Better Literacy and Numeracy for Children and Young People: A Draft National Plan to Improve Literacy and Numeracy in Schools

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1 Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Teaching and Learning, Dublin City University & St. Patrick s College Drumcondra, Dublin 9 Response to consultation on: Better Literacy and Numeracy for Children and Young People: A Draft National Plan to Improve Literacy and Numeracy in Schools Contact Information: Dr. Sarah Brady, CASTeL Research Officer,

2 Introduction CASTeL the Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Teaching & Learning is a multidisciplinary research team involving scientists, mathematicians and educationalists from Dublin City University (DCU) and St. Patricks College Drumcondra. CASTeL s objective is to enhance STEM education at all educational levels, supported by evidence-based research and contributing to international good practice. CASTeL research activities include the development of effective approaches to teaching, learning and assessment; investigations of attitudes, motivation, identity and cognitive development in science and mathematics learning; professional development of teachers, both pre-service and in-service, across all levels of education. Members of CASTeL contribute to a wide variety of national and international conferences, workshops and projects, including three EU FP7 funded projects (ESTABLISH as Co-ordinator; Fibonacci; and Pathway). Through these activities CASTeL is focussed at developing teachers pedagogical knowledge to enable them to facilitate innovative, inquiry-based learning in their science and mathematics classrooms. CASTeL welcomes the draft plan to improve literacy and numeracy. In the context of this agenda, the focus of CASTeL s work is mainly on numeracy; nonetheless literacy is also a crucial vehicle for learning in all subjects and discipline areas. Accordingly, the high priority being given in the plan to enhancing literacy, and to integrating literacy and numeracy across curriculum subjects is very welcome. In addition, we welcome the strong emphasis in the plan on the role of teachers in achieving the aims of the plan. We welcome in particular the importance being attached to initial teacher education, to continuing professional development of teachers, and to the role envisaged for the Teaching Council. Comments on issues raised by the Plan The principal policy issues raised by the draft plan are commented on below, with some other recommendations that CASTeL considers of major importance also included. In addition, an appendix, in which we comment on some of the specific actions proposed in the draft plan, is also presented. 1. Entry requirements to initial teacher education (ITE): We agree with the recommendation to raise the standard required in mathematics. Whether the standard should be set at higher level mathematics, or a high grade in lower level mathematics, deserves careful consideration. In any case, setting the standard higher would increase the numbers of student teachers with a proficiency in, and liking for, mathematics. Indeed mathematical content knowledge is a vital element in pedagogical content knowledge and mathematical knowledge for teaching, and studies have shown that a lack of mathematical content knowledge has a significantly negative influence on a teacher s ability to teach Mathematics well. Furthermore, the raising of standards for entry to third level courses can have a significant impact on students engagement with the subject and the level choices they make at second level. Accordingly, setting higher mathematics standards for entry to ITE would in all likelihood increase the mathematics standards generally and also increase the numbers of students choosing higher level mathematics, which is a long standing aim for our education system. We recommend that additional selection criteria be used for ITE other than the conventional maximum CAO points for the six best subjects. Such additional criteria could include increased points weighting for Mathematics and English (or Irish) relative to other subjects and/or an aptitude 2

