Issue 15 - March 2011

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Literacy, school books and early childhood education

The Minister for Education & Skills, Ruairi Quinn, told Sandra McLellan (SF, Cork E) that his department was undertaking a public consultation process on a draft national strategy on literacy and numeracy covering the period to 2020.  There had been a very strong response to the request for submissions up to the end of February deadline (Dail Eireann, Debates, 24th March 2011, 551-2).  460 submissions had been received and these were being examined in detail.  In parallel, focussed consultation meetings had been held with key stakeholders.  Consultation meetings would conclude in early May and the strategy would then by finalized without delay.  Preparatory work for implementation was already taking place in the department and its partner agencies.  The minister stressed the importance of ensuring that all young people had levels of literacy and numeracy to equip them to avail of further education and engage in society, but there had been disappointing and worrying declines in the literacy and mathematics performance of Irish 15 year olds in the PISA tests.  His intention was to ensue a significant improvement of literacy and numeracy skills so as to reverse the decline of recent years and so that Irish students would be among the best performing internationally.  Ruairi Quinn spoke of how literacy began at home and how he had been the first deputy to question whether our supposedly wonderful education system was delivering.  The PISA tests had been a wake-up call: we did not have the best education system in the world.  Far from it, we were in the third division. We must find a way to collectively deal with the issue. It was his intention to devolve autonomy and independence to principals to do what they do best.  It was wrong that we had 3,200 primary schools with a one-size-fits-all curriculum.  ‘We need to focus on literacy in a way we have not done before’.

Responding to a question from Dessie Ellis (SF, Dublin NW), the Minister for Education & Science told the Dail that his department would, under circular 023/2011, issue funding for school books for primary schools in April and under 024/2011 for secondary schools in June (Dail Eirann, Debates, 24th March 2011, 567).  Schools were urged to establish book rental schemes, the allocations being €11 a student in a primary school, €21 a primary DEIS school, €24 in post primary, but €39 in post-primary DEIS.

Asked by Padraig McLochlainn (SF, Donegal NE) about government plans to target early childhood education programmes for disadvantaged children, the minister spoke of how the state had funded the Early Start  programme from the early 1990s and that in recent years had invested, with Atlantic Philanthropies, in the Prevention and Early Intervention Programme, like Young Ballymun, the Childhood Development Initiative in Tallaght and Preparing for Life in Darndale (Dail Eireann, Debates, 24th March 2011 571).