Reading, maths levels at disadvantaged schools improving

Pupils’ reading and maths scores are continuing to improve in disadvantaged schools that get extra staff and supports from the Government.

Although children at these schools still fall short of national averages, some of the biggest impacts are being seen in the numbers of pupils at the lowest ability levels.

The results of the latest evaluation of primary schools in the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) programme were hailed by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn as a sign of the value of extra investment.

DEIS supported 852 primary and secondary schools to the tune of €95m last year, including €63m for 1,036 extra teachers and €14m in grants.

The testing was carried out last spring among 17,186 pupils in second, third, fifth, and sixth classes at 120 of the 340 urban primary schools supported through DEIS.

Among the most significant findings by the Educational Research Centre (ERC) at St Patrick’s College in Dublin were that:

* Average reading scores have risen in all grades since 2007, the biggest from 22.8 to 26 out of 40 correct items for second- class pupils;

* Second-class pupils with the lowest reading ability level have halved from 22% to 11% since 2007, barely above the national average of 10%;

* Low achievers in maths are down from 22% to 13% of DEIS second-class pupils from 2007 to 2013;

* The corresponding figure in sixth class has fallen from 31% to 23% in the same period;

* Low-scoring second-class pupils in reading in DEIS Band 2 schools (not as highly- disadvantaged) halved since 2007 to 8.5%.

The improvements since 2010 are greater than those seen between the introduction of DEIS in 2007 and 2010. The results are made more significant by the fact there were fewer pupils absent on testing day or exempted from testing in 2013, both factors which would likely lower average test scores.

Some trends may need attention, however, such as one-in-five sixth-class pupils in DEIS primary schools having low levels of reading, more than double the normal average. The smallest increases in reading and maths scores were also seen in sixth class, suggesting the benefit of supports being focused in earlier classes may be wearing off as children progress through school.

ERC research fellow Susan Weir said the absence of comparative testing in non- DEIS schools means it cannot be stated categorically that the improvements are down to participation in the programme. But, she said, it shows schools are making effective use of the extra funding, smaller class sizes in DEIS schools with the highest disadvantage levels, staff supports, literacy and numeracy programmes, and extra teacher training.

Mr Quinn said evidence of improvements like this could help make the case for more investment, or the possibility of wider supports for schools with different levels of disadvantage, but his current focus is to maintain funding for an education system catering for a growing population.

The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said it is clear efforts to tackle disadvantage are working, but the Government needs to do more to protect the most disadvantaged.


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