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An electronic journal for leaders in education
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The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy

Brendan Nelson

The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy reaffirms the Australian Government's commitment to ensuring that all Australian children achieve high standards of literacy and that they acquire essential reading skills to equip them with the foundation for learning in school, and throughout their lives.

The Inquiry will conduct an independent examination of reading research, teacher training and classroom practices for the teaching of reading. There will also be an examination of the way reading skills are tested. The Inquiry will be further informed by a review of national and international research on reading methods, including those used to help students with reading difficulties.

An independent Committee, chaired by Dr Ken Rowe, a Research Director at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), will conduct the Inquiry. The Committee comprises highly experienced people with backgrounds in literacy research and policy, teacher preparation and practice, classroom teaching of reading, and, importantly, a parent experienced in trying to assist her child deal with reading difficulties.

The Committee, assisted by a broad Reference Group, will consult widely, and interested groups will have the opportunity to provide written submissions.

The Inquiry will be conducted in consultation with government and non-government school education authorities, the teaching profession, universities, parents and researchers.

A report will be provided in the second half of 2005, and will offer best practice in literacy teaching and the implications of this for teacher preparation, classroom teaching practice and supporting teacher professional learning.


Terms of Reference

The Australian Government is working with the States and Territories to ensure all Australian children achieve high standards of literacy and numeracy. A key Australian Government priority is to focus on achieving real, sustained improvements in the literacy and numeracy skills of Australian children to better prepare them for their futures.

In April 1999, the State, Territory and Australian Government Ministers for Education met in Adelaide as the 10th Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA), and endorsed new National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century, known as the Adelaide Declaration. In relation to literacy and numeracy, it was agreed that upon leaving school:
students should have attained the skills of numeracy and English literacy; such that every student should be numerate, able to read, write, spell and communicate at an appropriate level.
To help support the achievement of these National Goals, the Australian Government and the State and Territory Education Ministers have endorsed a National Literacy and Numeracy Plan, which calls for a coordinated approach to improving literacy and numeracy standards at the national level. Under the National Plan, Ministers agreed to support:

  • assessment of all students by their teachers as early as possible in the initial years of schooling;
  • early intervention strategies for those students identified as having difficulty;
  • the development of agreed benchmarks for Years 3, 5 and 7, against which all children's achievement in these years can be measured;
  • the measurement of students' progress against these benchmarks using rigorous assessment procedures;
  • national reporting of student achievement against the benchmarks;
  • professional development for teachers to support the key elements of the Plan.
International data indicate that Australian school students compare well with the performance of students in other OECD countries, but some are still not achieving acceptable literacy standards. This Inquiry reaffirms the Australian Government's commitment to ensuring that all Australian children achieve high standards of literacy and the essential reading skills to make satisfactory progress at school.

The Inquiry will be conducted in consultation and co-operation with government and non-government school education authorities, the teaching profession, universities, parents and researchers. To implement the Inquiry, a Committee will be established to provide advice and recommendations to the Minister for Education, Science and Training on best practice in effective approaches to literacy teaching and the implications of this advice for teacher preparation and teaching. It will also report on current classroom practice for the teaching of reading. The Committee will be further assisted by a Reference Group.


Objectives of the Inquiry

The Inquiry will:

  • Review and analyse recent national and international research about literacy teaching approaches, particularly approaches that are shown to be effective in assisting students with reading difficulties.
  • Identify the extent to which prospective teachers are provided with reading teaching approaches and skills that are effective in the classroom, and have the opportunities to develop and practice the skills required to implement effective classroom reading programs. Training in both phonics and whole language approaches to reading will be examined.
  • Identify the ways in which research evidence on literacy teaching and policies in Australian schools can best inform classroom teaching practice and support teacher professional learning.
  • Examine the effectiveness of assessment methods being used to monitor the progress of students' early reading learning.
  • Produce a report of the Inquiry's findings in the second half of 2005 and offer best practice in effective approaches to literacy teaching and learning, both at the classroom level and in the training of teachers.

Committee Members

  • Chair: Dr Ken Rowe, Research Director of the Learning Processes and Contexts research program at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)
  • Professor Alan Rice AM, Dean (Interim) at the Australian Centre for Educational Studies at Macquarie University
  • Ms Yvonne Meyer, the parent of a child who had reading and writing difficulties
  • Dr Gregor Ramsey, the Chair for the National Institute for Quality Teaching and School Leadership
  • Professor Terry Lovat, President of the Australian Council of Deans of Education and Pro Vice-Chancellor of the Faculty of Education and Arts at the University of Newcastle
  • Ms Fiona Knight specialist in literacy in the early years of schooling and a teacher at Rosedale Primary School in rural Victoria
  • Mr Ken Smith, Director-General of Education and the Arts and Chair of the MCEETYA Performance, Measuring and Reporting Taskforce
  • Ms Miranda Devine, a widely read columnist with the Sydney Morning Herald, with a strong focus on issues relevant to Australian parents and families
  • Professor Bill Louden, Pro Vice Chancellor (Research) and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia
  • Ms Lina Scalfino is the Principal of Modbury School (Preschool - Year 7).

Reference Group

The Inquiry Committee will be supported by a broad Reference Group drawn from government and non-government school education authorities, the teaching profession and education specialists, universities, parents and researchers. The Reference Group will be comprised of experts in the teaching of literacy and representatives from the following stakeholder organisations:

  • Australian Education Systems Officials Committee (AESOC)
  • the National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC)
  • the Independent Schools Council of Australia (ISCA)
  • Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE)
  • The Indigenous College of Education and Research (ICER), University of South Australia
  • Australian Literacy Educators' Association (ALEA)
  • Primary English Teaching Association (PETA)
  • Australian Association for the Teaching of English (AATE)
  • Speech Pathology Australia
  • Australian Federation of SPELD (Solutions for People Experiencing Learning Difficulties) Associations
  • Australian Association of Special Education (AASE)
  • National Council on Intellectual Disability (NCID)
  • Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA)
  • Australian Secondary Principals Association (ASPA)
  • Australian Principals Associations Professional Development Council
  • Australian Council of Education Research (ACER)
  • Australian Council of State School Organisations (ACSSO)
  • Australian Parents Council (APC)
  • Australian Education Union (AEU)
  • Independent Education Union of Australia (IEU).
The Reference Group will assist the Committee to maintain linkages with the broad education community and will be asked to comment on key documents, such as the literature review and development of the Committee's final report.


This article is an edited version of a media release, 30 November 2004, from Dr Brendan Nelson, Australian Government Minister for Education, Science and Training.

KLA

Subject Headings

Education policy
Educational evaluation
English language teaching
Literacy