Education news

School coaches to learn whether posts will still be funded

Ulster GAA provides 25 coaches for the Curriculum Sports Programme

GAA and soccer coaches in primary schools will soon learn whether their posts will continue to be funded.

Money for the Curriculum Sports Programme is due to end this month.

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

Ulster GAA provides 25 coaches, and the IFA (Irish Football Association) 28, to work with about 450 schools a year.

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

Overall budgets are being slashed across the system meaning cuts must be made.

Financial pressures on the education budget in 2017/18 meant the programme only survived when extra cash was found through re-allocations in 'monitoring rounds'.

The budget for 2018/19 is almost identical to this financial year.

The department previously said schools taking part 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".

Schools could then use their own budget to run the programme, it was added.

All-Ireland winning footballer Justin McNulty, an SDLP assembly member for Newry and Armagh, said the scheme encouraged children to maintain a fit, healthy and active lifestyle.

Political instability at Stormont, he added, placed its future in jeopardy.

"All the evidence shows that taking part in sport and maintaining an active lifestyle from an early age doesn't just benefit a child's physical wellbeing, it positively influences their mental health, as well as their emotional and character development," he said.

"Last year the programme got a reprieve until the end of March in the hope a minister would be in place to put the programme back on a firm financial footing.

"However, with the collapse of the deal between the DUP and Sinn Féin more than 50 coaches are being faced with redundancy notices and children will be robbed of this very valuable sporting programme."

The Department of Education last night said it would soon meet the two organisations.

"Following the Northern Ireland budget announcement by the Secretary of State on 8 March 2018, decisions have now been taken on the 2018/19 education budget allocations," a spokeswoman said.

"As part of the work of dealing with the implications of the budget decisions, the department plans to meet with both the GAA and the IFA in the near future to discuss the Curriculum Sports Programme."

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