The DUP have issued a report on education Northern Ireland, which seeks “to identify some of the causes of educational underachievement that we know exists in Northern Ireland and offer some possible solutions to this problem.”
The ‘No Child Left Behind’ report cites a number of studies, such as a 2012 PISA study on ‘Student Achievement in Northern Ireland: Results in Mathematics, Science, and Reading Among 15 Year Olds from the OECD’ which found that “In reading NI had a relatively large difference between the lowest and the highest scoring pupils compared with many other countries”.
Additionally, statistics are cited from the ‘Books before Bedtime’ report, stating
“Research which shows that children who read outside of class are 13 times more likely to read above the expected level for their age.” From the same report, a sample of 1,000 parents with children aged 6-11 showed that “almost half (44%) are never read to at home.”
Writing in the Newsletter, Councillor Peter Martin, who authored the report, observed that we must “be careful not to judge those, especially parents, who are particularly struggling but instead we should offer help and assistance where we can. There are a number of key areas that we fundamentally need to address. It is crucial that parents are fully aware that the years 0-3 are incredibly important in a young child’s development and that stimulation, lots of positive affirmation and parental attachment are the building blocks for success in the future.”
The report notes that “whilst in Northern Ireland we struggle with specific low attainment especially within the demographic of Protestant (Free School Meals) Boys we also have some of the best ‘A Level’ examination results within the UK”, adding that time taken reading to a child “costs nothing” to parents, and that “small parental interventions can have a massive effect.”
The report also looks at the ‘Accelerated Reader’ scheme employed by some schools across Northern Ireland, remarking that “the scheme stated that it cost about £450 for 17 weekly coaching sessions. After completion of the programme the reading age across the 12 boys had increased by 11 months within a 7 month period, a good result.”
Reading Rooms, provided by Verbal Arts Centre, is an alternative model, and has a strong track record over the past three years in engaging with pupils that have disengaged with mainstream education. The Accelerated Reader scheme found that pupils “at very low levels of reading may not be independent readers and would need initial support from teacher to start reading books.”
Ten recommendations are given in conclusion to be adopted by the NI Executive, including “a social media based literacy campaign could encourage children and parents to read together.” The full report can be read here (pdf download).