A delegation from the Irish FA and Ulster GAA plus MLAs has requested an urgent meeting with the Department of Education’s Permanent Secretary after he took the decision to cease funding the Schools Sports Programme.
The programme delivers statutory curriculum physical education for children in primary schools across Northern Ireland – and sporting bodies and political representatives are seeking its continuation.
The Education and Training Inspectorate has endorsed the Schools Sports Programme, which resources 22 Irish FA and Ulster GAA coaches to work in partnership with 900 teachers.
It is aimed at improving the physical literacy, mental wellbeing, resilience, confidence and motivation of 24,000 children by delivering 450 PE classes per week in more than 200 schools each academic year.
Irish FA Foundation Director James Thompson said: “This decision has been taken at a time when physical inactivity risks long term harm to the physical and mental health of children.
“One in five primary schools is unable to deliver the statutory curriculum for PE and the Education and Training Inspectorate has recommended the Schools Sports Programme as a best practice response to this societal challenge.
“Three quarters of primary schools are unable to provide the recommended two hours per week for PE. If this was the case for any other statutory subject there would be government support rather than a reduction in provision and 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.”
Funded by the Department of Education, the School Sports Programme is aimed at pupils aged 7-11 and is designed to provide specialist expertise to support delivery of the Key Stage 2 PE curriculum.
Ulster GAA Director Eugene Young said: “The cessation of the successful Schools Sports Programme would be a significant loss to our children and schools.
“Many primary schools partner with Schools Sports Programme coaches to deliver the statutory curriculum for PE and a structured programme which develops confidence, self-esteem and skills for healthy living at a time when the physical and mental health of children are under significant challenge.
“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.”
Tomas McKee, principal at Our Lady’s Primary School in Tullysaran, near Dungannon, insisted the skilled coaches provided by the Schools Sports Programme are “absolutely vital” to the physical and emotional wellbeing of pupils.
He added: “The coaches empower pupils with physical literacy but also motivate and link learning to other subjects, homework and skills. It is critical that the Department of Education protects the Schools Sports Programme for the educational benefit of our children.”