Education news

Too many pupils still struggle with literacy, warns union head

Avril Hall Callaghan, UTU general secretary

TOO many children are still failing to fulfil their literacy potential, a teachers' leader has warned.

Ulster Teachers's Union general secretary Avril Hall Callaghan criticised the Executive for spending millions on "endless, soul-crushing assessment and scrutiny" before axing a successful project that helped young people.

The proportion of children entitled to free meals achieving five-plus good GCSEs, including English and maths, increased by 11.7 percentage points during the Delivering Social Change Signature Project for schools.

Described by teachers as the "best initiative in recent years", the aim was to improve reading, writing and counting skills in areas of high deprivation - but it was wound up.

Teachers and politicians have consistently called for it to be re-instated.

Schools reported dramatic improvements and hoped it would continue, although the government said there was never any guarantee it would last longer than two years.

Ms Hall Callaghan said Northern Ireland teachers would be celebrating literature during National Poetry Day today.

"Events like National Poetry Day and the recent opening of the Seamus Heaney Centre show the importance of literature in our culture, how central it is to our existence, yet the two-year signature scheme to improve literacy and numeracy was ended despite calls for it to carry on," she said.

"The £13.4 million project used newly-qualified teachers to help improve results for struggling primary and secondary pupils. However, its benefits proved more wide-ranging.

"Many schools involved recorded not only improvements in reading and numeracy attainment, but also improved attendance among the children taking part and a general improvement in attitude towards school and learning.

"What more does the Department of Education want in terms of proof that a scheme works? Surely improving outcomes for students is what education is all about, yet the decision-makers blindly insist that more and more testing of children and growing scrutiny of teachers by the inspectorate is what will deliver the results."

She said she is yet to see if one of "these relentless assessment spreadsheets has improved a child's number work or if a highly stressful school inspection has enabled a pupil to get through that book they wanted to be able to read".

"The signature project delivered all that, and more, and was halted. Where is the logic?

"Let's use today's focus on poetry to shine a light through the bureaucracy which stifles our teachers and holds back our children and see our way towards a system which lets teachers teach and pupils achieve."

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