New literacy and numeracy tests could lead to primary school 'league tables'


IRISH NATIONAL TEACHERS' ORGANISATION:PRIMARY TEACHERS have questioned Department of Education literacy and numeracy strategies, objecting to the “narrow focus” on testing and arguing for a more rounded approach.

The strategies were drawn up largely in response to OECD figures for second-level pupils, which highlighted declining standards.

But the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said a strategy that “declares that what is needed to improve education is greater accountability based on standardised tests is a flawed one”.

A motion adopted by the union said this encouraged the practice of “teaching to the test” and ultimately led to misguided comparisons and conclusions on the effectiveness and worth of every primary school and teacher.

As a part of the strategy, primary pupils will be given standardised tests, in addition to current tests at ages seven and 11. The union expressed concerns that this could lead to the publication of league tables for primary schools.

Ambitious targets have also been set under the strategy, to be achieved by 2020. At primary level, these include increasing the number of children performing at level three or above (the highest levels) in the national assessments of reading and maths by five percentage points, and reducing the percentage at or below the lowest level (one) by five percentage points.

Mary Magner of the union’s executive said she was totally committed to enhancing literacy and numeracy. But she deplored the approach outlined in the strategy, with its reliance upon goals, targets and testing.

“Are we, as educators, now meant to move from teaching the subject to raising the statistics? Targets for targets’ sake are useless.”

The conference also adopted a motion stating that teachers strive to achieve the highest standards of literacy and numeracy, despite schools being stripped of resources and supports. Bryan O’Reilly, also of the union’s executive, said one could not on the one hand demand higher standards and then reduce funding, decrease supports for special needs and disadvantaged children, increase class size and cut teacher numbers.

Irish primary education, he said, was supposedly “free” in the “lost sovereignty state” of Ireland, yet “I do not know of any school in the country that does not have to fundraise for basic equipment. Deis schools get extra money but still have to fundraise for basic equipment.”

This week the teacher unions will consider a report outlining the case for greater co-operation. The report was presented yesterday to the INTO congress in Killarney.

The report argues that the unions have common goals in areas such as education policy, shared service delivery, shared commissioning of services, media co-operation, joint information provision, political lobbying, pooling of expertise and membership benefits.

The report by John O’Dowd, a former ASTI official and general secretary of the CPSU, says if the unions are really serious about wanting to co-operate more closely then it is reasonable to expect them to sacrifice some degree of sovereignty.