Kudos to NSW for phonics check trial

Blaise Joseph

21 June 2019 | Ideas@TheCentre

The NSW budget included some very welcome education news: a trial of the Year 1 phonics screening check in some government schools.

This is a great outcome for NSW children, and CIS is particularly pleased to see it, as we have been advocating this policy for several years.

South Australia was the first state to have a trial — the feedback on which was overwhelmingly positive from students, teachers, and principals — and now conducts the check annually in all government schools (it is bi-partisan policy, with the trial having been introduced by the then Labor government).

There shouldn’t be anything partisan about wanting to ensure high-quality reading instruction in the early years of school. It is well-established that early reading ability is crucial and strongly influences later literacy skills and achievement across subject areas. It’s vital we identify students who are falling behind as soon as possible so we can intervene to help them.

And phonics instruction is especially important for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. A comprehensive review by the NSW Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation found that explicit phonics instruction substantially reduces the reading gap between disadvantaged and advantaged students.

The context is that too many children aren’t learning how to read in primary school. The 2016 PIRLS test found that one in every five Australian Year 4 students had reading levels below the international literacy benchmark.

While the focus in the past has been on lifting education spending, it is more important that school systems implement evidence-based policies, with accountability and transparency.

The NSW government also announced in the budget that, along with a significant increase in school spending, in future, there will be an outcomes-based approach to NSW schools. Unsurprisingly, this was controversial, with a former NSW education minister labelling it a “bad idea”.

Imagine… a government wanting to ensure that additional billions of taxpayer dollars spent on schools actually leads to better outcomes? Just outrageous.

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