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Literacy Guarantee

If elected in March 2018, a Marshall Liberal Government will implement a comprehensive program to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes for all students, with the benefit to be most profound for those students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties.

The Challenge

We want our schools to be the best in Australia, and for our students to be the beneficiaries of the best education system in Australia. A strong foundation in literacy for all students is utterly necessary for all other levels of education to be successful.

Many of our schools, and our teachers, are doing a great job. However our NAPLAN standardised test results rank South Australia as lowest or second lowest of all states in 18 of the 20 categories measured (2016 results). By this measure South Australia’s education system is performing more poorly than every other state; it is not good enough.

To improve our education system as a whole, we must put literacy first for all our students – we need a Literacy Guarantee.

Even the most conservative estimates show that more than one in ten students struggle with dyslexia and other learning difficulties. These students, who have persistent difficulty with reading and spelling, will benefit the most from our Literacy Guarantee.

Children with dyslexia and other learning difficulties face significant challenges at school which, if not tackled effectively, can hold them back for the rest of their lives. Not being able to effectively read and write is an extraordinary impediment to anyone’s ability to get the best possible start in life.

Students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties have suffered greatly from trendy teaching approaches such as ‘whole language learning’ used widely in Australia over recent decades, with traditional phonics spurned as ‘oldfashioned’.

Correcting this will not only improve educational outcomes but also general community well-being.

While the value of phonics in teaching young children is becoming more broadly understood, many teachers have not been effectively taught how to use phonics in the classroom, having undertaken their studies and training at a time when it was not included in the teaching curriculum.

Extensive scientific research has demonstrated that explicit phonics instruction is the most effective way to teach children how to read. Our schools must deliver the best possible literacy programs that meet the needs of students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties in particular.

This requires staff in all our schools to have an understanding of learning difficulties and an expectation that all students, including those with learning difficulties, will be able to achieve strong literacy outcomes.

The State Liberals' Plan

If elected in March 2018, a Marshall Liberal Government will implement a comprehensive program to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes for all students, with the benefit to be most profound for those students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties.

The program will comprise:

  1. Literacy coaches with expertise in phonics and teaching students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties
  2. Phonics checks for all Year One students in South Australia
  3. Free dyslexia workshops for parents across South Australia – including regional centres not currently serviced 
  4. Literacy Guarantee conferences providing professional development opportunities for teachers
  5. Parental engagement resources for schools and families
  6. Proficiency standards for NAPLAN testing
  7. Literacy and numeracy testing of any new teaching graduates to be employed in South Australian Government schools
  8. Ensuring all children get a chance, working with NGOs delivering evidence based literacy and numeracy programs targeted at disadvantaged children in their early years before they get to school
  9. Reviewing how SACE exams are conducted for students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties
  10. Make breakfast programs available to every school that needs one

1. Literacy coaches with expertise in phonics and teaching students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties

Establishment of a Literacy Guarantee Unit in the Department of Education and Child Development is a central plank of our policy. Led by a widely respected educator with expertise in dyslexia and other learning difficulties, the unit will include thirteen new literacy coaches with specialist experience in the teaching of students with learning difficulties.

These educators will provide direct teacher coaching in the most up to date evidence based methods and practices – including explicit systemic phonics.

Rather than the brief internet based phonics course currently made available for teachers to look at through the Department’s Learning Improvement Division, this new unit will deliver intensive courses to primary school teachers who would benefit from this coaching, through half-day sessions over the course of a term.

Schools would see their TRT and other relevant costs met to ensure they can participate without disadvantage.

These literacy coaches will also visit schools to observe the teachers in their classrooms, enabling feedback and direct support to the teachers and ensuring that improved teaching practices have direct impact where it counts.

Our Literacy Guarantee model will see more than 500 teachers around South Australia up-skilled through this professional development opportunity every year.

To enable improved literacy teaching to spread through all schools, teachers who have undertaken the training will be supported to train others in their school through professional learning groups or through other models schools may already be using for shared professional development.

Different schools have different levels of need, both in terms of capacity of staff to deliver systemic phonics instruction and the level of their students’ needs. Schools would nominate to participate to ensure strong ‘buy-in’ to the training and follow through to secure ongoing benefits from the program.

 2. Phonics checks for all Year One students in South Australia 

A Marshall Liberal Government will deliver phonics based literacy and numeracy screening for all Year One students.

This follows the Federal Government’s announcement of the staged implementation of a nation-wide phonics assessment and the
development of a numeracy check and will build on the pilot program underway in some South Australian schools.

Such screening has been used in Britain since 2012 with children being tested through verbal identification of letters and sounds in words to  show that they understand how a word is formed and simple counting and identification of numbers and shapes.

The result has been dramatic improvement across the British education system, from about half of children meeting the expected standard to more than 80% now. This screening has enhanced teaching methods and improved levels of intervention for those children identified as needing the support.

3. Dyslexia parent workshops 

The Education Department currently provides some limited support to the non-government sector which runs dyslexia workshops for parents.

A Marshall Liberal Government will massively expand this support to ensure that parents across South Australia – including regional centres not currently serviced – receive vital information about how they can support their child’s learning, including free resources.

