Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Our brilliant primary school pupils shine on world stage

An international survey has found that our 10-year-olds are among the best in the world, but there is still work to do, says John O'Dowd

Yesterday saw the publication of statistics which show that pupils in our schools at the age of 10 are largely outperforming their peers across the world.

The statistics formed part of an international survey of reading, maths and science and ranked countries on the attainment level of their children.

The results showed that, for reading and maths, we were the highest-ranked English-speaking region in the world, coming fifth and sixth respectively out of the countries surveyed.

Furthermore, in numeracy 24% of our pupils are performing at the advanced international benchmark - compared with an international average of 4% and in reading only one country had a higher proportion of pupils at that level.

This is significant and, as education minister, I want to put on record my thanks and appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the teachers, classroom assistants, staff and leaders in our primary schools and early-years settings.

On a daily basis they are working to provide a first-class education to their pupils and yesterday's statistics illustrate the impact this work is having. Our children leave primary school ahead of their international counterparts in the areas of literacy, numeracy and science. They are being given the best possible start in life.

The figures confirm many things we already knew about our education system. Key Stage outcomes show high attainment levels among pupils at primary school.

The recent report of the chief inspector of the Education and Training Inspectorate praised the quality of leadership and management in the majority of primary schools.

Yesterday gave us further evidence to show that not only are our 10-year-olds performing well against the measures we set, but they are also outperforming their international peers.

The figures also tell us that the educational policies we have implemented in recent years are working. Our relentless focus on raising standards in the core disciplines of literacy and numeracy is working.

The implementation of a revised curriculum alongside a coherent policy objective of making every school a good school is working. Our use of the Education and Training Inspectorate to highlight good practice and to address under-performance is working.

However we cannot rest on our laurels. Standards are rising across the board, as recent GCSE and A-Level results show, but I want to increase the pace of improvement.

That is why I have invited the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to undertake an in-depth review of our education system in the New Year.

These independent experts will look at all the evidence available and report back with recommendations on how we can further improve our system.

It is clear from yesterday's figures that we have a strong foundation on which to build. I will be making it a priority in the coming years to ensure we continue to deliver educational improvements.

Teachers will of course have a key role to play. However, staff working in our schools cannot do this alone; education does not start and stop at the school gates.

That is why I recently launched an advertising campaign advising parents to 'Get Involved - Because Education Works'.

This campaign is aimed at educating parents on the long-term benefits of a good education and provides helpful tips on the simple things a parent can do that will have a positive impact on their child's learning.

I plan to expand this campaign in future years, as teachers can only help children fulfil their potential if they have the support of parents and communities.

Today I want to thank those working in the education system for their hard work. The coming years will be challenging as we seek to build on the excellent work already evident in the system.

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