Better Literacy and Numeracy

In November 2010, the Department of Education and Skills (DES) published “Better Literacy and Numeracy for Children and Young People – A Draft National Plan to Improve Literacy and Numeracy in Schools“. The Draft Plan stems from the concerns that standards in literacy and numeracy in our primary and post-primary schools were declining. While recognising that the Irish education system has traditionally been praised for its high standards, the draft plan says that “good is no longer good enough”. It further states that “We need to re-examine how well our educational system is preparing young people for the challenges that they will face as Irish, European and global citizens in the future. If we fail to raise literacy and numeracy levels …. we run the risk that our young people will not have sufficient literacy and numeracy skills to function effectively …”

The Draft Plan states that the literacy levels of Irish students in primary schools have not improved in over thirty years and that the teaching and learning of mathematics in Ireland requires even greater attention than literacy. While acknowledging that there are many different subjects to teach on the primary school curriculum, the draft plan boldly states that “we will have to give priority to the improvement of literacy and numeracy over other desirable, important but ultimately less vital issues”. The draft plan has set out targets that it wishes to see achieved, among which are:

  • to increase the percentage of primary children performing at Level 3 and Level 4 (the highest levels) in the National Assessments of Mathematics and English Reading by at least 5% at both second class and sixth class by 2020
  • to reduce the percentage of children performing at or below Level 1 (minimum) in the National Assessment of Mathematics and English Reading by at least 5% at both second and sixth class by 2020
  • to extend the National Assessment of Mathematics and English Reading to assess the performance of students at fourth class

The Draft Plan identifies the role that the Colleges of Education have to play, the role of Principal Teachers in leading change within schools, the importance of high quality pre-schools and the important role that parents and the community have to play in the promotion and development of literacy and numeracy. The plan also signals many changes that are in the pipeline in order to improve the standards of literact and numeracy in our schools:

  • the introduction of the Aistear programme to replace the present infant curriculum
  • increase the B.Ed. to a four-year degree programme, at least an aggregate of one year of which is school-based
  • make participation in the National Teacher Induction Programme for NQTs mandatory by 2012
  • teachers to do professional development courses in literacy, numeracy and assessment every five years
  • all summer courses to include units on the teaching of literacy and numeracy across the curriculum in order to get recognition
  • target the development of the teaching of literacy and numeracy in DEIS schools
  • introduce an early assessment system
  • implement intervention strategies in the second term of junior infants for pupils experiencing difficulties
  • issue guidance to schools to use all discretionary curriculum time for the teaching of literacy and numeracy
  • allocate a higher proportion of available funding and personnel to CPD on EAL and integration issues
  • the development of “schools like ours” data, wherby schools could have access to information about the achievemnt levels of students in “matching” schools to inform the judgements the school makes when evaluating their work and to set challenging targets for improvement
  • require schools to put in place a three year plan for the promotion and improvement of literacy and numeracy standards, in which specific targets are set and specific actions defined

The Draft Plan closes with the comment that, “Improving national standards in this way will require a relentless focus on literacy and numeracy in the educational system and beyond”.

Literacy and Numeracy Wordle

The above graphic, created using Wordle,  shows the key words used in the Draft Plan. I copied the entire text of the plan into Wordle and it generates a word cloud of the most used words and phrases. The larger and bolder the word, the more frequently they are used in the text of the plan. This is useful to see what the key themes of the Draft Plan are. You can click on the graphic to see a larger version.

Teachers should really make time to sit down and read this Draft Plan as it will impact greatly on the teaching and learning process in the future. Submissions and comments on the plan were being sought but the closing date has now passed. However, as you can see from my brief summary, many changes are afoot and the future certainly seems to herald a huge emphasis on the promotion and development of literacy and numeracy. What do you think? Please open up a discussion and leave a comment below.