29 March 2006

Department losing direction in literacy and numeracy battle

Sinn Féin

Published: 29 March, 2006

Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson, Michael Ferguson MLA has said that the latest report from the Auditor General into literacy and numeracy levels at our schools makes for worrying reading and shows that the department is losing its' direction in the battle to beat literacy and numeracy problems and voiced particular concerns that only a third of boys in Belfast at Key Stage 3 achieve a standard level of English.

Mr Ferguson said:

"Some of the statistics in this report make for serious reading. Despite spending £40 million since the mid 90‚s it is clear that the department is not learning the lessons and targeting its resources effectively or efficiently.

"Nearly 25% of children (2,000 girls and 3,500 boys) are starting secondary school at a disadvantage, with underdeveloped skills. This means that they are likely to struggle with the demands of the post-primary curriculum. Every year 6,000 young people are leaving school with literacy problems and 7,000, some 41%, are leaving with maths problems (below level 5).

"These are the basic skills which young people, particularly those leaving school without qualifications, need to enable them to work or pursue further training or education.

"But perhaps the biggest concern is that where both synthetic phonics and the enriched curriculum have been identified as having a very positive impact on literacy and numeracy that these programmes both require improved pupil teacher ratios and specifically classroom assistants. Yet the short-sightedness of the Department means that the very resource that has been identified as important in the battle to tackle literacy and numeracy problems, namely classroom assistants, are going to be sacrificed in the cuts Angela Smith is trying to force through the Education Library Boards.

"It is also says much about the direction of the Department of Education that there has been little improvement since the Assembly Public Accounts Committee report of 2002.

"There is a very worrying gap between boys and girls in English that needs to be tackled with 72% of girls achieving the standard level in English at secondary school (level 5) compared with only 48% of boys. The situation in Belfast even worse, where only a third of boys at Key Stage 3 achieve a standard level of English.

"There is a clear weakness in the way the department is monitoring this that means that they are not able to improve and target their resources to where need is greatest." ENDS

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