Published 01.03.2011
by Kids’ Own

Kids’ Own makes submission to the DES about its Draft Plan to Improve Literacy and Numeracy in Schools

Kids’ Own has made a submission to the Department for Education and Skills in response to its Draft Plan to Improve Literacy and Numeracy in Schools entitled, ‘Better Literacy and Numeracy for Children and Young People’. The draft plan was written in November 2010 and the Department publicly invited submissions of comments and suggestions to be considered by the National Implementation Group, which has been appointed to oversee the implementation of the plan.

Here is a copy of the submission that we made.




As a children’s arts organisation, Kids’ Own takes a holistic approach to child development and believes in the absolutely crucial role that the arts and creative activity play in the development of the whole child.

Kids’ Own welcomes the DES’s desire to look beyond Ireland towards exemplary models of education in other countries. It is notable that Finland sets the benchmark for literacy and numeracy attainment in schools – a country where cultural provision for young people and arts in education initiatives receive proportionately much higher levels of public funding.

Kids’ Own welcomes the DES’s understanding that our definition of ‘Literacy’ is changing and that new technologies, for example, now play a crucial role in children’s learning styles and must be used to complement and enhance their development, rather than to be seen as an ‘additional skill’ for children to come to terms with. Children’s dexterity and fluency with technology can be greatly used to their advantage when developing in areas such as literacy and numeracy.

Similarly, Kids’ Own welcomes the understanding that literacy and numeracy can be developed by integrating teaching of these areas right across the curriculum, but we are concerned that the point of this holistic approach is being missed in the plan, where it outlines that “we will have to make choices: we will have to give priority to the improvement of literacy and numeracy over other desirable, important but ultimately less vital issues.”

This contradiction is continued throughout the plan.

Kids’ Own very much welcomes the following view, that:

All teachers should be teachers of literacy and numeracy and we should avoid the tendency to teach subject content in isolation from the core communication skills that all young people need to interact with all knowledge and life experiences.” (p.26)

But we believe this is heavily contradicted by the plan’s assumption that,

Curricula cannot mediate all issues that are of relevance to young people.” It goes on to say that,

“Including a broader range of issues, topics and subjects in school curricula inevitably has meant that the time available for the acquisition and consolidation of critical core skills has been eroded.” (p.25)

We believe that this assumption is gravely misguided and that some of the subject areas mentioned here, such as social and life skills, arts and music education, can have an enormously beneficial impact on literacy and numeracy if delivered through an integrated approach, such as the plan in other places tries to promote.

The reference to the importance that pre-school education has for later development in schools is a point that Kids’ Own strongly welcomes within the draft plan, as well as the recommendation to broaden the implementation of frameworks such as Síolta and Aistear. The recognition of the importance of play for pre-school children is crucial, and strongly supports an argument for a continuum of creative learning approaches into primary and secondary level education. (This is also supported by the reference within the plan to “discontinuity” between levels of education – p.26.)

The plan refers to “high-quality preschools” but does not outline what factors constitute an understanding of ‘high-quality’.

While Kids’ Own recognises that ongoing assessment and monitoring of children’s ability is important, we are concerned by the emphasis on “learning outcomes” and standardised testing, which does not favour an understanding of the individual levels and abilities of different children. The nature of this testing and these “outcomes” should be more clearly specified. It is our belief that testing will not bear any positive influence on children’s levels of literacy and numeracy.

Kids’ Own is cautious about the plan’s recommendation to introduce “robust national standards,” as our concern is that this fails to recognise the varying abilities and talents of young people and will penalise those who do not meet the standards, irrespective of the fact that they may still be improving and developing. It takes no account of the ‘multiple intelligences’ of children and does not reflect an understanding that children show their intelligences in different ways.

Increased training and professional development for teachers is welcomed, although the nature and focus of this training is crucial and is not fully detailed within the draft plan. Kids’ Own would recommend training for teachers in more creative approaches to literacy and numeracy over instruction towards greater and more rigorous assessment procedures.

Similarly, we strongly welcome the plan’s emphasis on family learning and enabling parents to have a more active role in their children’s learning and literacy development.

Kids’ Own welcomes the plan’s recommendations to cater more for the reading tastes of boys and also welcomes the plan’s willingness to focus on young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and who become disaffected with school (p. 33). However, the ways in which it sets out to re-engage these groups are not entirely clear, beyond increased and more rigorous assessment procedures.

Kids’ Own is very concerned that the report makes no reference to cross-sectoral approaches for strengthening children’s literacy and numeracy. In a National Plan for improving literacy and numeracy in schools, it is a shame that no reference is made to engagement with library services to establish joint and cross-sectoral initiatives. Similarly, while we understand that school activity must always remain curriculum-focussed, we believe that literacy and numeracy (however these terms may be interpreted) can be developed by engaging children outside of the school environment as well as within the walls of the classroom, by connecting with other agencies and organisations across the community.