€200m disadvantaged fund fails to improve reading and maths

MORE THAN €200 million in funding given to schools to help disadvantaged pupils has failed to deliver progress on reading and maths among the students, the Department of Education has found.

Around €213m is being spent this year, up from €180m in 2005, on staffing and other supports for almost 700 primary schools and 200 second-level schools with the highest levels of poverty among their students.

The department has just completed an evaluation of primary schools with the heaviest rates of funding and extra resources to combat educational disadvantage

But almost half have not made satisfactory improvements in literacy. The school inspectors identified shortcomings such as:

* Targets on literacy being too general.

* Insufficient monitoring of pupils’ work.

* A lack of constructive feedback to children on their writing.

* Insufficient emphasis on how reading skills are taught.

But the situation in the 18 schools where intensive inspections took place was even worse when it came to progress on numeracy. Less than half had achieved significant improvements, and shared similar shortcomings with the literacy scheme.

Insufficient differentiation in how pupils with different abilities are taught and unclear teaching objectives were also highlighted.

“In the seven schools where we found less than satisfactory literacy improvement, they weren’t monitoring pupils’ work or setting targets properly to adapt their teaching, and that presents a serious challenge,” the department’s chief inspector Harold Hislop said

Mr Hislop said most schools had shown significant improvements in attendance and pupils making the transition to second level.

He told representatives of Vocational Education Committees (VECs) at the Irish Vocational Education Association conference in Laois, that similar inspections will begin shortly in 18 second-level schools. “One set of teachers in a school we visited told us they realised they had to change [themselves] because they couldn’t change the kids.

“Schools that are assessing students on literacy and numeracy are then changing the way teaching is done around the students’ needs.”

City of Cork VEC chief executive Ted Owens said he did not want improvements brought about by good practices used in some schools as an excuse not to continue current levels of investment. “It’s heartening to know that schools can make a difference and it does come down, in many cases, to the school leadership, culture and the quality of teaching in schools.”


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