Report finds school literacy shortcomings

Published Tuesday, 19 February 2013
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Two in five young people are leaving full-time education in Northern Ireland without meeting minimum literacy and numeracy skills, a report has found.

Report finds school literacy shortcomings
Two in five pupils did not achieve basic literacy and numeracy skills. (© Getty)

A total of 9,000 pupils did not achieve minimum requirements of five A*-C GCSEs in 2010-11, according to the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO).

The NIAO looked at ten primary and post-primary schools to examine literacy and numeracy standards during the school year, and found a decline as students progressed through the education system.

The report found that more than one in six pupils do not reach expected standards in literacy and numeracy by the end of primary school.

More than one in five pupils does not meet the required standards by Key Stage 3.

A gap in educational attainment was found between the most well off and those in social deprivation- 31.7% of pupils entitled receiving free school meals achieved the expected level at GCSE compared to 65.1% not entitled.

Social deprivation was found to have a bigger negative impact on achievement in controlled, (mainly Protestant) schools than in their maintained (mainly Catholic) counterparts.

Boys were found to be performing worse than girls at almost all levels.

Although significant numbers of young people were found not to be meeting required levels, the Auditor General found that achievement has been slowly improving in line with government targets since the last report in 2006.

The auditor said considerable work must be done to improve classroom practice and that teachers must show proficiency in teaching basic literacy and numeracy skills.

He called for effective leadership and involvement of families in helping children.

Regardless of how well the majority of pupils perform, however, it is also clear from our findings that unacceptably large numbers of pupils are failing to achieve even minimal levels in literacy and numeracy.

Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly.

"It is vital that our education system does all it can to address underachievement in order to improve the life chances of our young people and to ensure that our economy is well equipped to compete in an increasingly global market place," Kieran Donnelly, Comptroller and Auditor General said.

Education Minister John O'Dowd, welcomed the findings and acknowledged that despite improvements, work is still required to ensure young people meet their full potential.

The Minister also pointed to the excellent practice that the report identified in many local schools that serve disadvantaged communities.

He added: "This report highlights what we already knew from inspection and other evidence: that there is already excellent practice in so many of our schools.

"Through high quality teaching and learning; effective leadership; and good links with parents and communities they are already making a difference to children's lives.

"Our challenge is to become more effective at embedding and sharing this good practice across all schools for the benefit of all our young people."

I am determined to ensure that we continue to take action, from the early years through to school leaving age, to support our children and young people on their learning journeys.

Education Minister John O’Dowd

SDLP East Derry MLA John Dallat called for a campaign to step up children's skills in reading and writing.

"Raising literacy and numeracy levels must be a top priority and with convincing evidence showing that literacy and numeracy difficulties demand early intervention," he said.

"To address these critical gaps successful schools have shown beyond doubt that despite challenging circumstances obstacles to improve pupil and school performances can be overcome very successfully. It is not acceptable that we still have so many schools failing to address these literacy and numeracy problems.

"A number of factors need to be applied to facilitate better pupil learning. These include, consistent quality teaching, excellent leadership, early intervention and help for students who are at risk of not achieving.

He added: "Engagement with parents is of the utmost important as is the effective use of target setting."

SDLP Education spokesperson Sean Rogers has said the Department of Education must "champion the literacy and numeracy skills of young people" in order to raise standards.

"There needs to be a focus at three levels early years, pre and post-primary school on instilling good principles in respect of literacy and numeracy skills," the south Down MLA said.

"Parents play an intrinsic role in their children's development with 80% of their learning taking place outside of the classroom.

"If we build the right educational foundations for our children then we will finally raise standards in literacy and numeracy and this will have knock-on benefits for their lifelong health and wellbeing."

The report will now be considered by the Assembly's Public Accounts Committee.

© UTV News
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10 Comments
Eamo in Belfast wrote (608 days ago):
To reality check you have missed the whole point of the artical and my post. Yes your points are valid ones although quite scientific. The real reason behind it is that first of all parents need to be ensuring kids stay in school untill A level stage and that teachers are teaching the pupils correctly and to ensure the tools are there to enable all children to be engaged with learning. The Catholic sector has applied this to a better degree than public schools. I am not saying that all Catholic schools are great cause tgey are not. Just look at the figures out and tell me that there is still not that engrained ethos of it is ok i will work in shorts/Mackies etc. once this is looked at then it would be time to look at your theories. Catholic kids have been moving away for years because of the mentality of some people who had a religious rite to work and now this is backfiring. It is not that loyalists are not getting what the catholics are getting from the good friday agreement, just that Catholics are now getting what should have been 90 years ago and it is hard for the loyalists to understand equality.
Realist in England wrote (608 days ago):
Reality Check - take a dose of yourself. What you mention may or may not have merit in some abstract theoretical sense. In the real world, it is not going to be more significant than the intelligence of the children (genetic/upbringing factors most important here), the mindset of the children (dictated by family and other life experiences outside the control of the education system) and the quality of the teachers they encounter within that system. I went to a private school in England and it was pretty much like the Bash Street school in the Beano as far as I recall. You should remember that most 'noise' noise will come from within the classroom. Soundproofing the walls will not stop people chatting, coughing, sneezing, etc. Teachers will change volume and pitch at different points - do you think dull monotonic teachers would be better (as that would help maintain a more constant signal:noise ratio, ceteris paribus)? As well as the school I mentioned here and several other schools on both sides of the Irish Sea, I also had a few years of my 'secondary school age' life not actually in the formal education system at all. In spite of many hurdles, including being uninterested, extremely lazy, easily distracted and mildly autistic, I always obtained the top available grade in any state examination I ever sat. I subsequently went to Cambridge for my primary degree then obtained postgraduate degrees from two other top English universities. My best friend for the majority of my life is a great guy but it is fair to say that he is much less academic than me. He failed his GCSEs several times and then failed a 'BTEC First' before passing it by retaking some modules the next year. If you think that schooling him in a recording studio would have made him an Oxbridge professor by the age of 30, then you are seriously delusional.
Eamo in Belfast wrote (608 days ago):
Tto reality check. I was comparing the proven statistics out there (i can provide this) the catholic population get better grades and that is fact. The Unionist teachers need to catch up and parents need to insist that kids stay in school longer. Then your facts will work.
Ryan in Belfast wrote (608 days ago):
I'd like to think my reading and writing/numbers skills is of a good standard but ill let others judge that but as for these pupils leaving school without even having basic literacy or numeracy, thats worrying. Its easy to point the finger and blame teachers but its not the teachers fault. These pupils need to understand that they will have a VERY bleak future if they dont have good qualifications, never mind basic literacy or numeracy skills. They need to be sat down and simply told to wise up and learn skills or your going to be in a whole world of difficulty (i could use a stronger word)in the future. Its up to parents to take responsibility and to take a more active role in the education of their kids, it all cant be just thrown onto the shoulders of teachers.
Linda in NI wrote (608 days ago):
@emo in Belfast So Protestants are to blame for all problems then -I remember a Catholic telling me he was a 2nd class citizen but when I saw his house in a Nationalist area it was much bigger than those that many Protestants lived in, what a fool he was. I wonder how his parents could afford that if they couldnt have a job - ther are problems & injustices all over the world not just in Northern IReland its about time to move on
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