Latest edition of VIEW – issue 15 May 21, 2013 | Brian Pelan
Profile: Audrey Simpson: Acting Chief Executive of the Family Planning Associati... May 21, 2013 | Brian Pelan
Editorial: Care homes debacle needs to be sorted out... May 21, 2013 | Brian Pelan
‘We deserve to be treated with respect’ May 21, 2013 | Brian Pelan
‘Who is profiting from the decision to close care homes’... May 21, 2013 | Brian Pelan
My story: MLA Jo-Anne Dobson tells of her organ transplant register campaign... May 21, 2013 | Brian Pelan
THE BIG PICTURE May 21, 2013 | Brian Pelan
Easy rider breaks down the barriers May 21, 2013 | Brian Pelan
Homeless centre destroyed in arson attack reopens its doors... May 21, 2013 | Brian Pelan
In an exclusive interview, VIEW talks to Ann Osborne, (above) the ex-chief executive of the Educational Guidance Service for Adults, about the decision to close down the organisation and the impact it will have on the hard-pressed sector
VIEW: Can you explain the background to the decision to close down EGSA?
Ann Osborne: EGSA had a number of funding streams but our core educational and career guidance support for adults has been funded by DEL and before that DE for over 40 years. We received core funding until three years ago when the relationship with DEL changed to a Service Level Agreement to deliver outreach guidance in Neighbourhood Renewal areas and support to those facing redundancy. The three-year agreement was due to end later this year. We had a number of meetings with the department including with the Minister to discuss the future of the work. However it became clear that DEL had decided not to renew or the existing contract or even issue a new one for open tender. The loss of funding for our core work meant that the board had no choice but to wind up the organisation.
VIEW: How difficult was it to tell the staff that they had lost their jobs.
Ann: It was very difficult. It’s a very sad time because EGSA had been in existence since 1967 – a long history, a lot of great work and it was very ironic that EGSA that helped people facing redundancy was making staff redundant, particularly in the current climate. I think the staff were devastated, not only because of the loss of their own jobs, but because of the need that they were addressing in the community and knowing that that need is still there.
VIEW: Is there any chance in the future of some sort of reconstituted EGSA in the future?
Ann: Some of the work will continue, the project we have with Action Hearing Loss will go on – that was a Lottery-funded project. So that’s work going to continue. We’re working to keep the money for Life Challenge going in another way so that will continue. But I would be keen – and I suppose I’m moving on to the future a bit now – to look at ways of keeping some of the work that EGSA was doing alive in other forms, maybe through other organisations, but I think there is still work that needs to be done.
VIEW: A recent Audit Office report found that two out of every five teenagers in Northern Ireland leave school without basic reading and writing skills. What’s your thoughts on this issue?
Ann: There are no signs of any decrease in the number of young people coming from school with poor literacy and there is still a significant percentage of adults who need support to improve their Essential Skills. It was particularly those adults who are often harder to reach, adults who would not ever see themselves joining an Essential Skills class, who benefitted most from EGSA’s support.
VIEW: Why are adult illiteracy levels so high here?
Ann: I think Northern Ireland is very good at excelling at the top end but we do have a long tail of ‘under-achievement’ as it’s often known as. I think it’s probably down to the fact that we have a segregated system where academic learning is very much valued. above, for example, more vocational routes. Those who don’t make the grade are not always encouraged and we would have witnessed the intergenerational impact of this. So for example, if a parent has gone to school, has had a bad experience, has been told they’re stupid, that they will never make anything of themselves (as clients have told us) it’s very difficult for them to see education as being very important for their children, and to inspire them and to encourage their children to attend school and have the confidence to help them with their homework.
VIEW : How long were you with EGSA?
Ann: I was with EGSA for 13 years. I’ve only been chief executive for just over a year. The previous chief executive was Eileen Kelly who held the post for 22 years. Before her was Dorothy Eagleson who set up the organisation. I had been involved a lot in the adult literacy work in EGSA. We always had a literacy referral line which supported people with essential skills need and helped refer them into classes, but again that service was funded by DEL and then the funding was withdrawn a number of years ago.
VIEW: In your oponion, do you believe that EGSA made a difference to adult learners.
Ann: I think EGSA made a difference really in terms of our work around educational guidance and giving people who never thought they could learn a second chance at learning by helping increase their self-esteem and raise their aspirations. A lot of organisations would have used us as a referral point and we would have worked across areas like mental health. We worked in the workplace, we worked with people with drug and alcohol issues – so we were a referral point for other organisations and that’s not going to be there. Another area that we did a lot of work in was around student finance and helping people to understand how to finance their learning, particularly for mature students moving into higher education, who perhaps did an access course and then found that they couldn’t afford to go to university. We not only supported the learners but provided specialist support to other advisers in this area.
