Fears over funding for GAA coaching in schools

The GAA began the programme in November 2007 working in almost 200 schools

GAELIC and soccer coaching for thousands of primary school children is at risk of becoming a casualty of the political stalemate at Stormont.

Cash for a scheme that sees GAA and Irish Football Association (IFA) coaches visit schools is due to run out this summer.

About £1.3 million is spent by the Department of Education on its Curriculum Sports Programme each year.

There are fears, however, that it could stop due to the absence of an agreed budget for 2017/18.

The department has offered part funding until the end of July only.

The scheme has been running for a decade and thousands of children have taken part.

Coaches provide sessions during curriculum time to children in primary schools, with a particular focus on foundation stage and Key Stage 1.

The aim is to give priority to those schools where children are likely to benefit most from the opportunity to take part in curriculum-linked physical activity, in particular, schools in

disadvantaged areas.

The GAA began the programme in November 2007 working in almost 200 schools. The IFA began its work in schools in February 2008 working in 170 schools.

At its height - 2008 to 2010 - almost 600 schools took part. Numbers have dropped more recently to 451 last year.

Inspectors praised the scheme for offering "extended opportunities to build upon the children's basic movement skills and transfer of skills acquired to other areas of the physical education programme".

They said it also offered opportunities for "teachers who lack confidence in teaching PE to develop knowledge of games skills, observe the coach and then adapt the activities for use in their own lessons".

The department said it wrote to the IFA and GAA at the end of the last financial year to advise them of interim funding arrangements for the Curriculum Sports Programme in the absence of an agreed budget for 2017/18.

"Both organisations have been offered funding for a period of four months, from 1 April 2017 to 31 July 2017, to ensure continuity of service in the interim," a spokeswoman said.

"Any funding decisions beyond 31 July 2017 will be subject to the decisions of an incoming administration."

An Ulster Council spokesman said: "The failure of the Executive to agree a budget prior to the dissolution of the assembly, and the failure of the parties to reach agreement post the assembly elections has led to uncertainty in departmental funding.

"In the absence of a budget, Ulster GAA are liaising with the Department of Education in relation to the programme."

The IFA said it was confident that "due to the success of the Curriculum Sports Programme that government funding will continue to be made available for the scheme".

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