A wide ranging new strategy aimed at ensuring that every child leaves school having mastered literacy and numeracy is being launched today by Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D.
Literacy and Numeracy for Learning and Life, the National Strategy to improve literacy and numeracy among children and young people is a key pillar of the Programme for Government.
Speaking at the launch, Minister Quinn said "It is the government's belief that no child should leave school unable to read and write and use mathematics to solve problems. We know that there is currently much room for improvement and this strategy sets out the road map with concrete targets and reforms that will ensure our children, from early childhood to the end of second level, master these key skills."
Ambitious targets have been set under the Strategy to be achieved by 2020. Nationally, the aims include:
- At primary, increasing the number of children performing at Level 3 or above (the highest levels) in the national assessments of reading and mathematics by 5 percentage points
- Reducing the percentage performing at or below the lowest level (Level 1) by 5 percentage points
- At post-primary level, increasing the number of 15-year old students performing at Level 4 or above (the highest levels) in the OECD's PISA test of literacy and mathematics by at least 5 percentage points
- Halve the numbers performing at Level 1 (the lowest level) in PISA test of literacy and mathematics
- Improve early childhood education and public attitudes to reading and mathematics.
The Strategy aims to ensure that teachers and schools maintain a strong focus on literacy and numeracy skills, within a broad and balanced curriculum. It sets out a wide-ranging programme of reforms in initial teacher education courses, in professional development for teachers and school principals, and in the content of the curriculum at primary and post-primary levels in order to achieve these vital skills.
Schools will make greater use of standardised tests of reading and mathematics, in second and sixth class in primary and introduce these tests for 2nd year students in post-primary. They will report the findings to parents, boards of management and the Department of Education and Skills. Schools will be required to develop and implement school improvement plans in accordance with guidance from the Department's Inspectorate.
Minister Quinn said, "This is an issue of equality. Without the skills of literacy and numeracy, a young person or adult is often denied full participation in society. They may be condemned to poorly paid jobs or unemployment and a lifetime of poverty and exclusion. This is why I am convinced that ensuring all our young people acquire good literacy and numeracy skills is one of the greatest contributions that we can make towards achieving equality and social justice in our country."
Implementation of a number of measures in the Strategy is already underway. A circular will be issued to primary schools shortly requiring them to increase the time available for literacy to 90 minutes per day and for mathematics to 50 minutes per day (up from 36 minutes currently) from this September.
The Minister announced that the number of examination subjects in the Junior Certificate is to be limited to 8 to provide more time to develop students’ literacy and numeracy skills, and for more in-depth learning. He said that ideally this change would occur for students entering second-level school in September 2012. A wider review of junior cycle is being undertaken by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment which will issue recommendations in the autumn. Progress is being made on preparation for professional development courses for teachers and principals. The NCCA is also to prioritise work on revising the curriculum in English and Irish in Irish-medium schools, and on guidance material for these subjects and maths at primary and post-primary.
Given the financial constraints facing the country, Minister Quinn said the Strategy had been developed in a way that keeps additional costs to a minimum.
"This means that we will have to find the necessary resources for literacy and numeracy by re-prioritising existing spending, by cutting activities that may be desirable but less important, and by ensuring that we get the very best outcomes from whatever financial and human resources we have," stated the Minister.
It is estimated that the cost of implementing the Strategy will be €6 million in 2012 rising to €19 million per annum by 2017.
The publication of the Strategy is the culmination of an extensive consultation process. A draft plan was published by the Department in November 2010. Written submissions were received from almost 480 individuals and organisation and Department officials held consultative meetings with over 60 interest groups, not only from the education sector but also from community and other sectors.
Minister Quinn concluded, "The large number of people and organisations who participated in this process shows how strongly Irish people are committed to improving literacy and numeracy standards. I want to harness and focus that commitment in a concerted national effort to achieve world-class literacy and numeracy skill among our children and young people."
View Literacy and Numeracy for Learning and Life– the National Strategy to Improve Literacy and Numeracy among Children and Young People 2011-2020