Seanad Éireann - Volume 111 - 05 March, 1986

Adjournment Matter. - Cappanalea (Kerry) Outdoor Education Centre.

Mr. Deenihan: I welcome the young Minister of State, Deputy Kenny, to the Seanad and wish him the best of luck in his future role.

Following numerous representations and a deputation from County Kerry VEC, the Minister will have been informed of the urgency of this matter. With the Minister's teaching and sporting background he will appreciate the immense educational and biological value of outdoor education for young people and for the adult population. Outdoor [1099] activities provide a first hand manipulated environment with capacity for cognative development, effective development and physical development of the learners. In the school curriculum outdoor education brings a note of realism to subjects such as art and geography and science while it adds greatly to the scope and attraction of physical education and sport. The field of outdoor education, recreation and leisure is one of the fastest growth industries in the world and by the turn of the century it should be our major growth industry.

Cappanalea Outdoor Education Centre, which is the subject of the discussion here tonight, is owned and managed by Kerry Vocational Education Committee and it is situated approximately seven miles from Killorglin with Caragh Lake to the north and overlooking Cappanalea Lake. It is surrounded by a small piece of land of up to 940 feet and is within easy distance of MacGillycuddy Reeks. The area is extensively forested and offers a great variety of terrain for mountaineering, canoeing, orienteering, field studies and camping. It has potential for other adventure sports.

The project for the Cappanalea Outdoor Education Centre originated in 1973 with the purchase of a 55-acre site. It progressed due to the co-operation between Kerry Vocational Education Committee, Killorglin Community Council and the Association for Adventure Sports. The structure, developed for management, financial accountability and administration, could stand as a model for development elsewhere. More than 4,126 students availed of the facility in 1985; and when you compare this to the 1,900 who used it in 1982 it shows a substantial increase. This should be noted, and the increase in usage will serve as a further argument for the immediate provision of funds to keep the centre open.

This growth in usage is ample evidence of the need for the centre. Usage is spread across the community, principally school groups, youth organisations, adult groups on basic or leadership courses, [1100] specialist groups — for example, teachers on in-service training courses. The range of groups is very wide. Vocational schools, post primary schools, primary schools, regional colleges, universities, Thomond College, both physical education and rural science departments, youth clubs, scout and guide organisations, the armed forces, sporting bodies, St. John's Ambulance, The Sports Council of Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Education and Library Boards, Civil Defence, AnCO, National Manpower Development, Department of Education, Forestry and Wildlife Service and various adult groups and tourists use this centre.

In addition, the centre is pioneering many curriculum innovations, including school based programmes, an awards scheme, AnCO programmes and an outdoor education module for vocational preparation and training courses. Cross-Border co-operation and projects including student youth exchanges are at a highly developed stage, and I feel this is another significant point in view of the recent Anglo-Irish Agreement. Cappanalea has also hosted an exchange with two national centres in France organised by the Department of Education. The return visits have resulted in the centre's first alpine course.

Employment in 1985 stood at 11, eight of whom were under a Teamwork scheme. The fees generated paid the salaries of the other three. The teamwork scheme was the reason why this was brought up in the first instance — the discontinuation of the existing scheme that was made available to the centre by the former Minister of State, Deputy George Birmingham. I was of the opinion that the Teamwork scheme was not really suitable for the staffing of such a centre, because of its nature and because of the annual basis of employment, because the people involved in instruction and so forth need to be trained in various leadership courses and need to have a lot of skill. Besides, it presented an insurance problem for the centre, because no doubt insurance companies were not prepared to insure people who were being changed [1101] every year. In a way the discontinuation of the Teamwork scheme may be a blessing in disguise.

In all, 21 young people of both sexes have been employed, some of whom have gone on to make careers in outdoor education. Further employment is visualised through a community council project using skills developed by staff coming off the Teamwork scheme. So, some of these people will now be kept on, we hope.

The commercial spin-off is very significant in the area. However, the present difficulties leading to the closure, it would seem by the end of March, arise from the piecemeal approach by State agencies to recognition and funding. For example, as I said earlier, the rules of the Teamwork scheme made it unsuitable for the unique staffing requirements of the centre.

