Limerick DEIS Primary Schools’ Literacy Initiative

Short summary

This was a regional initiative that was directly related to DEIS literacy targets and was specifically alleged to the 2010 national strategy to improve literacy amongst children. It was rolled out in 2011 in Limerick City and was funded by DES. It focussed on the continual professional development of primary school teachers to support best practice in oral language and literacy instruction. It was a city-wide initiative based in all DEIS primary schools (15 schools). It is a collaborative initiative between the Department of Education and Skills (DES),Mary Immaculate College (MIC),Limerick Education Centre and primary school teachers. It also included input from the PDST (Professional Development Service for Teachers) and external advisers (DES). The project has now moved its focus to numeracy CPD for teachers.  

The project was located in the most economically and socially disadvantaged areas of Limerick city. The targeted schools catered for children coming from low-income families and whose parents themselves had poor literacy and numeracy skills. It was a cooperative multi-agency response to address shortcomings and provided enhanced opportunities for learning in both spoken and written literacy. The initiative targeted under-performing children and through positive intervention (via enhanced teacher practice) helped raised oral and general literacy skills. All parties (policy makers, MIC, Limerick Education Centre and most importantly schools and teachers) contributed to the formation of good practice literacy materials, including evaluation of same, to enhance children’s literacy development.  The emphasis was on the whole-school approach to literacy and oral language with the aim of upskilling and deepening teachers’ understanding of literacy instruction. There was an emphasis on sharing, extending and supporting good practice and supporting school principals and teachers in the management and delivery of change and leading literacy in their school. The CPD activities were delivered by MIC lecturers with expertise in literacy working in Initial Teacher Education. 

Context of good practice

Limerick DEIS Primary Schools Literacy Initiative focuses on the continued professional development of teachers to support best practice in oral language and literacy instruction and the application of advanced literacy approaches at whole-school level. This is a city-wide initiative involving all DEIS Primary Schools (15) in the city.

The initiative emerged from a partnership involving the Department of Education and Skills (Limerick Office),Mary Immaculate College, and Limerick Education Centre. The project targeted the most economically and socially disadvantaged areas of Limerick City. It focussed on the continual professional development of primary school teachers to support best practice in oral language and literacy instruction. It carried out an audit of school knowledge and skills, and literacy resources available in schools and then developed an intensive CPD programme on literacy instruction that was delivered by a range of personnel including literacy experts at MIC.

A comprehensive CPD programme was developed using different approaches such as: formal lectures on literacy current and best practice in literacy instruction, teacher mentoring and training, lesson observation of teachers and feedback of lessons observed. The aim was to embed the lessons learnt at a whole school level. There were also innovative practices such as Open Days at Schools where teachers could visit a school and observe literacy lessons. There was a share of good practice sessions and for instance, teachers presented observations etc. at formal national education conferences. The initiative also led to the development of a Limerick Literacy Community of Practice which was facilitated by MIC.

Main characteristics of the challenge, description of the target group

The initiative was targeted at the most socially and economically disadvantaged areas of Limerick city. In terms of child health, 30% of children included in the Literacy Initiative, were diagnosed with physical health problems and 14% had mental health issues. Moreover, children in DEIS communities are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. The lack of literacy skills (often prevalent amongst parents too) starts prior to primary education and continued up through the education system. A failure to narrow the gap perpetuates the situation and recreates a cycle of disadvantage. As a result of research evidence, initiatives including Literacy were introduced and funded as an intensive drive towards reversing historic failure to address the widening divide in privilege. Increasing capacity across the education field was an early major target of DEIS and reflected the realisation that tackling educationally disadvantaged required a multi-pronged approach, focussing not just on the children, their parents and community but also on the teachers and school community themselves.  

Success factors and processes

1. Preparation: identifying the problem and outlining resolution (necessary tools, etc.) 

Flexible blueprint pre-implementation (of CPD etc.) after careful investigation/research on perceived ‘needs’ of the school community. An audit of school knowledge and skills and resources available in schools was carried out prior to the CPD programme and this enabled the utilisation of comments from staff and evaluators. There was cooperation amongst the schools and a shared ethos to improve children’s literacy. There were a desire and appetite for innovative practice. 

2. Description of main activities; the approach used (necessary tools, timeframe, etc.)

A collaboration of agencies were involved in preparing, producing, scheduling and delivering CPD. There were knowledge generation, expertise sharing and peer learning via the sharing of good practice lessons etc. It was both policy informed and an evidence-based project.  It leads to the development of teacher confidence in literacy instruction and they were more open to adopting a new practice. There was cultural cohesiveness through the development of high team identity. This lead to creativity and sharing of good practice. The initiative included: peer observation; open classrooms; literacy tutors twinning with schools; CPD tailored to schools’ needs and teacher networking.

3. Useful competencies of a problem-solving team to reach main aim (necessary tools, etc.)

The initiative enabled the development of democratic co-ownership and sharing of knowledge and expertise. The Steering committee which led the project was consultative and included members from DES, MIC, Schools and Limerick Education Centre.  There was a willingness to continually review, tweak and steer the initiative in a cooperative way and there was consistent framing within educational policy. There was positive engagement with school principals, teachers, literacy tutors, Steering committee and local agencies.