3 test covering literacy and numeracy, analogous to the HPAT used for medicine. Relying solely on the maximum CAO points is a crude means of selection for future teachers. 2. Duration of ITE programmes CASTeL members contribute strongly to ITE for primary school teachers at St Patrick s College. The duration of existing programmes limits the levels of skills and expertise that can be achieved by new teachers, and does not prepare them sufficiently well for the demands of 21 st century schools. Accordingly, we support the recommendation to extend the duration of ITE programmes at primary level to four years. The draft plan envisages the elimination of subject knowledge in order to include additional pedagogical content knowledge. We suggest that the additional time available in an extended programme should be sufficient to address current deficits in pedagogy without a total discontinuation of current academic subjects. It should be noted that a lack of subject knowledge has a marked negative influence on a teacher s ability to teach. Furthermore, retaining significant specialist academic subject knowledge would facilitate a scheme whereby a teacher could become a master teacher in his/her specialist subject. CASTeL members also contribute strongly to ITE of post-primary teachers using a four-year concurrent model at DCU. Our experience is that achieving the necessary subject knowledge for two subjects at senior cycle (and science at junior cycle), pedagogical content knowledge for those subjects, and adequate teaching practice experience within four years in very challenging. Similarly, a one year postgraduate programme in the consecutive model has proven excessively constrained. Regarding ITE for post-primary level, we propose that the extended course should include expanded teaching practice, and a substantial project and dissertation based on the person s experience of teaching, in addition to education modules. This would help embed the desired investigative and reflective attitude that is the aim for future teachers and promote research-led teaching. It is noteworthy that a Masters degree is required in Finland, which is achieving very high standards in international comparisons, and we recommend that Ireland should set the standard teacher qualification for post-primary teaching at Masters Degree level. 3. Teacher induction, CPD and quality assurance of CPD courses The recognition of the need for a structured induction programme for new teachers in order to enable them to handle the heavy demands at the beginning of a teaching career is very welcome, and we support the development of a national teacher induction programme. In addition to induction, on-going professional development is sine qua non for maintaining high standards in the teaching profession. Accordingly, we support the provision of certified professional development courses in literacy and numeracy for teachers. Going beyond literacy and numeracy alone, on-going professional development should become an obligatory and indispensible component for renewal of membership of the Teaching Council. Accordingly, we recommend that a formal certification process be developed collaboratively by third level institutions in consultation with the Teaching Council. 4. Assessment and national standards Assuming that the dangers of excessive teaching to the test are avoided, we support, for mathematics, the use of national standards and of testing at several stages over the course of primary and post-primary education. We recommend that decisions on the timing and frequency of such tests should be based on evidence of best practice internationally, with the added 3

4 recommendation that this be managed in an efficient and cost-effective manner, for example by the use of on-line tools. Regarding the publication of test results, we support continuing with the present practice of making whole school evaluation reports available in the public domain. 5. Junior cycle curricula and examinations The draft plan recognises that placing a greater focus on literacy and numeracy will have implications for current practice regarding junior cycle curricula and examinations. Over recent decades new subjects have been developed for the junior cycle (for well-founded reasons) but without, it appears, account being taken of the impact of such innovations on the overall educational impact, and the outcome is that depth in core areas has been sacrificed for breadth to an excessive degree. We support placing an upper limit on the number of subjects that students may take in the junior certificate examination. Bearing in mind the demands that a wide curriculum places on a school s resources, we recommend that a school s board of management be required, taking account of its scale and resources, to base the range of subjects offered at junior and senior cycles primarily on educational value rather than on current pupil preference. CASTeL favours the incorporation of new themes and topics in school curricula to reflect changing society and to prepare pupils for emerging careers. The desire to create new subjects is strong and understandable but where possible this should be done by means of changes within syllabi and learning objectives rather than by devising new curricula which may have overlap with pre-existing syllabi still on the curriculum. Examples include computing, which can be integrated into many subjects via ICT and digital learning, and politics, which could be included in history and studied as history in the making. In the context of the breadth of the junior cycle curriculum, the separate provision of all of CSPE, SPHE and Religion might also be examined. 6. Project Maths CASTeL is particularly interested in the successful development of mathematical proficiency generally, and not only of numeracy. The new Project Maths syllabus is of great importance, constituting as it does the most wide-ranging development in maths education for several decades. Accordingly, we welcome the recommendation to continue the development and roll-out of Project Maths. In the interests of transparency and validity, we support the use of independent external bodies to assess the effectiveness of Project Maths in meeting the aims of second level maths education. Such independent verification and critique would encourage similar innovation in other subjects and give confidence to all involved in education in Ireland and indeed the public at large, that reform too will be led by research. Conclusion In summary, we strongly support the broad aims of the draft plan. The high priority attached to enhancing literacy, and to integrating literacy and numeracy across curriculum subjects, is very welcome. We also welcome the strong emphasis in the plan on the role of teachers in achieving the aims of the plan, and in particular the importance being attached to initial teacher education, to extending the duration of teacher education, to the provision of continuing professional development of teachers, and to the role envisaged for the Teaching Council. 4

