Belfast Telegraph

All parties, except DUP, meet with civil service head over school sports funding threat

Representatives from all of Northern Ireland's major parties, except for the DUP, have met with the head of the civil service David Sterling over the possible scrapping of a schools' sports initiative.

The Curriculum Sports Programme dates back a decade, and was introduced with the intention of developing "generic physical literacy skills of our youngest children through participation in enjoyable sports activities", as well as raising children's confidence and helping teachers deliver physical education.

The programme sees coaches from the Irish FA and Ulster GAA assist with sessions in around 450 schools each year.

Funding for the programme had been due to cease over the summer, but was extended to October.

The Department of Education had earlier said that due to financial pressure it was unable to provide the £1.3m worth of funding required for the programme. 

Tuesday's meeting was attended by the the UUP's Alan Chambers, UUP's Robbie Butler, the SDLP's Justin McNulty, Sinn Fein's Sinead Ennis, the Alliance Party's Chris Lyttle, and People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll.

Speaking after the meeting, SDLP MLA Justin McNulty said that up to 40,000 young people could be impacted by the cut.

"Axing this Programme does not along impact the access of primary school children to sport and physical exercise, but will also adversely impact children's mental, academic, emotional and character development," he said.

Sinn Fein's Sinead Ennis also called for a reversal of the cuts, saying: "This programme teaches children the importance of living a healthy and active lifestyle and also helps to increase their confidence and social and interaction skills.

"Education must focus on the child's physical well being as well as their academic advancement.

“Sinn Féin’s position is clear, the cut to this frontline service must be reversed."

It is understood that the decision to discontinue funding for the project will be considered over the coming weeks.

A DUP spokesman said: “DUP representatives have been engaged over the last number of months on budgetary issues within education. This included facilitating a meeting between the Irish Football Association and the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education over the summer period.

"The best way for parties to ensure resolution to issues such as this however is not to lobby Civil Servants but to restore the Executive and be involved in the decision-making process itself.”

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