Call for review of child literacy policies

WORK to improve literacy among children in the poorest communities must be constantly reviewed if the €1 billion government spend on educational disadvantage is put to best use, according to the National Economic and Social Forum (NESF).

A major recommendation of the forum’s latest report on child literacy and social inclusion is to focus attention on what chairperson Dr Maureen Gaffney described as the scandal of 30% of children in disadvantaged schools leaving without adequate levels of literacy.

The NESF has studied the implementation of policies in a number of schools in the Department of Education’s programme for tackling disadvantage, Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS), launched in 2005. Dr Gaffney said many schools were seeing benefits, inspired by the leadership of principals, but that others were not doing as well.

“When schools do really well at things, we have no standard way of transferring good practice. And schools have no incentive to do better, even if it was just a small bit of extra money or recognition as academies of excellence,” she said.

She said it would be unrealistic to expect any increase on the €1 billion a year being spent on educational disadvantage.

“We know it will take five years for the real impacts of DEIS to be visible in terms of literacy levels, but it should be possible to monitor the implementation in all schools as they go along and change or improve teaching methods if needed,” she said.

Dr Gaffney agreed with the theory that a high turnover of teachers in many disadvantaged schools might also be hindering progress in these areas.

“There is nothing more demoralising than training up staff, the children getting used to them and teachers then going to another school. But it would be helpful if there was a system for principals to keep affirming what teachers are doing, which would help them put up with a lot more and maybe stay in a school longer,” she said.

The NESF highlighted 2006 research in England, showing the cost to the state of each child leaving primary school with very low literacy levels is equivalent to €54,000 to €64,000 a year, while every euro spent on literacy programmes could yield a return of up to €17.50.

A plenary session on the draft report of the NESF project team, expected to be finalised later this year, was held in Dublin yesterday where the findings were outlined by chairperson Professor Áine Hyland, retired vice-president of University College Cork and ex-chair of the statutory Educational Disadvantage Committee. The report recommends the free pre-school education scheme announced in the April budget should provide impetus for the introduction of an early-years education curriculum and increased emphasis on speech and language development, as well as ensuring high standards in all pre-school provision.

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