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O’Dowd welcomes publication of ‘hugely significant’ report and commends primary school communities

11 December, 2012 - by John O'Dowd

The attainment of pupils in our primary schools in reading and numeracy is higher than in any other English speaking country in the world according to an international report published today.

Education Minister, John O’Dowd, has described the publication of the report as hugely significant.

For the first time, pupils in P6 (9-10 year olds) were assessed against their international counterparts as part of two studies - the Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). The results show that our primary school pupils are performing well above the international average in both literacy, where our pupils are ranked 5th out of 45 countries surveyed and numeracy, where they are ranked 6th out of 50 surveyed. In science, our pupils were ranked 21st, also scoring significantly above the international average.

Mr O’Dowd said: “The importance and significance of these findings cannot be underestimated. This is the first time we have measured our primary level schools against international standards and the results are truly impressive. In numeracy we rank just behind a group of high-performing pacific-rim countries, whilst in both reading and numeracy we are the highest-ranked English speaking region in the world.

“Indeed 19% of our children in reading and 24% in mathematics are performing at the advanced international benchmark – the highest level possible. This compares with international averages of 8% and 4% respectively.

“These statistics have shown the exceptional results our system is producing at primary level education. I would like to pay tribute to all who work in our system from the early years through primary education for their hard work and dedication. These statistics have shown the impact their work is having. Pupils, teachers, all school staff, leaders and governors should be justifiably proud today of what they are achieving.

“Indeed, this morning I wrote to the principals of all local primary schools to commend them on the excellent work they and their staff are doing on a daily basis and to thank them for the impact it is having.

“In many ways the statistics confirm what we already know from other sources. Our Key Stage Two outcomes show high attainment at primary level education and the recently published Chief Inspector’s report found that the overall effectiveness is good or better in 78% of primary schools inspected. The quality of leadership and management at all levels has improved and is now good or better in 78% of the schools inspected - up from 68% in the last reporting period. The report attributed the improvement to a ‘culture of self-evaluation’ and the middle management role in implementing and evaluating practice.

“It is clear that the characteristics of a good school are being embedded in our system: good teaching and good leadership with strong community engagement and a clear focus on the needs of the pupil. It is also clear that the policies we have been implementing in recent years are working and that our young people are reaping the benefits.”

This is the first time our system has been benchmarked against international standards at primary level. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has already shown us that our post-primary students at age 15 are at the international average in reading and mathematics and above the average in science.

The Minister continued: “It is clear that our policies are working well in early stages of a child’s education. Extra investment in early years services alongside the implementation of policies in recent years aimed at raising educational standards have had an impact on attainment. We know the barriers to children fulfilling their potential and we have policies in place to tackle them successfully.

“Standards are rising at all levels as recent GCSE and A-Level results show - this year, for example, the numbers achieving 5 or more GCSEs at grades A*-C increased by 2.4 percentage points. I believe our next challenge is to quicken the pace of improvement in the post-primary sector. I want our young people to be entering the world of further and higher education and work with the same advantages with which they complete their primary education. We will be receiving the results of the next PISA survey at the end of next year and that will provide us with further information on how this work is progressing at post-primary level.

“The visit of representatives from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) early next year now has new significance. These independent experts will draw on all available information, including the statistics released today, to complete an in-depth review of our education system. They will seek to use international best practice to advise us on how to deliver educational improvements for all pupils.”

In conclusion the Minister said: “Today’s results are hugely significant. They provide us with evidence that our policies are working. I wish to consider these findings in more detail and I look forward to receiving the report from the OECD. The evidence we will then have will be crucial in taking action to build on the strong foundations in our system and ensure this high standard of educational attainment continues for the length of our children’s time at school.”

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