Storey highlights Castle Tower at Stormont debate

NORTH Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey has led an Assembly debate on the need for a new school building for Castle Tower School in Ballymena.

Monday, 24th May 2010, 10:36 am
Updated Monday, 24th May 2010, 11:51 am

Speaking in an Adjournment Debate he secured at the Assembly on the subject and calling on the Minister for Education to prioritise Castle Tower Mervyn Storey firstly acknowledged “the excellent work” that had been carried out by his Assembly colleague Rev Robert Coulter, chairman of the board of governors of Castle Tower, and his fellow governors, for their unstinting efforts on behalf of Castle Tower.

“It is only right that his commitment and perseverance on behalf of Castle Tower are recognised and applauded,” said Mr Storey who also paid tribute to the staff and everyone associated with the school in Ballymena.

He said: “Castle Tower is a school to be proud of and it delivers excellence that cannot be bettered anywhere else.

“However, all that excellence is delivered in spite of the many daily difficulties that the school faces. The accommodation in the school is highly inappropriate to meet the diverse needs of the young people in its care.

“Castle Tower School cares for children who have heartbreaking disabilities. Many of the pupils are wheelchair users or have restricted mobility alongside their learning difficulties, but some mobile classrooms do not even have appropriate disabled access.

“That fact alone ought to be all that the Minister needs to spark her into action. She and I frequently clash over her priorities and about how she allocates her budget, but surely she cannot disagree today that she ought to prioritise such a crying need at this time,” said the North Antrim MLA.

He continued: “We are dealing with some of the most vulnerable young people in society, in one of the worst educational environments in Northern Ireland. Our young people simply deserve better.

“It is the Minister’s Department; it is the Minister’s responsibility; and it is the Minister’s decision. The debate is not about the school’s estate, departmental directives or party political disagreements. It is about disabled children attending a school in which too many classrooms have no disabled or otherwise appropriate access.

“Apart from the ongoing health and safety issues that Castle Tower School deals with daily, the lack of appropriate facilities also has a direct impact on the pupils’ learning and on the educational environment,” said Mr Storey.

“In a February 2010 inspection report, 95% of the lessons observed were rated as “good” to “outstanding”, but the report commented on how the school environment had a negative impact on the pupils’ learning. The staff and all associated with the school should be commended for the way in which they continue to deliver the service, and I pay tribute to the leadership of the school’s principal.

“I urge her, as she did on behalf of Whitehouse Primary School, to act responsibly and immediately.

“I have with me the timeline for that economic appraisal (for Castle Tower) which goes from 24 July 2006 to 4 May 2010. To any independent assessor or observer it would appear to be a list of failure: revision, more information, revision, more information, requirement for clarification, referral to the economic assessment unit and the business unit.

“What we have is a bureaucratic nightmare, and all that we have ever asked for is delivery for Castle Tower School. Firm decisions need to be taken, and the Minister should take those decisions without delay,” said the DUP Assemblyman.