What is essential now is full sanction for the centre and its programme from the Department of Education, even if on the basis of a pilot project. This would allow County Kerry VEC to bring the centre into their existing financial scheme and thus develop outdoor education within the schools' curriculum and promote adult and community education. It is the view of the management board after 13 years' experience that this is the only way to preserve what must be seen as a valuable local and national resource.

I referred to staffing. Indeed, the staffing demands of a residential outdoor education centre are unique, involving specific staff-pupil ratios which vary from activity to activity and involving a three-segmented day — morning, afternoon and evening. The ratios between staff and pupils vary from 1:4 to 1:13, giving the centre a usual working average of 1:8. The average group size attending the centre is 24 students, thus giving an average ratio of three instructors on duty with each group.

During 1985, Cappanalea centre was occupied for 301 days of the year. Each day accounts for nine hours of instruction. Therefore, with an average of three instructors working nine hours a day for 301 days, it gives a total of 8,370 instruction [1102] hours per year. Assuming an instructor was to work 30 hours of instructional contact time a week for a 45-week year, the teacher requirement to cover the 8,370 instruction hours would therefore be estimated at six instructors.

In addition to the instruction staff, the staff requirements come under two headings. Number one is management and administration. A manager is required to organise, administer and develop the centre. The assistance of a full time secretary is also essential considering the constant through-put of students and courses and the clerical duties determined by them. Maintenance is also important. The need for a caretaker to maintain the domestic aspects of a residental centre, with an average turnover of four separate groups per week, is obvious. There is need for full time maintenance of the sports and specialist equipment in the interest of safety and good performance, and a need for the development of the grounds and property of Cappanalea.

During frequent visits to the centre I experienced an obvious lack of equipment replacement. The equipment being used at present I would consider to be dangerous and requiring to be replaced immediately. A grant of £7,000 was sanctioned some time ago by the former Minister for Education, Deputy Hussey. However, this went nowhere near replacing the defective equipment. I would like the Minister of State to note this.

I have referred to the various programmes that are going on in the centre, and to how the centre has developed. Within the educational sphere, concentrated efforts have resulted in the establishment of many post-primary and third level curriculum innovations. It is no harm to mention some of these: the development and implementation of an outdoor education award scheme, a school-based out-door education programme concentrating on a broad participation record as opposed to the attainment of predetermined standards — this was a very successful scheme and one that should be noted — the development of an outdoor education module for school-based [1103] vocational preparation and training courses in the primary schools; a further scheme for the development of an outdoor education module for community youth training programmes under the auspices of AnCO in co-operation with the Department of Education; a fully sanctioned in-service teacher training course in integrated studies, including physical education, biology, and geography; the initiation of an AnCO training course concentrating on the training of sports and leisure officers; the implementation for third level physical education students from Thomond College of an outdoor education module in practical work experience; the writing and compiling of a practical field studies manual which will be published this year and distributed to teachers and students on a national level. These are but some of the programmes that have been developed at the centre. It is a reflection of the very fine work that is going on there.

From a commercial point of view, Cappanalea centre has been fully active in the development and promotion of an adventure sports tourist industry in Kerry. I can give as examples the stocking of one of its lakes with mature trout to encourage fishing in the Cappanalea Lake, as well as, during the summer season, the running of non-residential day courses in adventure sports to service the local hotels and guesthouses, and the promotion of a commercially viable community business under the community enterprise programme, where a community group will take over the non-residential day course and develop the concept into a business proposal. Those courses, on the commercial aspect, bear further testimony to the type of work that is going on there.

To avoid the annual crisis which has been a feature of the operation of this centre since its opening, short term solutions must be replaced by planned funding. I hope that the Minister will have some concrete proposals here tonight for us. Cappanalea centre should be sanctioned as a fully operational outdoor [1104] education institution under the responsibility of Kerry Vocational Education Committee. Within its annual financial scheme, County Kerry VEC should have sanction to cover the capital, administrative, instructional and maintenance costs of Cappanalea.

