Literacy and Numeracy – Draft National Plan to Improve Levels

imageThe findings of a report, ‘Incidental Inspections 2010′, published on the 23rd November 2010 by the Inspectorate of the DES on the outcomes of
unannounced inspections in primary schools in the last year” found that over 80% of lessons were satisfactory or better. However, over 14% of English and mathematics lessons were unsatisfactory. They also found that teachers’ preparation was unsatisfactory for approximately a quarter of lessons, and that teachers’ assessment of pupils’ achievement was unsatisfactory in a third of cases.”
As a consequence the Minister for Education launched a draft plan aimed at improving standards of literacy and numeracy with the following targets:
Under the proposals each school would be required to set and monitor progress in achieving its own demanding but realistic targets in literacy and numeracy

  • the percentage of children in the top performing levels of the national assessments in reading and mathematics would be increased by at least 5% by 2020
  • the percentage of students in the poorest performing levels would be decreased by at least 5% by 2020
  • the proportion of students taking Higher Level Mathematics at Junior Certificate will increase to 60% and will almost double at Leaving Certificate to 30% by 2020

There are a number of proposed actions listed in the press release as follows:
Improving teacher education for pre-school, primary and post-primary teachers by:

  • lengthening the BEd degree programme for primary teachers to four years and the dropping of many academic subjects in colleges of education in favour of the study of education and literacy and numeracy teaching;
  • lengthening of H Dip Ed course for post-primary teaching to two years;
  • a minimum of twenty hours of in-service training on literacy and numeracy education for primary teachers and post-primary teachers of English (or Irish in Irish-medium schools) and Maths every five years;
  • specific course for principals on how to improve literacy and numeracy in schools;
  • Improvements to education courses for staff working in pre-schools.

Prioritising literacy and numeracy teaching in pre-schools and schools by:

  • increasing the time for literacy and numeracy in primary schools by three hours per week (and reducing time for other subjects);
  • revising the primary curriculum to show clearly what skills children are expected to learn at each stage;
  • bringing the curriculum in infant classes into line with the curriculum framework for pre-schools announced in 2009 and putting a greater emphasis on early language and numeracy development;
  • prioritising the reform of the English curriculum in the review of junior cycle to make sure literacy skills are prioritised;
  • continuing the roll-out of Project Maths in post-primary schools. Using a range of measures to enable parents and communities to support their children’s literacy and numeracy development more effectively

Radically improving the way in which schools assess and report on students’ progress in literacy and numeracy by:

  • publishing national standards, comprising a revised curriculum and examples of what students should be able to achieve in literacy and numeracy at the end of infants, second, fourth and sixth class in primary school and second year in post-primary school;
  • requiring teachers to report to parents and the board of management on the achievement of pupils;
  • having students complete standardised tests at fixed points in primary and post-primary schools and collecting this information nationally. (Each school would then be given its own data and averaged, anonymous data for schools working in similar situations. This would enable principals and teachers to make better judgements about their students’ progress and how to improve teaching and learning in their schools);
  • ensuring that the inspection of literacy and numeracy in whole-school evaluations is improved further.

The Minister invited everyone in the education sector and the wider public to contribute their ideas on the plan and contributions can be made to a dedicated phone line ( 01-889 6768 01-889 6768 ), in writing or by email to
There are many significant proposals and reforms suggested in the draft document and these will make significant changes to the literacy and numeracy activities in schools both primary and post-primary, and to teacher education at pre-service level and in continuing professional development. A national debate on numeracy and literacy will ensue and it critical that all educational agencies and educators feed into this process.
One area of concern I have is that the draft plan makes little mention of ICT as a significant tool in the development of literacy and numeracy. With the DES investing in a minimum specification of ICT in every classroom in the country it is important to ask how it will be used as part of the proposals. The DES commissioned research into Digital Literacy in Irish Primary Schools in 2008 and this research was undertaken by the National College of Ireland in schools in the Digital Hub Elevate Learning Initiative. There were many significant findings and recommendations in the report that have a major bearing on traditional and digital literacies and how they complement each other but alas the DES never published it. The invitation to contribute to the Draft Plan will be an opportunity to have these findings recognised. I’m sure many of you will have your own ideas so make sure your voice is heard.
The draft plan can be downloaded from here

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