GAA chiefs hail last minute reprieve for school coaching scheme
ULSTER GAA and the Irish Football Association have hailed a last minute reprieve for a coaching scheme for schoolchildren.
The Curriculum Sports Programme, which involves gaelic and soccer coaches visiting primary schools, was due to end this month.
Extra money has been found, however, allowing it to continue until March next year.
It has been running for a decade and thousands of children have taken part.
Ulster GAA provides 25 coaches, and the IFA 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 IFA and the department has invested a total of £10.3m.
The department's permanent secretary Derek Baker met political parties who urged funding to continue. 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.
As a result of a recent monitoring round, an additional £10m was allocated to the department. This allowed it to extend its support for the Curriculum Sports Programme until the end of the current financial year to cover the period from November 1 2017 to March 31 2018.
It means, coaches from both the GAA and IFA will continue to deliver the health and wellbeing programme to about 40,000 primary school children.
IFA chief executive Patrick Nelson and Brian McAvoy, Chief Executive of Ulster GAA, jointly welcomed the funding extension.
"More than 50 staff across both organisations faced redundancy so the decision of the Department of Education to continue to fund the sports programme is welcome news," they said in a joint statement.
"This is a great boost for our children and our schools as the Curriculum Sports Programme is about much more than football or Gaelic games – it is about instilling the principles of exercise and overall physical wellbeing to children at a young age – an age at which they are most impressionable.
"We thank the Department of Education and the head of the civil service for listening to our concerns and for their efforts in finding additional finances at a time when budgets across government face significant challenges. We also thank the politicians from all parties and other campaigners, including many schoolteachers, who have worked with us over the past number of months."