This is a quotation from the National Youth Policy Document, 1985: “ ensure that the outdoor pursuit centres will be adequately staffed and financed to enable their full and effective use as part of the national youth service.” The Minister will, no doubt, note that aspect of the National Youth Policy report. The centre has been operating a management, instruction and maintenance scheme which is in line with existing VEC procedures. Strict budgetary procedures are adhered to. All incoming expenditure is subject to an annual plan with monthly reports and reviews. No new financial procedures would need to be introduced to bring the Cappanalea outdoor education centre into the existing Kerry VEC financial scheme.

The centre should now be established on a permanent basis. The VEC should be authorised to provide the basic staffing arrangements, including a manager, a caretaker and secretary. Additional funding could be used to finance the remaining staffing. This funding could be got from fees and other forms of promotions which, if the centre was recognised, the VEC would undertake. I ask the Minister, with his sporting and educational background, to give this matter his consideration to ensure that the centre will not be closed at the end of March.

Minister of State at the Department of Education (Mr. Kenny): Ba mhaith liom ar dtús mo leithscéal a ghabháil leatsa, mar Chathaoirleach ghníomhach den Seanad, os rud é nach raibh mé anseo in am. Bhí an díospóireacht á plé sa Dáil faoi dhúnadh Choláiste Dhúin Chéirigh.

I commend Senator Deenihan for raising this matter in the Seanad. Very few people are as fitted to raise such a question as Senator Deenihan, both from his professional experience and his sporting background. I commend him for the [1105] manner in which he made his presentation.

Cappanalea Outdoor Education Centre was built in 1981 by County Kerry Vocational Educational Committee with the assistance of a grant-in-aid provided under the programme for the provision of recreational facilities. It is one of a series of outdoor education centres with which the Department are now experiencing some problems. Grants in respect of furnishing and equipment are made available on an annual basis by the Department of Education.

Unfortunately, it has not been possible for the Department of Education to authorise full-time staffing for the centre due to the embargo on the creation of new posts in the public service. Having regard to the many demands for staffing in various areas within the education sector, there is no possibility of effecting a re-deployment of any posts to cater for the staffing needs at the Cappanalea centre. In the context, as a result of a request from Senator Deenihan and others, I met a formal deputation on 26 February in relation to the Cappanalea centre. Presentations were made which were very valid. Further funding of £7,500 was made available under the Teamwork scheme to enable the centre to continue to the end of March. I share the Senator's concern in relation to the short term schemes, their implementation and their consequences for the overall efficient running of such centres.

There is no provision in the 1986 Estimates for the running costs, including staffing of outdoor education centres. Furthermore, it is not possible to consider applications for staffing having regard to the current policy of staff numbers in the public service. The question of the staffing of outdoor education centres, including that at Cappanalea, was considered by the National Youth Policy Committee. In the Government's [1106] recently published White Paper entitled In Partnership With Youth, paragraph 5.5.3 states:

The Government recognise the valuable contribution which outdoor pursuit centres, managed by Vocational Education Committees, and youth hostels and residential centres, run by voluntary youth organisations, can make towards meeting important personal development needs of young people. The Department of Education will ensure that the outdoor pursuit centres will be adequately staffed and financed to enable their full and effective use as part of the national youth service.

I would like to assure Senator Deenihan that in that context, while I regret that I cannot offer any short term help, the Government are setting about the implementation of the National Youth Policy. Though in that context the provision of staffing, etc., would not be anything like what has been provided under existing schemes to date. I will communicate with the Senator further as soon as progress has been made.

Mr. Deenihan: In the event of the centre closing at the end of March what action does the Minister propose or suggest that the Department might take to ensure that it remains open?

Mr. Kenny: I cannot give the Senator a categoric assurance but I have asked for meetings with the appropriate personnel in the Department. I will communicate with the Senator as soon as those meetings have taken place.

The Seanad adjourned at 8.30 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 6 March 1986.