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Year 1 school students around Australia may be required to undertake literacy and numeracy checks in the near future.
An expert-panel report led by the Centre for Independent Studies has determined the literacy and numeracy of Australian students is low by international standards.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham says it shows early intervention is needed to ensure children do not fall behind.
“They’ve identified that around one in 20 — one in 20 — Australian children don’t meet the national minimum standard, in terms of their Year 3 literacy skills. Many, many more fail to meet a level of proficiency or adequacy in their skills, and, of course, at Year 3, it becomes that much harder to give targeted additional support to ensure they succeed. Earlier identification can lead to earlier intervention, and earlier intervention can help ensure children don’t fall behind. And that’s what this is all about.”
The report has found, while most schools assess children’s skills when they start, there is no nationally consistent approach and no mandatory follow-up.
The authors suggest short, one-on-one interviews between students and their regular teachers to detect at-risk children early enough for schools to ensure they master basic skills.
Mr Birmingham has assured parents the checks would not be an extension of NAPLAN testing.
He says, instead, the process would help young students become confident learners.
“It is a light-touch check delivered in the classroom by a teacher known to the child in a verbal, one-on-one manner, just to make sure that, right across the country, in every school, in every Year 1 classroom, our littlest learners are getting the help they need to succeed.”
Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek says Labor is open to the idea but is concerned about funding.
“It’s bizarre that you’ve got a Government that says, ‘We want to identify kids who are falling behind’ and then cuts $17 billion from schools, because it’s that money that would give those children the one-on-one attention they need to catch up. It makes no sense to have a new test that identifies kids who are falling behind if you’re not prepared to properly fund schools to help those children catch up.”
Australian Education Union president Correna Haythorpe has questioned whether Australia should be implementing a program she says has already failed overseas.
“This testing approach has come directly from the UK, and the Department of Education there has undertaken a formal evaluation after six years of the phonics test and they’ve found it doesn’t contribute to the improvement of literacy capabilities. So my question would be, ‘Why are we adopting something from the UK that’s already been proven not to work?”
South Australia is already trialling similar literacy and numeracy checks.
But Queensland has ruled out implementing the program.
Simon Birmingham says he is aiming for a national rollout by 2019.
(First published for SBS News on September 19 2017)