Expert panel recommends ACT government overhaul literacy and numeracy education with more centralised approach

Expert panel recommends ACT government overhaul literacy and numeracy education with more centralised approach
  • PublishedMay 2, 2024

Stephanie Sleen’s son has reached Year 3 at a Canberra public school, but his family have been spending thousands of dollars out of their pockets on private literacy tutors.

“He’s very, very behind on his literacy,” Ms Sleen said.

“We’ve been paying about a thousand dollars a term for tutors since grade 1 to get him up to speed with literacy because it hasn’t been taught in an evidence-based way in the ACT.”

“We’ve had a psychologist interview my son, and they feel like there isn’t a learning disability per se, he’s more a casualty of poor instruction.”

Ms Sleen said she been pleading with the government to overhaul its teaching of literacy and numeracy.

She said today she was heartened by the release of the final report of an expert panel on literacy and numeracy education in the ACT.

The report has recommended, among other things, compulsory phonics tests for students in Year 1, to check their reading ability.

“I think it’s way too late for my own child, and maybe even my preschooler, but I’m so happy that other parents are not going to have to go through what we’ve gone through as parents,” she said.

“My son has been put at harm, he’s old enough to know now that he’s behind, and its really confronting as a parent to see your child suffering like that.

“The recommendations are great, they’re amazing, so let’s just see the money get put towards it.”

A woman puts a children's lunchbox into a backpack
Stephanie Sleen hopes other families will have a better experience in the ACT education system.(ABC News: Harry Frost)

A ‘game changer’

The panel was set up in November last year after a report found one third of 15-year-olds in the ACT were below the Australian standard for proficient reading.

They’ve made eight recommendations to the ACT government which centre around creating a more centralised approach to literacy education.

An overhaul of the assessment strategy for students has also been recommended, including compulsory phonics tests in Year 1, and progress checks for students finishing Years 6 and 10.

“We’re recommending a greater consistency of literacy and numeracy teaching across the ACT, and more support from the system to enable that consistency,” said panel chair Barney Dalgarno.

“When you look at the comparison between ACT students and students from similar kinds of family backgrounds nationally, ACT students could do better.”

A man wearing glasses with a faint smile.
Barney Dalgarno from the University of Canberra chaired the panel.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

The report found schools in the ACT are currently “highly autonomous”, resulting in a “a high degree of variability between schools, with significant workload implications for both teachers and school leaders”.

Mr Dalgarno said the panel has recommended this change for the betterment of student outcomes, but also to reduce the workload of teachers.

“What I would really hope to see in a few years’ time, is more teachers saying ‘I’ve got my weekend back’, because I’m getting the support that I need, and I’m not having to do work that’s being duplicated across schools.”

That’s been welcomed by the Australian Education Union’s ACT branch, who said the changes could mean a reduced workload for over-burdened teachers.

“If this report is implemented properly, it’s a game changer, because it will tackle that workload by providing so much of that material centrally,” Ms Burroughs said.

“High-quality central support will stop the duplicative workload that is occurring across our 91 schools.

“It’s not only just giving them back their weekends, it’s about giving them back every evening of their week.”

A woman speaks in front of a microphone
ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry said the government accepts all the recommendations “in principle”.(ABC News: Ian Cutmore)

The ACT government has accepted all eight recommendations in principle, and said it would provide a “fulsome” response in June.

“The evidence that’s been collected and researched by the expert panel is telling us what we need to do and the reset that we can do in our public schools,” Education Minister Yvette Berry said.

“It’s making sure that we do provide the best possible education to every child, to meet every child where they’re at, and making sure that every child, regardless of their circumstances gets the best possible opportunities to a great education.”


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