woodlands will have their needs catered for within three nearby primary schools. While there is no doubt that Woodlands has delivered a high quality of service for these pupils, the new approach will integrate them with pupils in mainstream schools and will ensure they all receive the right provision for their individual needs.”

Mr O’Dowd said he is confident the decision is in the best interests of all children and said it “will increase the overall level and accessibility of speech and language provision in the Derry area.”