4. What is the estimated timeframe of implementation? Is this a quick solution or a long-term investment? When is it recommended to be carried out? 

An initiative such as this requires long-term investment and needs to begin in the pre-school years (Early Years Education) to be even more effective on the life of a child.

Impact of measures taken

The initiative had a positive effect on. 

It developed a strong community of practice within the DEIS schools in Limerick that incorporated school principals and teachers. It led to the sharing of good practice and helped build teacher confidence in innovative literacy instruction. It also enhanced children’s literacy skills in Limerick city. It built a strong democratic multiagency response to literacy instruction in Limerick city.

Lessons learned

  • Individual levels of ‘improvement’ will not be uniform across the board;
  • Conception by some that overall levels of improvement in literacy are not great enough to justify costs involved;
  • Misconceptions on the part of some regarding the levels of ‘improvement’ that are  feasible/or what to use as comparison;
  • The vital importance of having a strong, trusting partnership and a commitment to collaborative teaching and learning;
  • The importance of having a strong principals’ network in Limerick and the support it has provided to individual principals in the context of the key leadership roles they play in their schools and communities, particularly in leading whole-school approaches to literacy;
  • The importance of mentoring within schools which aids the development of good practice within a supportive environment; 
  • The value of strong partnerships between government departments with academic institutions and statutory bodies (Mary Immaculate College and the Limerick Education Centre) in sustaining projects in the longer term to continue improving educational outcomes for children;
  • Availability of good quality professional development courses and support available to practitioners and that is tailored to their experiences;
  • Having fora and meeting places for exchanging and discussing ideas that are both formal and informal;
  • The importance of the ‘bush telegraph’;
  • Taking parents/community along as partners within the initiative (provision of targeted adult literacy classes alongside a school initiative);
  • That the involvement in an initiative such as this (via planning, presenting at sharing events and/or the broader knowledge gained through the CPD ) has spin-offs for the entire school in term of school improvement endeavours outside of literacy;
  • The initiative built upon national priorities for literacy targets;
  • The transferability to other key areas of the primary curriculum – currently the lessons learnt are being transferred to a Limerick city numeracy initiative.

Resources needed

A “good practice” course should include:

  • Adequate funding and time allowing both continuity and sustainability; 
  • Cross agency collaboration;
  • The crucial role of literacy leaders (network teachers, principals and literacy coordinators) in prioritising literacy and who focus on school improvement;
  • The involvement of parents, community and other caring services;
  • Good quality and appropriate CPD and materials that are targeted at the particular group;
  • The development of teacher confidence (in literacy instruction) and support from their school principal, HEI experts and other agencies;
  • Targeted literacy interventions such as differentiated and inclusive teaching, guided reading that are developed and reviewed regularly and which are based on the identified needs of the children in each specific school;
  • Varied assessment methods and a whole-school approach to assessment and data analysis of same to improve teaching and learning; 
  • Whole-school approaches to the implementation of a balanced literacy framework, including a strong focus on oral language development;
  • Inspiration and doggedness to persist;
  • Initiative making and taking;
  • Gradual building and the sustainment of knowledge and experience;
  • A willingness to discard attitudes and practices and experiment with something different;
  • Time;
  • Good communications and willingness to share ideas;
  • Lastly and most importantly, while the education system alone cannot resolve the very complex issue of disadvantage singlehandedly, there can be very positive outcomes when there is collaboration and partnership with schools from government departments, academic institutions and statutory bodies. Schools play a very important role in influencing interventions that directly impact on children and their ability to obtain maximum benefit from the education system.

Any other information

A selection of IRLS for Limerick DEIS Primary Schools Literacy Initiative (some with multiple references: in no particular order and subject to revision, many will have relevance to more than one project)

Limerick Education Centre:

Limerick DEIS Primary Schools Literacy Initiative:

Limerick DEIS Primary Schools Literacy Initiative. Promoting Communities of Effective Practice Report Available from email:

Limerick DEIS Primary Schools’ Literacy Initiative, using our EFFeCT Criteria’ for the analysis of evidence to support and challenge practice and outcomes:

Improving Literacy Outcomes: Bridging the Gap (TED, 2015):

Department of Education and Skills: Literacy and Numeracy Strategy:

Review of Policy in Support of Literacy Development in DEIS Schools (DUC, 2018)

A Balanced Approach to Literacy Development (NEPS):

Reading Recovery:

Curriculum Development Unit, Focus on Fluency:

European Literacy Policy Network (Country Report Ireland):

Department of Education and Skills, Information relating to Standardised Testing:

Dormant Accounts Fund – Limerick DEIS scheme:

Evaluation of the Doodle Families Literacy Programme (Limerick):

Limerick Kids Graduate with Improved Literacy Skills:

The Junior Certificate School Programme – information on Literacy Initiatives:

Citizens Information: Measures to address Educational Disadvantage:

A DEIS school’s example of how they use Literacy and Numeracy schemes:

Irish Government News Service, New targets for Literacy and Numeracy (2017):

National Reforms in School Education (Ireland):

Irish Times March 28th 2017 Project Maths: Or is it just Maths?

Project Maths – Learning and Teaching for the 21st Century:

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Target group of good practice:

School leaders & Teacher educators




Dr Carmel O’Doherty


CEO Limerick Education Centre

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