On July 8th, the Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn TD, launched “Literacy and Numeracy for Learning and Life – The National Strategy to Improve Literacy and Numeracy among Children and Young People 2011-2020“, a wide ranging new strategy aimed at ensuring that every child leaves school having mastered literacy and numeracy. This National Strategy to improve literacy and numeracy among children and young people is seen as a key pillar of the Programme for Government for the new Fine Gael / Labour coalition. 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.”
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 be required to make greater use of standardised tests of reading and mathematics in second and sixth class in primary schools and introduce these tests for 2nd year students in post-primary schools. They will be required to report the findings to parents, Boards of Management (BOM) and the Department of Education and Skills (DES). Schools will be required to develop and implement school improvement plans in accordance with guidance from the Department’s Inspectorate. 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.
Given the financial constraints facing the country, Minister Quinn said that 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. The Minister concluded that he wanted a “concerted national effort to achieve world-class literacy and numeracy skills among our children and young people.”
Sheila Nunan, General Secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), said the union would consider the plan carefully, discuss it with teachers, see what bits of it were worthwhile and what parts could be implemented. However, her initial reaction to the strategy could only be said to be “lukewarm”. She remarked that this plan was being introduced at a time when many teaching jobs were being lost. “You cannot on the one hand demand higher standards and then cut teacher numbers, reduce funding, decrease supports for special needs and disadvantaged children and increase class size”, Ms Nunan said. She said that these cutbacks would compromise the ability of schools to deliver on the plan. “The government’s commitment to literacy and numeracy will be seen in the next budget. If teacher numbers are cut then this plan is not worth the paper it is written on,” said Ms Nunan. “The challenge for the Minister is to ring fence front line staffing and find the resources to support a rise in standards. If he doesn’t do this, then this plan will be a pointless exercise.”
This sentiment was broadly backed by Pat King, General Secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI). Commenting on the launch of the plan by Minister Quinn, Mr. King said, “Literacy skills have a significant influence on a young person’s future life chances. The ASTI welcomes this focus on literacy. However, it is important to point out that quality learning requires a quality learning environment. The learning environment of schools is significantly affected by resources such as the number of teaching staff, access to specialist staff and the availability of educational resources including new technologies and reliable broadband connection. In this context, we are appealing to the Government not to impose further cuts on our under-resourced schools. Further cuts will militate against the effective delivery of the Minister’s literacy plan and on the delivery of a range of other plans, programmes, and projects which are currently being implemented in schools.”
The 88 page Literacy and Numeracy Strategy can be downloaded from the DES website HERE.
View the Wordle of the text of the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy HERE.