While the workshops will be targeted at giving support to parents, they will be delivered in partnership with local schools to ensure that the student’s needs are supported at home and at school.

4. Literacy Guarantee conferences 

A Marshall Liberal Government will provide funding to the Literacy Guarantee Unit to convene conferences during the mid-year school holidays for the benefit of teachers across South Australia who wish to improve their understanding of dyslexia and other learning difficulties, as well as phonics and other literacy and numeracy related best teaching practices.

Local, national and international experts, academics and teachers would be invited to speak at the conferences.

Their development will ensure all teachers at all schools have opportunities to continuously engage in professional development in this critical area – in addition to the opportunities provided for direct coaching from the Literacy Guarantee unit.

5. Parental engagement resources 

Research shows that positive engagement by parents, in effective partnership with the school, can have significant educational benefits, particularly in how much a student achieves at school. Further, the most significant educational impact is achieved when the parents are supported to provide that effective engagement in the home environment.

All parents want to help out in their child’s educational development but sometimes there are barriers to achieving the best possible outcomes – either through lack of confidence or through issues between the parent and the school.

A Marshall Liberal Government will:

  • provide resources to help parents understand how to most effectively engage with their child’s education;
  • ensure all schools provide avenues for parents to engage with teachers about their child’s education, including advanced notice of learning milestones and parental/child learning support strategies;
  • recognize the innovative work already being undertaken at some schools to improve parental engagement, including through the use of new technologies and ensure that sharing best practice across schools is a priority for all Education Directors; and
  • ensure professional development opportunities for teachers include new best practice models in effectively engaging with parents.

Further details about this part of the plan are available in the Liberal Policy document: Parental Engagement in School Education.

6. Proficiency standards for NAPLAN tests 

Currently NAPLAN test results are reported by analysis of individual students’ results (and states by aggregate of those results) against the National Minimum Standard set. That is the standard below which a student will struggle to advance to the next year of schooling but it is not a benchmark of academic success, or even proficiency.

The minimum standard is met by about 93% of students across Australia and exceeded by about 83% of students. The National Minimum Standard is an inadequate measure of a student’s proficiency. For a Year Nine student to meet the minimum standard in numeracy, for example, they could be operating
below the average Year Five student. The required standard is lower still in reading.

Australian students’ results in international testing, such as the “Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study”, have been deteriorating in recent years. We need to raise standards and part of doing that means we need to raise our expectations of what we can achieve.

While ‘minimum standards’ are important to identify the students who are slipping through the cracks, we believe that we can do more for all students. Reporting against ‘proficiency standards’ will give us a proper target of achievement to aim for.

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) – the body responsible for the national curriculum and the NAPLAN – is currently developing these ‘proficiency standards’ which will do just that but the Labor Government in South Australia hasn’t agreed to the plan for our students.

A Marshall Liberal Government will work with ACARA to ensure that these proficiency standards become the measure to which our students aspire. As ACARA General Manager for Assessment, Stanley Rabinowitz, has argued: “If you expect high things from young people, the challenge is then to meet them. That’s a better way to go, rather than just focusing on the minimum standard.”

7. Literacy and numeracy tests for teaching graduates 

A Marshall Liberal Government will require any graduate wishing to apply to teach in a South Australian Government school to pass a literacy and numeracy test.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has agreed to such testing but it is not being applied in a consistent manner across jurisdictions. In South Australia only those teachers who commence their teaching degree in 2017 will be required to undertake the test.

A Marshall Liberal Government will proceed on the basis that the needs of the child come first. In providing a Literacy Guarantee to South Australian children, all of their teachers should
be expected to meet reasonable minimum standards. Up to ten percent of teaching students and graduates participating in a pilot test were not able to meet the standard on their first attempt.

8. Early years support to address intergenerational disadvantage 

To ensure that all children get a chance in life, a Marshall Liberal Government will provide extra support programs targeted at the early years – particularly those that will impact on students in disadvantaged areas. Overcoming intergenerational disadvantage is no easy feat but all children deserve a Literacy Guarantee.

Our approach will partner with charities and government agencies already working in these areas, to deliver evidence based literacy and numeracy programs targeted at disadvantaged children in their early years before they get to school.

9. Review of how SACE exams are conducted 

Under a Marshall Liberal Government, the Department of Education and Child Development will work with the Board of the South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE), stakeholders and experts to review the way SACE exams are conducted and identify opportunities for systemic improvements for students with dyslexia and other learning difficulties.

10. Breakfast programs available to every school that needs one 

Thousands of disadvantaged students across South Australia fail to meet their academic potential – or indeed their potential in so many ways – because they come to school hungry. Hungry children are distracted in the classroom and suffer poor educational consequences as
well as poor health outcomes and low selfesteem. They can also present behavioural challenges for other students in their classrooms.

Breakfast programs introduced in a range of South Australian schools in recent years have led to strong benefits for students’ educational outcomes as well as health and wellbeing. The Literacy Guarantee policy recognises that students’ health and wellbeing is a critical precondition of their educational achievement and learning to read and write is no different. 

A Marshall Liberal Government will work with the non-government sector and the existing child wellbeing resources in the department and provide sufficient funding to make breakfast programs available to every school that needs one – with specialist support in place to help the most vulnerable of children who need this the most.