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Teachers expected to plug gap left by loss of GAA and IFA coaches

Ulster GAA provides 25 coaches, and the Irish FA 28

SCHOOL PE teachers should be able to plug the gap left by the loss of a GAA coaching scheme, it has been claimed.

There are concerns about the future of the Curriculum Sports Programme, which involves Gaelic and soccer coaches visiting primary schools.

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

Ulster GAA provides 25 coaches, and the Irish FA 28, to work with about 450 schools a year.

About £1.3 million is spent by the Department of Education annually.

The scheme was provided under contract by the GAA and Irish Football Association (IFA) and the department has invested a total of £10.3m. Money is due to end in October.

The department's permanent secretary Derek Baker has met political parties who are urging funding to continue. However, overall budgets are being slashed across the system meaning cuts must be made.

Financial pressures on the education budget in 2017/18 means the continued annual cost £1.3m is only possible if there are reductions elsewhere across early years, youth and schools.

Justin McNulty of the SDLP is among those backing its retention saying the coaches are invaluable and support normal physical education activity in primary schools.

Now, the department has said that schools should be able to use their own staff to deliver the programme in the absence of coaches.

A spokeswoman said the department recognised the contribution that the Curriculum Sports Programme had made in helping raise the confidence of, and provide support to, primary teachers in delivering PE.

The schools taking part, she said, were allocated coaches on the understanding that the class teacher would be present at all times to assist in the delivery of the sessions "in order to develop their own knowledge and skills and to enable them to follow up as appropriate in their own teaching".

"The programme was not specifically intended to support the development of either Gaelic games or soccer," she said.

"Teachers in participating primary schools have been involved with the programme for 10 years and the department would have expected that the skills and confidence of the teachers involved will have improved significantly over this period.

"Schools are responsible for delivering the statutory curriculum, including PE which is compulsory for all pupils between the ages of 4 and 16, and they can use their delegated budget to employ coaches if they deem this as a priority for their school."

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