Educational Underachievement

Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 14th December 2010.

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Photo of Stephen Moutray Stephen Moutray DUP 2:30 pm, 14th December 2010

3. asked the Minister of Education what action she has taken to address educational underachievement, particularly among working-class Protestant boys. (AQO 765/11)

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Tá míbhuntáiste oideachasúil le fáil i measc Protastúnach agus Caitliceach, buachaillí agus cailíní agus i mionlaigh eitneacha.

Educational disadvantage exists among Protestants and Catholics, boys and girls, children of no religion and children from our ethnic minority communities. I have interconnected policies to tackle underachievement, promote equality and raise educational standards. Those policies include Every School a Good School, the revised curriculum, the review of special education needs and inclusion, the Achieving Belfast and Achieving Derry programmes, the entitlement framework and the literacy and numeracy strategy, which I will launch shortly. Those policies provide a greater proportion of young people with the qualifications, skills and attributes to have a choice in their future that includes further and higher education, while reducing the number of school leavers not in education, employment or training.

Research and the latest PISA statistics show that the transfer test distorted the curriculum and caused teachers to use fewer teaching strategies, leaving some children uninterested and demotivated. Transfer 2011 has put an end to those detrimental impacts.

Photo of Stephen Moutray Stephen Moutray DUP

On 26 January 2010, in an Assembly answer to my party colleague Mervyn Storey’s question on underachievement, the Minister identified literacy and numeracy as key factors in this issue. However, this year’s chief inspector’s report said:

“There is little evidence within the 14-16 cohort in particular, that the literacy and numeracy requirements of learners are being adequately addressed.”

Is it not the case that the chief inspector’s damning indictment is, in fact, a damning indictment of the Minister? Why are we still waiting for the Department to bring forward —

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

I encourage the Member to come to his question.

Photo of Stephen Moutray Stephen Moutray DUP

Why are we still waiting for the Department to bring forward a literacy and numeracy policy?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

I am delighted by the Member’s interest in educational underachievement, and I welcome that. It is important that parties stand up for young people who are being disadvantaged and discriminated against. I am glad that the DUP has shifted on its policy on underachievement. In its 1989 election manifesto, education not manipulation — [Interruption.]

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

I will quote directly from that, as I have done before, because it is interesting for people to see where it comes from:

“We believe that selection at 11 should be ended. The 11-plus procedure is educationally unsound and socially divisive and places unnecessary strain upon children at a very early age.”

Perhaps the DUP should return to what was rightly included in its election manifesto in 1989 — [Interruption.]

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

That is the way in which we can really bring about changes for young people between the ages of 10 and 16.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. It is welcome to see “big house” unionism concerned about working-class Protestants in this instance. [Interruption.]

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Will the Minister further outline her assessment of the recent PISA report and its implications for our educational system?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Is é PISA an clár le haghaidh measúnaithe ar Dhaltaí Idirnáisiúnta agus tá an clár eagraithe tríd an Eagraíocht um Chomhar agus Fhorbairt Eacnamaíochta (OECD).

PISA, which is organised by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), is a survey of how 15-year-olds perform in reading, maths and science. The survey runs every three years, and, in 2009, 65 countries participated, including 33 OECD members. Members will be aware that the results were published on 7 December 2010.

The results show that the reading and maths performance of our 15-year-olds is not significantly different from the OECD average, which is nothing to be proud of. We lag behind the highest performing systems and continue to have a significant body of underachievement. I want us to be much better than average for all our young people. Performance in science is above the OECD average, which is to be welcomed. However, we still have considerable room for improvement.

It is clear that the progressive countries, in which academic selection is not a major factor, are capable of significantly outperforming us time and time again. Those countries include Scotland, Estonia, Finland, Canada and New Zealand. The policy of the Department of Education is to have a non-selective system of post-primary transfer, and schools that continue to use breakaway tests need to review the PISA results carefully. I am convinced of the value of benchmarking our system internationally and of learning from the best.

Photo of Reg Empey Reg Empey UUP

Has the Minister given any consideration to the coalition Government’s pupil premium initiative, which targets support at children from deprived backgrounds throughout their education?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

We will look at any proposals that are brought in North or South or in England, Scotland and Wales. We will evaluate them to see if they are useful here, and we will discard what is not useful. In this part of Ireland, we need to ensure that we have the best possible policies and support our disadvantaged and working-class young people. That is what I am doing in this Department.

Photo of Pat Ramsey Pat Ramsey Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the Minister’s earlier talk about the literacy and numeracy strategy for Northern Ireland and her recognition of the importance of that strategy. Will the Minister outline what the delay has been in producing that strategy? Will she give us a date when it will be published?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

We have taken time to ensure that we get that important strategy right. As the Member will be aware, I set up a task force on literacy and numeracy. That task force did some important work and presented me with a report, and we are now working on the strategy. We worked hard to address the issues that were raised during the consultation, and the Committee for Education has already seen a summary of the consultation responses — earlier than usual.

Bhí muid ag oibriú lena chinntiú go bhfuil an straitéis ar aon dul leis na polasaithe tábhachtacha eile d’fhonn go mbeadh cur chuige comhleanúnach ann sna scoileanna.

We have also worked to align the strategy with other key polices to ensure that we have a coherent approach for schools. That includes the introduction of revised assessment arrange­ments to support our curriculum, with a specific focus on progress in literacy and numeracy. In addition, we are giving careful consideration to the targets that we set in coming years for raising literacy and numeracy standards.