Primary results due to better teachers and extra resources
Investment in teacher training is a factor in improving literacy and numeracy standards
Primary school pupils have benefited from additional spending over the past decade as well as a renewed focus on literacy and numeracy. Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA
The latest report on literacy and numeracy standards among primary pupils makes for welcome reading. Assessments are carried out every five years for the Department of Education and progress has been “absolutely flat” for over three decades, according to chief inspector Dr Harold Hislop.
The last time an improvement was registered was in the period 1972-1980, which coincided with the creation of remedial education teaching posts in schools.
This points to one likely factor behind the record scores for 2014: the extra resources which have gone into primary schools, particularly for special educational needs and disadvantaged schools.
While such resources have been pared back in recent years, the pupils surveyed would have benefited from additional spending over the past decade as well as a renewed focus on literacy and numeracy.
A further factor has been investment in teacher training, augmented by the creation of the Teaching Council.
However, department secretary general Seán Ó Foghlú warned against “over-interpreting” a single set of results.
In 2009, Ireland experienced a dramatic slump in the Pisa tests, falling from fifth place to 17th in the OECD for reading ability. In 2012, Ireland bounced back to fourth place and while the reason for this fluctuation was never fully explained it provided the impetus for the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy. Published in 2011, its targets for 2020 were exceeded comfortably by the class of 2014.
However, the gap between disadvantaged schools and others remains wide. Half of pupils in DEIS band 1 schools, the most disadvantaged category, had the most basic standard of maths and reading . This compared to a quarter of pupils in all schools.
The department says its focus will now be on narrowing the gap between schools. It also has its fingers crossed that the next round of international tests will confirm the progress which seemingly has been made.