The Conveyor Belt of Failure in Australia

Having been involved in dyslexia advocacy for some years, I have seen this data floating around for some time. The figures are startling but sometimes it takes a picture to really bring it home.

This vivid graphic depicting the many awful consequences that can befall the 19% who fail to learn to read proficiently in Australia’s education system (PIRLS 2016) is one of those. I saw this graphic before I headed off to the MCG to see my football team lose in front of a crowd of 53,000 and I took in the reality of what 53,000 people looks like and turned them all into 10-year-olds in my mind. Frankly, I felt sick.

Every year a new batch of more than 50,000 kids are left to negotiate the world without the literacy skills they deserve and should rightfully have. The statistics of associated mental health issues, prison pathways, bullying, lost potential etc are nothing short of alarming and yet EVERY year it keeps on happening.

Now I’m not a teacher, but I accept the science of what I read. The science has been in for quite some time – and from many sources.

There was a big inquiry into the teaching of reading in 2005. It concluded with 20 recommendations. The first two recommendations were: 1. Teachers be equipped with teaching strategies based on findings from rigorous, evidence-based research that are shown to be effective in enhancing the literacy development of all children. 2. Teachers provide systematic, direct and explicit phonics instruction so that children master the essential alphabetic code-breaking skills required for foundational reading proficiency.

14 years after that inquiry, debate still rages and the pushback against those recommendations continues.

(Pause here and do some maths. If we average it out to 50,000 kids a year failing to read at proficient standard in grade 4 since the 2005 inquiry was released, that’s at least 700,000 kids since that ignored inquiry alone.)

I find it baffling that reading has become a political battleground with claims of right vs left viewpoints. Meanwhile the conveyor belt doesn’t stop. Another bumper MCG crowd worth of kids is falling over the edge every year while academics and politicians argue. The ‘balanced literacy’ advocates cry that their method is superior, and yet the 19% failure rate persists.

As Jennifer Buckingham states in The Conversation (Dec 6, 2017): “The PIRLS statistics will be thoroughly dissected and debated. But it’s important to remember these statistics represent real children.”

Maybe think about that the next time you are watching your footy team play.

Have a look at our other journal articles for more details on evidence based teaching methods and stay tuned for more blogs with more details of the flagship schools who are bucking the trends.

We need to stop the conveyor belt .

Carolyn Merritt
Vice Chair
Code Read Dyslexia Network

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