5 Appendix In this section CASTeL has provided comments on specific proposals in the draft plan. These are provided in the right hand columns of the tables below, where, for ease of reference, we have reproduced the proposed action(s) in the left-hand column. The Minister will cooperate with the Teaching Council to set new, higher standards in entry requirements for initial teacher education (ITE), including higher standards in literacy and numeracy Identify changes to the entry requirements for ITE that will underpin a renewed emphasis on literacy and numeracy, including in the case of primary teaching the potential raising of the minimum grades obtained in the mathematics Agree to raising minimum mathematics requirement. Recommend that entry be not based on CAO points alone, but that an additional measure of candidates suitability be adopted, e.g. interview and/or aptitude test. The Minister will cooperate with the Teaching Council to re-configure the content and duration of initial teacher education (ITE) courses for primary teachers to ensure the development of teachers skills in literacy and numeracy teaching Discontinue the study of academic subjects currently included within the BEd programme in favour of academic subjects more closely related to education in order to allow more time for the development of the professional skills and knowledge of teachers described above Disagree that the study of academic subjects should be abandoned. Recommend that additional time available in four year ITE courses be used for more teaching practice and acquiring more pedagogical content knowledge without undermining specialist subject knowledge. The Minister will cooperate with the Teaching Council to reconfigure the content and duration of initial teacher education (ITE) courses for post-primary teachers to ensure the development of teachers skills in literacy and numeracy teaching Increase the duration of the Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) programme (for those following a consecutive model of teacher education) to a minimum of two years AND Extend the four-year concurrent model for initial teacher education for post-primary teachers to a range of academic subjects (for example, by enabling students to study one/two academic subjects in conjunction with education subjects and pedagogy as elements of a degree award). Agree to extending the duration of the programmes for both consecutive and concurrent modes. Recommend that the standard post-primary teacher qualification be set as a Masters degree with a school-based education research project and dissertation forming a significant component of the final year s work. 5

6 Provide continued support to newly qualified teachers generally and especially in the teaching of literacy and numeracy Provide intensive units within the national teacher induction programme on the teaching of literacy and numeracy and on the use of assessment. Make participation in the national teacher induction programme mandatory by Agree that this is of national importance. Agree - assuming target date can be successfully met. Focus the provision of Department-supported continuing professional development for teachers on the teaching of literacy and numeracy and the use of assessment Continue with the professional development support provided as part of the roll-out of Project Maths at second level Strongly support this, and recommend that additional support be provided on a needs basis to teachers who require it, particularly those without Maths in their primary degree. Require all providers seeking recognition of continuing professional development summer courses to include units on the teaching of literacy (or teaching of literacy and numeracy, as appropriate) across the curriculum. Do not agree that all providers should adhere to this, but recommend where appropriate these units should be included. Ensure that adequate quality assurance mechanisms are in place for CPD courses for teachers as provided for in the Teaching Council Act Ensure that continuing professional development courses for teachers are Recommend that an appropriate body be adequately assessed and evaluated. appointed with input from the key stakeholders - the Department of Education and Skills, Education Providers, Teaching Council. Continue the development and roll-out of Project Maths Continue to implement Project Maths and monitor the effect of implementation on standards achieved in mathematics using a range of indicators, including commissioned research, thematic evaluation by the Inspectorate and national sample testing in first and second year. Increase the time devoted to the teaching of mathematics to a minimum of five periods per week. Recommend these reports are made publicly available. Recommend also the rationalisation of postprimary curricula and reduction of subjects studied which would allow extra time for Maths. 6

7 Require that mathematics be taught for a minimum of three periods per week during Transition Year. Work towards implementing the recommendations of the Report of the Project Maths Implementation Support Group. Recommend that homework assignments be maintained as a core component of mathematics learning throughout transition year. Recommend the use of independent external bodies to assess the effectiveness of Project Maths in meeting the aims of second level maths education. Prioritise the development of literacy and numeracy across all subject areas and areas of learning in the revised junior cycle curriculum Pending the introduction of the revised junior cycle curricula/syllabuses, place an upper limit on the numbers of subjects that students may take in the State Junior Certificate examinations Agree with the proposal to limit the number of subjects students may take at the junior cycle. Recommend that any new subjects under consideration for junior or senior cycle be incorporated in a revised syllabus for one of the traditional major subject areas (for example, politics could be included in the history syllabus) 7

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