The University of Ulster is deploying teaching assistants across Northern Ireland to promote healthy living and active lifestyles in some of the province’s most deprived communities.
Under the initiative, the School of Sport Studies Sports Outreach Unit will send 30 teaching assistants to take up full-time posts in 19 secondary schools to encourage pupils to take up a range of sports.
The teaching assistants will also work with primary schools on behalf of their host secondary schools to promote sport though physical activity programmes, while at the same time offering students the opportunity to gain valuable school based experience.
Richard Gormley, Ulster Sports Outreach Unit manager, said the placement opportunity is vital for hands-on work experience and developing the practical and professional skills required for a future in the education or sports development sectors.
“The Teaching Assistants are promoting the philosophy that sport is for life,” he explained.
“It is about making schoolchildren aware that sport is about living, integration, fun and educating them with the knowledge of a healthy lifestyle that will stay with them through to adulthood.
“The USO programme is the only programme of its kind in Ireland and this year’s team of Teaching Assistants is the largest to ever be deployed by the University of Ulster.”
Dr Deirdre Brennan, Director of Sports Outreach and Senior Lecturer in Sports Studies added: “We are impressed annually with how our students are prepared to engage in sports outreach work on a voluntary basis in order to make a difference in their communities. We expect many of our teaching assistants to have achieved a Goldmark award for sports volunteering by the end of the year – the highest accolade that they can currently achieve."
The schools programme is built upon solid working relationships with secondary schools and local councils as well as commitment and input from a series of National Governing Bodies of sport. With such a geographical spread across the province the potential impact of the programme in terms of sport and physical activity participation is significant.
Two of the 30 Ulster students involved in USO are in fact working for Magherafelt District Council to deliver the council’s ‘Fit for Life’ project to primary schools throughout the district. As well as this, a full-time USO Schools Programme Co-ordinator is based at Ulster’s Jordanstown campus.
With a focus on participation in minority sports, the 2010/11 USO programme aims to develop young people’s involvement in athletics, badminton, basketball, tri-golf, volleyball and dance.