Education minister John O'Dowd announces £3.4m bid to boost to literacy

Education minister John O'Dowd has launched a new project to boost primary school literacy, especially for pupils with special educational needs.

He will spend £3.4m on giving teachers improved skills in teaching reading, writing and spelling.

He also wants to reduce the numbers referred for psychological assessment because of literacy difficulties.

The initiative was announced at a reception for schools rated outstanding or very good at their last inspection.

Professional development course focussed on literacy teaching skills will be held at Stranmillis University College and St Mary's University College.

Currently, primary schools do not have the specialist training to diagnose and treat serious literacy problems.

The courses will be offered to all primary teachers, via their computers, but schools will also be offered the chance for two people to do more intensive training. For some that could lead to a Masters degree.

As an added bonus, special needs pupils should be able to avoid long waits for psychological assessment, with teachers doing the job instead. The training as been welcomed by school principals.

Mr O'Dowd said: "Today's event is an important opportunity to highlight the excellent work that is being done in schools and pre-school settings right across the north.

Strategy

"My vision is for every school here to achieve at a similar high level, regardless of location or the socio-economic background of pupils.

"Count, read: succeed, my department's strategy to improve outcomes in literacy and numeracy, has a challenging target of at least 90% of pupils attaining the expected level of literacy by the time they leave primary school and this project will help support the effective delivery of this strategy.

"The new programme will also seek to significantly reduce the number of children referred for psychological assessment of literacy difficulties," he added.

"This will in turn ensure that the education psychology service can cater even better for the needs of pupils with SEN.

"I am committed to providing a service that will improve outcomes for every child here, and this means identifying conditions such as dyslexia early and providing remedial, effective help."

The programme will be available to the first group of schools in the academic year starting in September.

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