I am writing in response to an article which appeared on the front page of the Belfast Telegraph recently under the headline: ‘Ruane delayed literacy report that didn't support her views’.
Your article implied that I withheld the results of the public consultation on the draft Literacy and Numeracy Strategy as I was unhappy with one statistic relating to respondents’ views on a linkage between academic selection and numeracy and literacy. I want to make clear that this is simply not the case.
Rather than being delayed, the Education Committee received a copy of the analysis of the consultation responses earlier than planned.
Last year, the committee asked the Department of Education to confirm when the results of the consultation on the revised Literacy and Numeracy Strategy would be made available. It was informed that the report would be presented, along with a well-advanced draft of the revised strategy, as soon as the latter was available. The committee asked to see the summary of consultation responses on January 28. That response was sent to the committee on February 16.
Raising standards and results in literacy and numeracy is a key area within the Department of Education. The reason we need to focus on it is simple: too many children do not attain the standards in literacy and numeracy expected for their age, including by the time they leave school.
This cannot be allowed to continue. This might not fit in with the Belfast Telegraph’s view of our education system, but it is a fact.
The consultation on the draft literacy and numeracy strategy covered a wide range of factors that contribute to the issue of standards in literacy and numeracy.
One of these was academic selection. Research on the impact of selection shows that preparing children for the transfer test distorted the curriculum and required teachers to adopt a narrow repertoire of strategies, rather than developing literacy and numeracy through more engaging approaches.
As with all consultations, my department has taken the time to consider what was said and to use the findings to help improve our Literacy and Numeracy Strategy to ensure it will revitalise our education system as intended.
Consultation responses often continue being analysed right up until the policy is finalised; it is for this reason that it is sensible for the results of the consultation and the finalised strategy to be submitted to the committee at the same time. That is what we agreed to do.
Consultations often provide a voice for those who wish to be heard and the responses do not necessarily represent the wider population.
For example, grammar schools make up 6% of all schools, but they made up a quarter of those who answered the question on academic selection.
As expected, they overwhelmingly supported selection/rejection. When you look at all the other respondents apart from grammar schools, the majority supported the removal of academic selection.
I stopped state-sponsored testing and introduced Transfer 2010 to help bring an end to these detrimental impacts. I will shortly publish the final Literacy and Numeracy Strategy with confidence and hope for future generations. This strategy will light the way forward, build on best practice and support teachers and principals in meeting the needs of children in their classrooms.
In short, it will help ensure that every child has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
Caitriona Ruane is Minister for Education