Scandal of Mid Ulster’s ‘illiterate’ school children

editorial image

Despite increased teacher and student efforts, a total of 127 students in the Mid Ulster area left school in 2015 without the reading and writing skills required to cope with the demands of everyday life.

Figures released this week at the Northern Ireland Assembly by the Department of Education reveal that 6.6 percent of pupils in the local district scored less than a G grade in GCSE English, which means they are classed as ‘functionally illiterate’.

Fermanagh and Omagh had the highest rates of illiteracy in the North, with 8.5% of pupils failing to get a G grade or higher in GCSE English, while Mid and East Antrim had the lowest rates at 3.8%.

The Mid Ulster percentage was slightly worse than the Northern Ireland average, which stands at 6%.

According to education experts, not being able to obtain the most basic grade in GCSE English means a student has a lower standard of literacy than is needed to partake fully in employment, family life, citizenship and to enjoy reading for its own sake.

The biggest cause of poor literacy is coming from a deprived background, with such children more likely to make a poor start in education and fall rapidly behind.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said he was concerned by the figures. “That the percentage that left without a Grade G in English across the North is around the same level should be of no comfort to anyone”, he said. “These children will find it more difficult to find a job and integrate fully into society in their future lives. More effort is required by all concerned to ensure that every child is engaged and educated during their school years.”

The figures were released in the aftermath of calls for the reinstatement of a ground-breaking education scheme scheme which improved the literacy and numeracy skills in in areas of high deprivation.

The Delivering Social Change Signature Project ran from 2013 to 2015 and targeted pupils in primary schools and post-primary schools who struggled to reach basic standards in English and maths.

However, the project was discontinued by the Executive last year due to a lack of money.