THE introduction of Gaelic football coaching at a controlled primary school in Lurgan has angered some parents.
Carrick Primary School’s principal has defended his school’s decision to incorporate Gaelic football skills into PE classes, saying the aim is simply to teach children a wide range of new skills.
The ‘MAIL’ spoke to one parent who said he was unhappy with the introduction of the Irish sport given, as he perceived it, that Carrick is a Protestant school.
Carrick Primary School is located on Sloan Street, on the outskirts of the loyalist Mourneview estate and backing onto the nationalist Taghnevan estate.
It is a mixed intake state school and while in the past the vast majority of the pupils were from a Protestant background, it now has a very mixed enrolment.
The concerned dad said a number of other parents had complained about the introduction of Gaelic football to the principal and local unionist councillors.
Another parent said she was “disgusted” to learn Carrick were teaching Gaelic skills to pupils. She said that as a parent she hadn’t been consulted about the matter, and if she had she would have voiced her strong objection to it.
But not all the voices were dissenting. The ‘MAIL’ was contacted by a parent who praised the PE department at Carrick for their introduction of new sports.
He said: “My son goes to the school and I think it’s great that they’re learning different things.
“I can’t really understand why people would have an issue with this. I’m sure there are other schools who teach Gaelic football as the main sport and also have soccer lessons.
“Even if it wasn’t a mixed school there’s no reason why you can’t teach Gaelic football. I feel it’s important to express that although a few narrow-minded parents have an issue it’s not the view of all the parents and I embrace the teaching of all sports. It gives children a broad education and surely that’s the purpose of school.”
Principal Brian Jess said: “We try to provide pupils with the best PE activities we can. We bring in various skills coaches from a number of different sports to teach the children new skills. These lessons take place both after school and during school.”
Children at Carrick have availed of coaching sessions including cricket, gymnastics, soccer, Gaelic football, orienteering, tennis, volleyball, racquet sports and athletics.
Mr Jess said that he recognised sport was an important tool in breaking down barriers between communities though in this case he said the school’s PE lessons had no deeper agenda and were simply about learning new skills and most importantly having fun.
He said: “The children are not at an age where sport is associated with a particular religion. They’re at an age when playing sport is fun and we want to give them the opportunity to experience as many different sports as possible.
“We respect the views of parents and if they don’t feel comfortable with their children taking part in any activities at the school then we respect their wishes to withdraw their children from those activities.”
Speaking on the matter DUP Councillor Carla Lockhart said: “Sport and participation in sport is an important part of children’s daily lives and particularly within the education system.
“It is vitally important that exposure to sports happens right at the earliest possible age given the positive impact it has on health and their mental wellbeing.
“The issue here is that Carrick Primary School has started an initiative which endeavours to teach children new life skills. I believe there has been a flaw in that parents have not been informed of this programme and particularly around the sports that do have connections to certain religious backgrounds.”
She added: “I believe some thought should have been applied around such an issue given the potential for discontent among communities and I believe lessons will have been learnt by the school management team. This problem could have been avoided with better communication and further planning for those who did not want to participate in the GAA element.
“My understanding is that this programme has two weeks left to run. My personal belief is that if Carrick intend doing such in the future they need to consult with parents. Parents and children are key to this and no one should be forced to do something that they do not feel comfortable with. Communication and alternatives are the two key elements and I have spoken with the school about this.”
Ulster Unionist Sam Gardiner, chair of the board of governors at Carrick, was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.