Teachers lack 'requisite skills', says Coughlan


TEACHERS ENTERING the classroom lack the “requisite skills” to boost literacy and numeracy standards, Minister for Education Mary Coughlan has said.

Her comments came during the launch of Fianna Fáil’s policy document on education, at which party leader Micheál Martin denied Ms Coughlan had been “hidden away” during the election campaign.

Ms Coughlan said she backed a radical overhaul of teacher training.

Academic ability was not sufficient – a much greater stress on teaching methodologies was also required, she said.

The Minister’s comments came in the wake of an OECD survey published last December that reported falling standards in literacy and numeracy among 15 year olds.

Between 2000 and 2010, Ireland fell from fifth place to 17th in the world rankings of literacy, the steepest decline of any developed country. Ireland is ranked as average in maths and science.

Asked if Ms Coughlan was hidden away, Mr Martin interrupted and said: “Absolutely not.”

“We are taking it issue by issue, as you know. The economy has been at the heart of the debate. You’ve had Dara Calleary, you’ve had Brian Lenihan, you’ve had Michael McGrath dealing with the financial services.

“We’ve had different people in relation to the different policy documents that have been launched,” Mr Martin said.

He also expressed full confidence in Ms Coughlan.

“When I appointed my front bench, I made it very clear that Mary Coughlan is not just a Minister or a Tánaiste but a spokesman for education on the front bench and I’ve indicated in this policy document that education is my number one priority,” Mr Martin said.

Under the policy, Fianna Fáil says it is committed to investment in new primary schools, resulting in 35,000 additional permanent places by 2016.

Mr Martin said there would be no reduction in special-needs assistants over the period of its plan and they would be capped at 2011 levels.

Ms Coughlan said Fianna Fáil would retain Irish as a compulsory Leaving Cert subject.

She also backed continued State support for fee-paying schools, saying this helped to protect minority faiths.

On higher education, Fianna Fáil said it opposed a graduate tax and would cap student fees at €3,500 per family.

Other key commitments in the Fianna Fáil plan include:

* Maintaining small schools that have the support of their local communities;

* Curriculum reform that results in a more active learning experience;

* The introduction of a new Junior Cert;

* Prioritising funding for the introduction of a new curriculum in Leaving Cert biology, chemistry, physics and agricultural science;

* Increasing the time for literacy and numeracy teaching in primary schools by three hours per week;

* 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 junior and senior infants, second, fourth and sixth classes in primary school and second year in post-primary school;

* Lengthening the B Ed degree programme for primary teachers to four years and dropping many academic subjects in colleges of education in favour of the study of education, literacy and numeracy teaching;

* Lengthening the H Dip Ed course for post-primary teaching to two years;

* Continuing strong exchequer support for the higher education sector, while increasing the contribution of philanthropy, private sector funding and the student charge.

Mr Martin, a former minister for education, said the party’s record in this area was unmatched.

He cited the €1 billion spent in supporting special education in 2010 and the huge commitment to research.

The Labour Party has said that, in government, it would reverse the charge on students attending post-Leaving Cert courses.

Speaking at the launch of the party’s education plan, Ruairí Quinn said it would allocate €27 million to keep the third-level student charge at €1,500 per year.