Minister for Education and Skills opens Literacy Data Round Table Event

Ballymun Principals and Minister Jan O'Sullivan

Eleanor McClorey and Minister Jan O'Sullivan

On Wednesday 4th March Minister for Education and Skills Jan O'Sullivan opened the Ballymun Child Literacy Data Round Table.  The event was co-hosted by the Department of Education and Skills, the Ballymun Principals' Network and youngballymun and took place in the Clock Tower in the Department of Education and Skills.

Minister O'Sullivan's speech is available below.

The event brought together educators, researchers and policy makers to jointly consider the achievements, challenges and lessons from Ballymun child literacy data collected between 2007 and 2013.

The event was chaired by Caitriona O'Brien, Principal Officer in the Social Inclusion Unit, Department of Education and Skills.  Chair of the Ballymun Principals' Network Brendan Taafe and youngballymun Chief Executive Eleanor McClorey welcomed guests from across the Ballymun primary schools, political representatives, officials in government departments (DES, DCYA), Atlantic Philanthropies, teacher training colleges and professional development services, education centres, research institutes (ESRI, CRC TCD),  academics (TCD, UCD), the National Educational Psychology Service, NCCA, Limerick Literacy Initiative, Niche Cork, CES, Ballymun Whitehall Area Partnership, INTO, and Tusla.

The event included presentations by Duana Quigley, Programme Manager youngballymun and Gemma Cox, Research and Evaluation Manager youngballymun on the background to the collective effort in youngballymun and the data that has been gathered and analysed over serveral years.

Participants were invited to reflect on the data and the key messages emerging from it.  A report of discussions and key themes from the event will be compiled and circulated. 

Opening address by the Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O'Sullivan

Introduction 

  • Firstly would like to join with Brendan and Eleanor in welcoming everyone here this morning to the Department of Education and Skills. 
  • I'm delighted that you could join us for what promises to be a really interesting event on the critical theme of children's literacy.   We will hear from the Ballymun Principals' Network, and youngballymun about real-world data from the implementation of a literacy strategy in the Ballymun community.
  • It promises to be a very interesting morning, with stimulating questions to reflect on and hopefully some important lessons for the future of children's literacy.
  • The National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy has a clear objective of learning from effective initiatives that enable communities to support children's learning and that strengthen links between home and education settings. I'm looking forward to there being a lot of learning for us all this morning.

Importance of literacy

  • The importance of literacy outcomes cannot be overstated.  Language and literacy are the fundamental foundation to our children's expression of themselves, their ability to communicate and central to building relationships with others. 
  • As children grow up, literacy becomes the key to unlocking their potential as learners, their doorway to active and meaningful contribution to their community and the country. Literacy is a fundamental child rights issue and without good literacy levels, every dimension of life possibility it curtailed

Collaborative working/partnership

  • Many of you in this room know this well and work every day on developing children's literacy skills during the primary school years.  This event is also an opportunity to acknowledge the important role that you have played in developing and maintaining the strong partnership that in Ballymun over several years now to drive children's literacy outcomes.
  • This work doesn't take place in isolation.  youngballymun a whole community change strategy to improve child outcomes.  The strategy takes a life cycle, multi systemic approach to child outcomes.   It encompasses infancy, toddlerhood, early childhood and the school years - and works to strengthen all the services that children and families interact with.   This strategy mobilises people around a common agenda, puts in place shared measurement systems and processes of communication in order to coordinate and deliver mutually reinforcing services for children.  Maximising literacy outcomes is a core dimension of the strategy.  
  • The local partnership in literacy is driven at many levels - at a strategic level by my Department and the various agencies support schools in their work; by the Professional Development Service for Teachers; and by the expertise of the Education Centres and teacher training colleges 
  • At a local level, the Ballymun Principals Network, supported by the Ballymun Area Partnership, has been a key leader of change for children. Their leadership and commitment led the development of the youngballymun literacy strategy, Write Minded
  • Write Minded works with teachers and other school staff to develop literacy practice in the classrooms, and it is these education professionals, teachers in classrooms across the community supported by their school principals; working with wider school support staff including learning support resource teachers, home school community liaison teachers, special needs assistants and school completion workers; that are such a critical interface for change and development for children
  • And of course, children themselves.  Approximately 2000 primary school children in Ballymun in any given year, supported by their parents, are at the heart of this partnership and collaboration. 
  • We know that collaborative working, to drive excellent practice in teaching and learning can make a real and significant difference to children's literacy and learning.  What happens in the classroom really matters. 