VIEW: What sort of reaction have you had about the closure of EGSA?
Ann: People were very shocked. I have been totally inundated with messages of support from other organisations and everybody is saying the same thing – that there’s going to be a gap there, that that support – that people were used to referring people to EGSA – that that support is no longer there.
VIEW: Looking back now on the entire period, what sort of service did EGSA provide to its users?
Ann: We prided ourselves on providing a highquality service. EGSA was a trailblazer for Educational Guidance across the UK and instrumental in the establishment of the National Association for Educational Guidance (NAEGA) in the UK. EGSA was the first organisation in NI to be accredited to the Matrix Quality Standard for advice and guidance and the first organisation in NI to win an award from the Institute of Careers Guidance. EGSA went on to win a further award from ICG and three National Training Awards for our work in Guidance, Essential Skills and Redundancy support in the workplace.
VIEW: What is your outlook for the future
Ann: The current economic climate means the need for EGSA’s educational and career guidance has never been greater. It’s so sad that we have a team of skilled, specialist
advisers joining the unemployment register. If there is a funder out there willing to support a much needed service, I would be more than willing to talk to them.
When south Belfast mother-of-two Emily Gallagher’s elder son Oisin (4) was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, she and her husband John were devastated. But their lives were transformed when she helped set up two after-school clubs for autistic children in Ballynafeigh and Donegall Pass
When Oisin was around 18 months old, he started regressing. He was meeting his development milestones, and then just stopped doing everything.
At that stage the doctors said, we think he might be autistic, but nobody actually sits down and tells you what autism is. So you come home and look on the internet, and then you’re looking at scary stuff.
The diagnosis took a year. We didn’t know anyone else who had an autistic kid, so it was a very isolating year.
Last summer I thought, I’m going to start my own group. I had said that to a friend who knows Joan Henderson, who started the educational charity Sólás three years ago. We met and it started from there.
In September we had the Autism Family Fun Day in Botanic and through that we started collecting names of people in the area who wanted something for their autistic children. The improvements we’ve seen in Oisin have been huge. When he was first diagnosed, he’d be oblivious to what was going on around him – in his own little bubble. There were no hugs and kisses and now there are loads of hugs and kisses.
He still has no speech although he’s said a couple of words in school so that means his speech is coming. It’s another bit of pressure off.
The ethos of our after-school club is really that the kids are in a safe environment. They’ve done all their hard work at school but when they come to us it’s about having fun and socialising. And it also gives the parents a couple of hours off.
Friends of mine now have autistic kids and I say to them, ‘your life’s not over, your life’s beginning but you have to look at it in a different way. You don’t see them doing their 11-plus and graduating from university – that can happen, but you have to take it month by month. They’re very happy kids, so take all the joy out of it but get in contact with these support groups and get yourself involved in the community’. It is a fight but it is all worth it. I wouldn’t change Oisin for the world.
For more information on the Autism Spectrum Disorder after-school clubs in Ballynafeigh and Donegall Pass community centres in Belfast and the 2013 summer scheme, see www.solasbt7.com or telephone 02890 247600.
What the delegates thought: Video report two from Miller-Gratten Media about the recent ‘Getting a Fair Share’ conference, organised by the Equality Commission Northern Ireland during International Women’s Week.
By Julia Paul (above)
Women are acting as shock absorbers for the cuts – That was the stark message from women’s campaigner Bronagh Hinds to the ‘Getting a Fair Share?’ conference organised by the Equality Commission during a week of events celebrating International Women’s Day.
The conference was examining the reasons why women have failed to achieve economic independence. Around 100 delegates from organisations across Northern Ireland gathered at Riddel Hall at Queen’s University in Belfast to discuss the question.
I was chairing the event, and sitting on the platform, listening to the speakers give details of exactly how welfare reforms will impact on women was a sobering experience.
Lynn Carvill, the women’s sector lobbyist from the Women’s Resource and Development Agency, told conference delegates that it’s estimated that women will bear 72 per cent of the cuts.
Adrianne Peltz, the president of the National Union of Students and Union of Students in Ireland, said that while 47 per cent of staff at universities was female, only 20 per cent of professors were women.
Tracy Meharg from Invest NI said that when it came to entrepreneurship, the rate of women setting up businesses was less than half that of men.
The speakers all agreed that the issue most responsible for holding women back was the lack of affordable and accessible childcare in Northern Ireland.
Equality in NI is the responsibility of the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, The conference was opened by Jennifer McCann, the Sinn Fein junior minister in that office.
OFMDFM’s consultation process towards a childcare strategy has just closed.
The conference also heard some positive stories, via video clips, from women interviewed from across Northern Ireland.
You can see these interviews on the Equality Commission’s website at http://bit.ly/10y6mcx