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Report finds achievement gap

The latest report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which devotes a section to cataloguing problems in the education system, has had an unhappy reception from teachers.

The OECD wants a longer school year (Ireland's school year is currently one of the shortest among the member states) to allow more time for the study of maths and science, areas where Irish pupils are achieving less than their counterparts. Generally, the report sees the education system as lagging behind the most advanced OECD member countries in several key respects.

It has also surprised observers by calling for national testing at ages seven and 11 and the publication of results which the report says might be used to allocate extra resources to poorly-performing schools, "rather than accept poor results supposedly associated with social background."

The organisation is also concerned that almost a quarter of pupils do not complete secondary education and a constant minority of children start secondary school without necessary skills, because performance varies considerably across primary schools .

The report suggested that the extra resources created by the falling birth rate should be poured into poorly performing schools. It has also cast doubts on the wisdom of the government's decision to abolish university tuition fees from next year. Instead, it recommended more carefully targeted grants for low-income students.

The teacher unions have rejected the OECD's recommendations, which Charlie Lennon, general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, described as "confused and confusing".

OECD Economic Survey: Ireland 1995, Pounds 1R 16.50 from Government Publications Office, Molesworth Street, Dublin.

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