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Delayed: literacy report that didn’t back minister’s views

By Kathryn Torney

Caitriona Ruane held back public responses to a Department of Education consultation which failed to show support for her plan to outlaw academic selection for over a year.

The Education Minister has only now released the analysis of responses to the consultation on a crucial new literacy and numeracy strategy — almost 15 months after the consultation closed in November 2008.

A summary of the responses includes the fact that 60% of people disagreed with the department’s key proposal that an education system should be created which is free of academic selection. The minister finally released the information to the Assembly’s education committee this week after politicians battled for months to secure a copy of the elusive document.

When asked by the Telegraph yesterday to explain the delay, the department did not provide any explanation but then appeared to dismiss its own consultation by claiming the responses on selection were not from “a representative sample”.

This is despite the feedback coming from 213 organisations and individuals including nursery, primary, prep, non-selective and grammar schools; education bodies, teaching unions and personal responses.

Mervyn Storey, DUP education spokesman and chair of the Assembly's education committee, said: “The minister has been sitting on this document since November 2008 and that is not acceptable. We have been asking for it for months.

“Literacy and numeracy standards in our schools must be addressed urgently. It is a scandal that children are continuing to leave school with poor reading and maths skills.

“The minister has really taken her eye off the ball when it comes to this issue.

“In 1996, the Public Accounts Committee identified problems going back as far as 1998. It is now 2010 and we still do not have a strategy in place to deliver outcomes in our classrooms.

“If there was any justification for Caitriona Ruane packing her bags and going, it is because of literacy and numeracy. The minister claims that this is all part of a bigger jigsaw. However, school transfer is in crisis, the establishment of the Education and Skills Authority is in crisis and where exactly is area-planning? Her jigsaw is falling apart and has bits missing.

“If we cannot get a resolution of the issues in education, I seriously doubt whether we should have devolved government. That’s how serious it is.”

A spokesman for the Department of Education said: “Research on the impact of selection shows that preparing children for the transfer tests distorted the curriculum and required teachers to adopt a narrow repertoire of teaching strategies, rather than fully developing literacy and numeracy through more engaging approaches.

“Pupils not entered for the tests received unequal or less attention than transfer test pupils and some children had classroom experiences that not only failed to meet their needs as learners but left them uninterested, demotivated and misunderstood as learners,” he said.

“The Transfer 2010 Guidance puts an end to these detrimental impacts, particularly on our most disadvantaged young people. The responses on selection relate only to the respondents to the literacy and numeracy consultation and are not therefore from a representative sample.”

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