Education funding boost 'bypasses sport'

By Christina McSorley

media captionGAA and IFA coaches lose jobs

A school principal has expressed disappointment a funding increase for education will not be used to save a school sports scheme.

Some £10m of extra money for education was reallocated by the finance department on Wednesday.

But the primary school sports curriculum is still to be axed at the end of the month, causing 50 job cuts.

Kevin Donaghy from St Ronan's Primary School said he was disappointed the scheme's benefits had been ignored.

The scheme cost £1.3 million last year, and provided schools with a coach from either from the GAA or Irish Football Association to develop physical literacy.

The Department of Education said cuts were necessary to ensure it remained within its budget, and said it was not in a position to continue the programme beyond 31 October.

"The additional £10m will be used to ensure the continued provision of core functions," it said.


Twenty-seven coaches are employed through the IFA and 24 from Ulster GAA.

image captionCoach Pierce Caherty believes the scheme has a positive impact on children's fitness and health

Pierce Caherty said he was "heartbroken" to be facing redundancy at Halloween.

He has been working on the scheme for the past five years.

"I'll probably never find a job I enjoy as much as this," he said.

"If you enjoy what you do, you never work a day in your life, and it really was heartbreaking that this is the end."

image captionPierce Caherty says developing physical skills at a young age is 'immensely important'

Mr Caherty said he sees a "huge difference" in the movement, skills and fitness levels of the children he coaches.

"There is a small window to develop your fundamental movement skills and if you miss that window between P1 and P4 then it is almost lost for life," he told BBC News NI.

image captionKevin Donaghy expressed disappointment the sports scheme's benefits were not being recognised

School principal Kevin Donaghy said he believed the Department of Education was making cuts to satisfy short-term demands - and not looking at the long-term picture.

image captionThe school sports scheme created links with the local football team

Mr Donaghy said it was disheartening that the department received £10m for education, "but that it will not be going directly into schools or into projects that have a direct impact on children in schools".

He said it was not fair that MLAs have continued to receive their salary despite having not been able to form an Executive since Northern Ireland's power-sharing government collapsed in January.

image captionPierce Caherty says his job is incredibly rewarding

"For the past 10 months we've had MLAs being paid and they are not actually at work," he said.

"What would have happened if we hadn't been paying the MLAs? Would there have been enough money to pay for this programme?"

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