Politicians united calling for reversal of sports funding axe

Politicians united calling for reversal of sports funding axe

7 November 2018

LOCAL politicians have called for the reinstatement of a sports coaching programme for primary school children which has been controversially axed by the Department of Education.

The scheme — which employed 50 Gaelic football and soccer coaches working across 400 schools — has been scrapped due to pressures on the budget, with education chiefs confirming attempts to find the money from other departments had not been successful.

Running since 2007, the scheme cost around £1.3m a year to deliver and has been lauded by school principals across the district who said it made a meaningful difference to pupils.

Coaches provided an hour of coaching to classes each week, with 36,000 pupils province-wide taking part in the scheme in 2016/17.

The Department of Education says it recognises the contribution that the curriculum sports programme made in helping to raise the confidence of young children and the support it provides to primary teachers in delivering PE.

At Monday night’s monthly meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council, there was across-the-board political support for a motion calling for the programme to be reinstated.

The motion was tabled by Slieve Gullion councillor Kate Loughran, who said the axe had now fallen on the sports programme which has benefitted thousands of school children.

“Axing this award winning scheme will not only impact access to sport for primary school children,  but impact on their emotional health and wellbeing. This decision is a devastating blow to our children and those who provide the coaching whose jobs are now at risk,” she continued.“The Department of Education is fully aware of the benefits of this programme and this motion is designed to add our voice to the calls for this funding to be reinstated.”

Cllr Loughran added: “This coaching programme offers so much more than just sports for children. It encourages them in maintaining an active lifestyle, improving their mental health and boosting character  development.”

Cllr John Trainor, who commended all the coaches who delivered the sports programme, said the critical component of education was always viewed as academic achievement, but he argued it was so much more than that. He said education was also about the character development of young people.

“This particular programme is investing in young people at a key time in their lives,” he continued. “The physical development of children as they grow is important and the more engaged in sport at an early age, the more likely they are to be active and involved in sports clubs when they are older.

“I really despair at this latest budget cut and believe it is an issue which could have been resolved, if the Stormont administration had been up and running. Now we are depending on a Secretary of State who has no knowledge of this country and on civl servants who are there to balance the books.”

Cllr Laura Devlin said the programme must be reinstated and described the decision as “short sighted”.

She continued: “Just last week, it was revealed that the number of deaths in Northern Ireland linked to obesity has doubled over an an eight-year period. This council fully recognises the importance of people’s emotional and physical wellbeing and dedicated a department to encourage people to be more active and healthy.

Cllr Harry Harvey said it was important to encourage children to look after their health and revealed he was very impressed with the objectives of the “excellent sports coaching programme” in primary schools. 

Cllr Andrew McMurray said the decision by the Department of Education “was the latest in a long line of cuts,” describing it as “shocking and short sighted,” while Cllr David Taylor expressed disappointment that the funding had been withdrawn.