Community-based and Alternative Education in West Belfast

The Adjournment debate on Tuesday 12 January 2016 was on the subject of “Community-based and Alternative Education in West Belfast”.

The proposer of the topic was Ms Jennifer McCann:
“Go raibh maith agat, Mr Deputy Speaker. I very much welcome the opportunity to open today’s Adjournment debate and to raise the important issue of community-based and alternative education in West Belfast. While the debate is about ensuring that the necessary resources are directed to community-based education, it is also about setting out the stall for community-based and alternative education to be recognised as the valuable asset that it is. It should be recognised as a quality service that promotes academic achievement and develops a person’s skill set.

There has been debate in the House in recent months, and I do not have to labour the point, but there is a view, particularly in local communities, organisations and sectors that deliver community-based education that education is basically disappearing from being delivered in a local setting. People seem to see higher and further education colleges as being where the services and people are being directed to, should they choose to go down that route.

It is not just about choice; it is about meeting the individual needs of the student. Those needs can be very different in each case. The individual needs of the student must be given priority. Some people prefer to go to a further or higher education college. That is their choice, but a lot of people I have spoken to and know — constituents of mine in West Belfast — have put forward the view that they want to study and train in a more localised and familiar setting that has more support networks for them. I ask Members to imagine people who have been away from education or training for a long time; for instance, adult returners. Sometimes, it is very hard to take that first step and say, “I want to go into further education” or “I want to have further training”. They do not really want to go to a big college that is based in the centre of a city or a town. They want to go somewhere where they feel that they are being encouraged and supported. Sometimes, you have to look at the confidence levels of some of the people who are returning to education and training after a long time. Therefore, there has to be some sort of strategic thinking involved when we are looking at this. Local, community-based education projects are being downgraded. They are being starved of funding, and, in some of the women’s centres, participants can do only level 1 qualifications. That hinders learners’ progression when they want to go on to do further courses. Again, we need to take a strategic view. We need to look at this holistically, not piecemeal.”

Read the full transcript in the Official Report.