Today I have released the final report of the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy.
Entitled Teaching Reading, the Report strongly recommends the use of a phonics-based teaching method – founded on proven and evidence-based strategies – to give students the best possible opportunity to learn to read and write in the early years of schooling. The Report cautions against the exclusive use of the whole-language approach to the teaching of reading and finds it to be: “...not in the best interests of children, particularly those experiencing reading difficulties” (p.12 of the Report).
The Inquiry found that in the first three years of school – and beyond if necessary – all children learn to read most effectively through an approach to reading that explicitly teaches:
- phonics (or the relationship between letters and sounds)
- phonemic awareness (or the ability to hear and manipulate the sounds in oral language)
- fluency (or the ability to read quickly and naturally, recognise words automatically, and group words quickly)
- vocabulary knowledge (or understanding new words and what they mean)
- text comprehension (or understanding what is being read and developing higher-order thinking skills)
The Report also highlights the issue of teacher quality, noting that: “Teachers are the most valuable resource available to schools” and “highly effective teachers and their professional learning do make a difference in the classroom” (p. 7 & 19 of the Report).
Building a teacher’s ability to teach well is a major focus of the Report with many recommendations aimed at improving teaching techniques: “Teachers must have access to, understand, know, and be able to use teaching strategies that have consistently been shown from evidence-based research findings to be demonstrably effective” (p. 37 of the Report).
I welcome the Inquiry’s specific and very important recommendations in relation to teacher education. It is critical that teacher education institutions make the preparation of teachers to teach reading their key focus. The Inquiry’s literature review found that it is the quality of teaching which has the largest impact on a child learning to read, greater than the impact of a child’s background or family circumstances. The Report also recommends regular and meaningful assessment of a child’s progress in the early years of the schooling. This enables literacy problems to be identified and addressed in what are the crucial formative years.
Too many of our children are not achieving even minimum standards in reading. In 2003, 8 per cent of Year 3 children and 11 per cent of Years 5 and 7 children did not achieve minimum national benchmarks. The results for Indigenous children are even more disturbing. It is unacceptable that a significant number of Australian children are barely able to read and write.
I am determined that we not fail our children in this task. Literacy is the fundamental key to a child’s future success, happiness and ability to participate as a contributing adult member of society. The Government is committed to ensuring that all Australian children achieve high standards of literacy and that they acquire essential reading skills. The Government has already committed to:
- A $300 million Australian Government Quality Teacher Programme (AGQTP) - the Government’s flagship initiative for improving the quality of school teaching and school leadership in Australian schools
- The establishment of Teaching Australia - the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (formerly NQITSL). The Government has committed $30 million to Teaching Australia over the five years to 2009
- The ongoing Inquiry by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Education and Vocational Training into Teacher Training
The Government will now closely examine the findings of this important Report and its identification of best practice in literacy teaching and teacher preparation. Moving forward I intend to ensure that:
- Its recommendations inform improvements to the way teachers are trained and accredited in this country to teach our children to read
- Its recommendations are formally considered by Education Ministers through the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA)
- Australian children are sensibly assessed in their early years of schooling regarding their progress in literacy
I congratulate and thank the Chair of the Inquiry, Dr Ken Rowe, members of the Committee, and all those involved in the Inquiry on their outstanding commitment to improving reading and literacy in Australia.
From Ministerial media release MIN 2061/05, 8 December 2005