Northern Ireland

Funding cut for sports coaching in Northern Ireland primary schools

The sports bodies involved in running the programme have been told that 'no further funding is available'
The sports bodies involved in running the programme have been told that 'no further funding is available'

SPECIALIST sports coaching in primary schools across Northern Ireland is set to end amid further funding cuts.

The Department of Education (DE) has told the sports bodies involved in running the programme that "no further funding is available".

The scheme, delivered by coaches from the Irish Football Association (IFA) and Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), runs in more than 200 schools at a cost of around £500,000 a year.

The programme supports 900 teachers and 24,000 children, delivering more than 400 PE classes a week.

But the department has told the sports bodies that it is to be halted.

"Faced with this extremely challenging position the department has had no choice but to take a number of very difficult decisions," the department said in a letter.

The move to axe the scheme comes amid pressure on the department following a 2.5 per cent cut in this year’s education budget set by the Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.

Cuts have already been implemented in areas such as the Engage, Healthy Happy Minds and School Holiday Food Grant schemes.

James Thompson, IFA Foundation director, said the decision to axe the funding "has been taken at a time when physical inactivity risks long-term harm to the physical and mental health of children".

"Three quarters of primary schools are unable to provide the recommended two hours per week for PE," he told BBC NI.

"If this was the case for any other statutory subject there would be government support rather than a reduction in provision.

"We are asking our MLAs to take all possible action to protect this vital programme and, most importantly, the health, wellbeing and resilience of children in Northern Ireland."

Eugene Young, Ulster GAA director, said ending the scheme "would be a significant loss to our children and schools".

"We cannot allow children to have decreased access to the statutory curriculum for PE and call on our political representatives to support the campaign to retain the wide-ranging benefits of this programme," he said.

Alliance MLA David Honeyford said it is "deeply disappointing this programme has lost its funding from the department, especially when recent reports have highlighted serious concerns around the health and levels of physical activity among children and young people".

SDLP assembly member Justin McNulty said the programme had "huge benefits for our children" adding that the decision to end it will have "a significant impact on our young people and schools and demonstrates yet again that PE is the poor relation in education".

UUP MLA Mike Nesbitt called on the department to meet officials from the IFA and Ulster GAA to "explain the decision to cut funding", while People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said the funding cut is "at the expense of children’s physical and mental health".