The policy under examination will refer to The Department of Education and Skills implementation of The National Strategy to Improve Literacy and Numeracy among Children and Young People 2011-2020. The nine year implementation period covers a range of issues arising in society due to the poor literacy and numeracy skills of young people including their lack of participation in all aspects of life, culture and society. Literacy includes ‘the capacity to read and critically understand many forms of communication e.g. spoken language, printed text, broadcast and digital media. Numeracy is the ability to use mathematical understanding and skills to solve problems and meet the requirements of day to day living in complex social setting.’ (Department of Education and Skills, 2011, P.8)
The policy illustrates improvement targets, practical measures and strategies to advance young people’s standards and master literacy and numeracy. It gives a brief description as to why it aims to be successful and highlights the importance of raising awareness among civilisation. It discusses areas within the education system including early childhood, primary and post-primary that may need attention including continuous professional development and teacher education; upskilling for these adults. The curriculum and assessments are examined. It focuses on what young people should achieve, fostering parent and community involvement and support, building school leadership and providing guidance for children with additional learning needs in reaching their potential. Many stakeholders have been responsive to the crisis; it requires community, family, government bodies to be supportive. This piece will provide an analysis in relation to the content of the document, pinpointing the strengths and weakness of the implementation plan throughout the policy.
The introduction of the 87-page policy is an extract from the Minister for Education and Skills outlining key objectives that need to be met as it is evident that young people are not acquiring these skills as they should which was recently observed by national assessments of reading and mathematics and school inspections. The Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn, TD stresses “we cannot afford to allow this to continue.” for the equity and quality of modern society as a whole. (Department of Education and Skills, 2011, P.5)
The strategy includes 67 recommendations/actions separated into each subsection of the document aiming to eliminate numeracy and literacy concerns that occur within that section so that children continue to third level education with high standard skills. It is shown that majority of young people do not make it to third level as without skills leads to early school leavers. The continuation of standardised testing in English reading and mathematics is important. The Teachers Union of Ireland (2011) has suggested standardised testing assesses student achievement, generate data on progress and flag difficulties early as a form of continuous improvement. Evidence has noted a downward trend in reading and maths competence between Irish children. A key objective in changing the general classroom practices will not stem from standardised tests alone but engaging in data, discussion and reflection. Further consideration and clarification is obligatory in this field.
In March 2017, the minister launched an interim review from periods 2011-2016 and has set new targets for 2017-2020. It states that for the present time mandatory standardised testing will not be implemented. This should be made mandatory to keep on track of children’s achievement. However, the Education Research Centre launched online junior-cycle curriculum based achievement tests for second year students. A budget has not been stated in the document however, further research has shown that a funding of €40,000 and an additional €60,000 for further standardised testing extended the opportunity for schools who didn’t avail of tests in the initial grant call May 2017 to benefit. (The Department of Education and Skills, 2017) There may be risks with national standardised testing if results are made public including negative competition between schools. (Educate together, 2011)
Ireland achieved being in third position for reading out of all 35 OECD countries stated in 2015 PISA survey. The level of individuals performing at higher level mathematics increased 17% (2011) to 28% (2016) and a new target aiming to increase this to 30% by 2020 has been made. The findings from the interim review identified remaining challenges such as Ireland falling behind in reading performances compared to other countries. Richard Bruton addressed the improvements achieved with help from outside the school sector, including SOLA, education and training boards (ETBs), libraries and organisations such as Aontas and the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA). The findings suggest there is a critical need to focus on improving these achievements to date. Numeracy needs to be prioritised over the second half of the strategies lifetime tackling educational disadvantage in partnership with DEIS Plan 2017. They have focused their attention to achieving numeracy and literacy improvements within disadvantaged areas and specified the need to receive sufficient support. The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (2011) has stressed that majority of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are not attending DEIS schools which means their needs are not being met appropriately in larger classes. The policy does not address many of the social, personal and economic barriers that families face from disadvantaged areas preventing access to education. An action to support literacy and numeracy in DEIS urban schools is identified but not rural schools. The plan fails to include redress for students with special educational needs, provision for these students must be addressed.
The plan needs more of a balance in interventions for students. The document outlines the need for teacher’s knowledge, understanding and the overall ability to apply educational research and theory successfully in training by entering teacher education courses (ITE) in order to improve and up skill their teaching of literacy and numeracy. The Teachers Union of Ireland (2011) said reviewing professional practice will strengthen literacy and numeracy development among children. The document does purpose that mandatory teacher induction should be included in training. The strategy recommends a 20 hour CPD in literacy, numeracy and assessment every five years however, for students to improve earlier in age the strategy fails to address a smaller time frame for the training. When and where CPD will be available and how it will be resourced is absent. Teachers are concerned of the pressure to meet the professional demands without the consideration for capacity to meet such demands. The unrealistic targets placed for teachers fail to consider their daily workload will fail to motivate teachers.
The document fails to acknowledge recent budget changes, the increase in the pupil; teacher ratio making classes larger. There is pressure to deliver more with less supports, resource hours for SEN students. It does not address the supply of learning support teachers in schools, The Association for Secondary Teachers Ireland called for this review so that a literacy and numeracy service would be accessible. The plan does not address counselling and guidance services to acquire study skills.
Parents play a vital role in their children’s education; the home environment influences student’s attitudes towards learning. Ongoing adult literacy programmes are praised. Adults need literacy and numeracy skills in order to engage in their child’s education. The plan has not clearly stated what specific actions will be taken in adult literacy courses. The ASTI recommends the final plan would include proposals on how adult education system may empower communities and support parents as this is unclear in the action plan. Aistear the curriculum framework addressed parental involvement within the ECCE setting, introducing a friendly inclusive approach. (Aistear, 2009)
The document demonstrates strong determination on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills with well detailed and informative material on why this is important for the future of society. Overall the document seems to include a lot of lengthy detail with interesting material however tedious in some parts. The policy presented some outstanding facts and it greatly entails recommendations which cover a broad range of ideas and approaches that seem to be working for the success of the policy as seen in the interim review. However, provision of summer courses for teachers in literacy and numeracy might be something that would need to be looked to allow more time for teachers upskilling. Given in the document a proposal for 20 hour CPD every five years it would be important to reduce this five year time frame for the success of the document and to see results sooner. The plan should include further fundraising for parental and community involvement such as bingo, word games, making posters, maths week being a regular occurrence may enhance positive attitudes towards numeracy. The plan also exhibit data that needs to be revisited as shown in the analysis of the document above. The plan fails to include how, where and when the recommendations will be carried out. The plan does not state budget resources. The emphasis was put on teachers and pressurising their efforts but failing to consider their workload. The personal, economic and social problems for children impeding on their educational achievement was not addressed. The interim review showed a great insight to what the actual initial document has achieved, failed to achieve and had yet to achieve. It showed new targets for further results for the year 2020. Although Ireland is at risk of falling ‘well behind’ other countries in relation to educational performance figures, the policy envisaged strong actions are underway for improvement. Overall the policy seems to be reaching its goals and has identified its weaknesses.