The Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) believes a key to improving falling standards in these areas is better school policies to ensure consistent approaches to teaching methodology.
A recent OECD report showed scores for Ireland’s 15-year-olds have fallen to average at literacy and significantly below average in maths when compared to dozens of other countries.
“Different teachers have different ways to teach spelling, writing, phonics and other aspects of literacy and a lot of principals believe new teachers aren’t as skilled in the teaching of literacy and numeracy,” said IPPN director Sean Cottrell.
He said these differences start when teachers are on training courses and continue through their teaching practice, probation and induction as new teachers, their classroom practice and professional development.
Mr Cottrell said principals should be allowed to co-ordinate a whole-school plan in maths, such as saying that teachers change from one method to another at a set time. For example, it might be agreed that one way of subtracting be taught to pupils up to the middle of third class and all teachers follow this pattern, to avoid pupils moving class in autumn and their next teacher using a different method.
“Teachers have huge autonomy, which is great in one respect, but there should be no room for variation on how maths and reading are taught. Part of the problem is the big turnover in teachers in recent years and one-third of principals retired in the last two years,” he said. “The other thing is that there isn’t enough time available to meet staff on issues like this but hopefully Croke Park will help change that.”
The public service pay and reform agreement, already accepted by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, provides for staff meetings normally held during school hours to be held after class, dealing with issues such as school plans on the teaching of literacy and numeracy. The question of leadership on these issues will be a focus of the IPPN annual conference which starts tomorrow.
Education Minister Mary Coughlan has asked for submissions on her proposals to overhaul how literacy and numeracy are taught, including extending degrees for primary teaching from three to four years and allocating more time in class to these subjects. The chair of the Irish Bishops’ Conference council for education this week rejected suggestions it was time to drop religion from timetables.
Bishop Brendan Kelly said recent criticism at the Oireachtas Education Committee made a spurious connection between falling literacy and numeracy standards and time given to Irish and faith formation.