Disadvantage 

  • Teaching and learning matters for all children but has an especially crucial role for children who may face more challenges at home or in their community environment, particularly if that environment is impacted upon by poverty and disadvantage.  
  • Poor literacy outcomes do not affect all children equally; low literacy levels are integrally linked with disadvantage, social exclusion, poverty and risk of poverty.   Educational disadvantage is complex and multifaceted.   Tackling it and breaking a cycle of poverty and low educational attainment requires an integrated strategy across statutory and community sector bodies working with children and their families from the earliest age and right through their life. 
  • DEIS, the Action Plan for Educational Inclusion, is my Department's main policy initiative to tackle educational disadvantage.     All primary and post-primary schools participating in DEIS receive a range of additional resources including additional staffing, funding, access to literacy and numeracy programmes and assistance with activities such as school planning.  Interventions such as the Home School Community Liaison Scheme and the School Completion Programme are also available to DEIS urban primary schools.  
  • There is clear evidence from research undertaken to date that the DEIS programme is having a positive effect on tackling educational disadvantage. However we also know from the recently published National Assessments of English Reading that the gap between achievement levels in DEIS and non-DEIS schools remains.
  • I will be particularly interested therefore to hear about the added value that the literacy interventions under Youngballymun have brought to the DEIS schools in that area. This will assist with the evaluation of DEIS and feed into future policy on educational disadvantage generally.

Government response

  • Children's literacy achievement is at the core of the Government's education agenda.  A range of measures are being implemented as part of the 2011 National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, which place a greater emphasis on literacy and numeracy within a balanced curriculum. 
  • In Budget 2015, an additional 6 million euro has been provided for the implementation of the Strategy, bringing the annual budget to 13.8 million euro
  • And now that the ambitious targets for literacy improvement in the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy have been met well in advance of the 2020 target I have announced that I am bringing forward the interim review of the strategy to this year.
  • The 2015 interim review of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy will provide an opportunity to establish new attainment targets, especially for specific groups of pupils who are doing less well - so that we can increase our ambitions between now and 2020.

Research, data and evaluation

  • This work of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy has shown the importance of tracking outcomes and using that data to inform implementation on an ongoing basis.  The Education Research Centre is leading that work at a national level and it is so encouraging to see this way of working also operating at local community level in Ballymun in a systematic way.  
  • The focus on data and the rigor applied to the analysis in Ballymun really distinguishes this work - and there is a lot of data!  You have been collecting and analysing this data at a whole community level for several years and we will see over the course of the morning the key trends and lessons emerging from that. 
  • Improving the ways in which we use student assessment can play a major role in improving literacy and the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy includes objectives to improve the use of assessment information to support better teaching and learning in literacy and to inform planning, just as you are doing in Ballymun.

Conclusion 

  • Ensuring positive experiences for children and giving them the best chance in life isn't a matter of hoping for the best.  It's a journey that starts in infancy and early childhood and continues throughout formal schooling.  It's a journey that requires a lot of support from the key people around those children at all stages.  That support needs to be planned and coordinated; and those plans need to be refined and adjusted to keep things on course.  
  • I know that's exactly what you're striving to do in Ballymun - to make plans, do the hard work of putting the plans into practice, review that practice and recalibrating the plans.  All with the aspiration of keeping children on track in their learning journey. 
  • I wish you well in your work this morning and to following the course of this challenging and exciting journey hereafter.