Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Questions (149)

Anne Rabbitte


149. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the statistics are accurate on adult illiteracy; if so, the way in which childhood illiteracy will be addressed; the way in which childhood illiteracy is measured; the number of young children who were supported in this regard by county in each of the years 2011 to 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41240/18]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

The delivery and enhancement of adult literacy and numeracy provision is being driven through the implementation of the Further Education and Training (FET) Literacy and Numeracy Strategy which is contained in the FET Strategy 2014-19. My Department, along with SOLAS, the Education and Training Boards (ETBs) and partner agencies are collaborating on the ongoing development and enhancement of the structures required to progress its implementation. The strategy sets out 12 inter- related elements which aim to promote, develop and encourage literacy and numeracy skills in the adult population. Progress to date includes the development and launch of the national awareness campaign, ‘Take the First Step’, development of national guidelines for the initial and on-going screening and assessment of participants and the publication of a number of research projects including the examination of integrating literacy and numeracy in FET programmes and an examination of barriers to participation in FET programmes. This year SOLAS has commissioned NALA to progress the evidence base to inform best practice in relation to family learning. It is envisaged that Family Learning Best Practice Guidelines will be available in early 2019.

The SOLAS allocation to Education and Training Boards (ETBs) for 2018 for adult literacy and basic skills provision is over €35m. Funding for further education and training (FET) is allocated to SOLAS, who then allocate to the ETBs through a strategic planning process. There is some discretion for SOLAS and the ETBs in relation to how funding is allocated across all of the FET programmes, including adult literacy.

The ETB Adult Literacy Service provides programmes with accreditation at levels NQF levels 1-4. Provision for adult literacy is delivered through a number of programmes;

- Adult Literacy groups (small groups)

- Intensive Tuition in Adult Basic Education (ITABE)- English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)

- Skills for Work - workplace literacy courses- Voluntary Literacy provision (one-to-one tuition)

- Family Learning Programmes- Distance learning service.

The adult literacy programme is informed by a set of operational guidelines that include guidance on initial assessment and engagement and the importance of more intensive provision to support literacy acquisition. Less intensive provision can be useful in welcoming and engaging new learners back into education but the guidelines recognise that more intensive approaches are required to enable progression.

I also recently launched a new policy framework for employee development, 'Supporting Working Lives and Enterprise Growth in Ireland', which was developed by SOLAS in consultation with key partners. This new approach will enable targeted support for vulnerable groups in the Irish workforce as it has a particular focus on employees those who have lower skills levels and who need more opportunities to advance in their working lives and careers, to sustain their employment and to avoid displacement or to avail of emerging job opportunities. The policy sets a target of having over 40,000 workers, whose skills level is below Level 5 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ), engaged in state supported skills development by 2021. It should be noted that while the NFQ is not a literacy scale but a qualifications framework, I am committed to addressing literacy issues amongst those whose highest level of qualification is below Level 5, including through achieving certification for their learning. This will supplement the numbers already being supported through our adult literacy programmes. Participation by employees in relevant courses will be provided free of charge.

In the National Skills Strategy 2025, targets are set to reduce the percentage of adults scoring at or below level 1 in the PIAAC survey from a baseline of 17.5% to 12% by 2025, and to increase the percentage of adults scoring at levels 2, 3 and 4 in the PIAAC survey from a baseline of 44% to 50% by 2025. The substantial investment already being made in adult literacy, supplemented by this new initiative to support those in employment, will also ensure that Ireland is well positioned to achieve these targets.

As regards childhood literacy, the Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, launched in 2011, set out a vision for raising standards in our early years, primary and post-primary school settings. The 2017 Interim Review of the Strategy shows the significant progress which has been made under the Strategy since 2011, notably in promoting a high level of literacy for all. For example, the National Assessments of English Reading and Maths (NAERM) shows that the percentage of students at second class performing at the highest levels (Level 3 or above) in reading increased from 35% in 2009 to 46% in 2014; and the percentage of students at second class performing at the lowest levels (Level 1 or below) in reading decreased from 35% in 2009 to 22% in 2014. Substantial progress has also been made at post primary-level with the percentage of 15 year olds performing at the higher levels in reading as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) increasing from 29% in 2009 to 37% in 2015; and the percentage of 15 year olds performing at the lowest levels (at or below Level 1) decreased from 17% in 2009 to 10% in 2015. The average score achieved by Ireland's fifteen year olds in the PISA literacy assessment was second only to Finland in the European Union.

The Interim Review Report also shows areas for improvement such as a gap in achievement between learners in DEIS schools (in particular DEIS Band 1 schools in primary) and those in other schools which must be addressed. Publication of the DEIS Plan 2017 is a significant step and its implementation will be the vehicle for driving progress in terms of improving educational outcomes including literacy for pupils at greatest risk of not achieving their full potential. The Literacy and Numeracy review sets out additional actions with new and updated targets to 2020. Achievement of targets will be measured through the National Assessments of English Reading and Mathematics (NAERM) and Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Measurement on a county by county basis is not available, but the targets set out in the following document show the focus on reducing the gap between achievement in reading in DEIS Band 1 schools and pupils in all primary schools, and between students in DEIS post primary schools and students in all post primary schools.

Standardised testing is carried out at 2nd 4th and 6th classes at primary level and are used to measure the level of child's achievement in English and Irish reading and maths. They compare children's score with other children in the same class or age level. The purpose of these tests are to gather information on the level of the child’s reading and maths to help the teachers plan each child's specific learning, and to inform the parent on how well their child is doing in school.

National Assessments of English reading (NAERM) – DEIS Band 1 Primary Schools

Target for 2020 set in the 2011 Strategy 

Current Position (NAERM 2014)

New Target to 2020

Second class

No corresponding target in 2011 Strategy



Reading: At or above Level 3

Sixth class



Second class



Reading: At or below Level 1

Sixth class



Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – DEIS Post-Primary

Target for 2020 set in the 2011 Strategy 

Current Position (PISA 2015)

New Target to 2020

Reading Literacy: At or above Level 4

15 year olds

No corresponding target in 2011 Strategy



Reading Literacy:  At or above Level 5

(highest achievers)

15 year olds



Reading Literacy: At or below Level 1

15 year olds