30 November, 2015 - Minister launches new on-line resource to develop early literacy skills

The Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan, today launched a new on-line resource, which aims to support teachers in developing the literacy skills of young primary school pupils. The Balanced Approach to Literacy Development in the Early Years has been researched and developed by the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) of the Department of Education and Skills (DES).

Minister O’Sullivan referred to the priority which is being afforded by her Department under the National Literacy Strategy in relation to the raising of the reading standards of pupils in our schools and said that the resource was a significant addition to the resources already available within schools.  The Balanced Approach to Literacy Development in the Early Years will also complement the soon-to-be-published NCCA Language Curriculum for children from Junior Infants to 2nd Class.  

International research on best practice has demonstrated that a highly-focused, broad-based early intervention approach improves literacy standards across the board and helps prevent the emergence of literacy difficulties.

The Balanced Approach to Literacy Development in the Early Years is the product of a collaborative project undertaken by educational psychologists in NEPS along with five national schools in Limerick, Clare, Tipperary and Waterford which brings together in one resource a comprehensive guide to literacy support.  It highlights best practice from within the Irish system and internationally.  Support and assistance were also provided by a number of other agencies including the Professional Development Service for Teachers (PDST), Limerick Education Centre and the Libraries Development Service.

The resource can be used by class teachers working with children from Junior Infants to First Class. It may also be helpful to schools who want to improve reading standards in a systematic way.  Parents too will find useful guidance about how to support their young children to develop literacy skills. It is freely available on the DES website on the NEPS Resources page.

Minister O’Sullivan commended the joint work between NEPS and the Professional Development Service for Teachers and the inspiring collaboration between NEPS and the Limerick library services. She preserved special thanks for the staff, parents and students of the five participating schools, who generously allowed their practice to be captured and shared on video.  The video clips have already been found by teachers in other schools to be inspiring and motivating.  The Minister marked the occasion by presenting certificates to each school in recognition of their contribution to this project and their generosity in sharing their practice. 


Note for Editors

A Balanced Approach to Developing Literacy in the Early Years


NEPS set out to develop a resource pack for teachers in Irish primary schools, which would summarise international research and would demonstrate good practice in the teaching of literacy in the early years. The resource pack was conceived as a way of supporting the goals of the National Literacy Strategy. It is intended that this resource will align with and complement the soon-to-be-published NCCA Language Curriculum for children from Junior Infants to 2nd Class. NEPS sought to develop a resource which would be freely available on the DES website, which would be accessible, which would promote best practices in the teaching of literacy in the early years and which would capture excellence in action in Irish schools and communities. 

The major outcome of the project is the publication on the Department of Education and Skills website of a substantial and comprehensive guide to the teaching of literacy in the early years. This resource features 33 video clips and is designed so that teachers can access elements of the resource, as needed, with links to a further range of supports and resources.

Origins of the Resource

One of the difficulties for educational psychologists working in NEPS is addressing the needs of children and young people who are considered to have literacy difficulties. Typically, such children first emerge towards the end of the infant phase of education. Learning support is often provided for these children at this point, to support the development of their literacy skills, if needed.   In subsequent years, some children are found to have literacy difficulties that persist and individual assessment is often requested.  However, we know that when best practice in the teaching of literacy is provided in the early years, it can help prevent such literacy difficulties emerging.  The challenge, therefore, was to find a means of communicating that message and sharing best practices with teachers in Irish schools, in a way that was accessible, motivating and cost-effective.

Approach taken

As a first step, the project team (consisting of four NEPS psychologists) reviewed international literature on the effective teaching of literacy in the early years, spanning the last 15 years. This was then used as a basis to draft teacher guidance.  It was innovative in that the resource was tailored specifically to the Irish context and included multiple video clips of best practice in action across a range of schools and involving professionals from a range of services.

Engagement and Collaboration

The project involved on-going collaboration between NEPS psychologists and five primary school communities, listed below. Schools engaged with us in developing their practices and co-operated in the filming of good practices in action.  This extended to working not just with class teachers and support teachers, but with home-school community liaison staff, parents and children. There was also engagement and collaboration with professionals from other agencies, such as the Professional Development Service for Teachers, the local Education Centre in Limerick and the Libraries Development Service (Local Government Management Agency).

  • St Michael’s Infant, Sexton Street, Limerick (Principal, Tracie Tobin)
  • Presentation Primary School, Sexton Street, Limerick (Principal, Laura Horgan)
  • St Tola’s National School, Tullyglass, Shannon (Principal, Mary Dunlee-Fitzgerald)
  • Bansha National School, Co Tipperary (Principal, Clíodhan Breen)
  • Glór na Mara National School, Tramore, Co Waterford (Principal, Pat O’Mahony

How has the work been disseminated/shared? 

The challenge of disseminating the resource has been addressed through launching it on the DES website, and promoting it through social media. Additionally, members of the literacy working group have promoted it a key conferences throughout September 2015 including: The Irish Learning Support Association Annual Conference (18.09.15), The Right to Read Conference (23.09.15) and the Annual Conference of the Literacy Association of Ireland (25.09.15). Flyers and information leaflets have been developed. Teacher education colleges and university courses for educational psychologists have also been alerted. 

The resource can be used by individual teachers to support their work, but it is also suitable for use in the school self-evaluation process and the work of professional learning communities in schools.

It has transformed the way that NEPS responds to literacy difficulties by significantly enhancing the capacity of schools to deliver excellent teaching in the early years and thereby prevent the emergence of literacy difficulties. NEPS psychologists can now address emerging literacy difficulties with a whole school on a systemic basis. Schools have ready access to this expertise and do not have to rely on the availability of an individual psychologist to deliver support. The resource can be used by the school (particularly within the structure of a professional learning community).

The final product is a resource that is highly cost-effective- the development of it did not require additional staffing or significant additional expenditure. It is accessible at:

Balanced Approach to Literacy Development in the Early Years