Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table. 3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.
The only way to determine accurately whether children are learning the fundamental phonics skills — the relationships between sounds in speech and the letter patterns in written words — they need for early acquisition of reading is to assess what they know at a critical early point in their schooling.
The Australian government proposed a phonics check for Year 1 students in its May 2016 budget. Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has since reiterated the government’s intention to introduce the Check in Australian schools.
There is a strong precedent for this policy. The UK government introduced a Year 1 Phonics Screening Check in all primary schools in England in 2012. The proportion of students reaching the expected standard in the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check in England has increased since its introduction — from 58% in 2012 to 81% in 2016. The proportion of students failing to achieve the expected standard in Year 2 reading tests has fallen by one third over the same period — from 15% to 10%.
The most effective way to teach phonics is in an explicit and systematic way. This is one of the best-established findings in educational research. Unfortunately, literacy policies and programs in use in Australian schools do not consistently incorporate evidence-based, effective phonics instruction and numerous studies have shown that initial teacher educations courses have not provided teachers with the necessary knowledge and skills to teach in this way.
The result is that Australia has one of the largest proportions of children who do not achieve minimum standards in literacy by Year 4 among English speaking countries. This is preventable and must not be allowed to continue.
The Phonics Screening Check is not an ‘exam’. It is not high stakes and is not onerous for students or schools. The Check takes 5–7 minutes per student to administer by a teacher. It comprises 20 real words and 20 pseudo-words. Pseudo words are included because pupils will not have encountered them before and therefore will not be able to read them as remembered ‘sight’ words.
The UK Year 1 Phonics Screening Check is an effective and cost-effective measure that could easily be adopted for use in Australian schools with some simple adaptations and improvements that would increase its positive impact without increasing its cost.
The bongo drums of credit ratings agencies just became louder, and the message is that at least one agency is poised to strip the Commonwealth of Australia of its triple-A rating within the next six months. This will happen if the budget deficit is revised up in next month’s mid-year budget update, and the government fails to take policy action to steer the budget back onto the currently projected path of balance by 2020-21. The ratings agencies may wait until next May’s budget to make their determinations.
A single notch downgrade in itself would be unfortunate and best avoided, but not a disaster. It would add slightly to the cost of borrowing for the Commonwealth and others whose borrowing costs are linked to it — such as the states (among which the triple-A borrowers would also be downgraded) and the banks. More important is what the downgrade would say about the failure of budget repair, the sustainability of Australia’s public finances and the risk of further downgrades in the future.
The government’s budget repair Plan A has been to attempt modest expenditure savings combined with heavy reliance on bracket creep to boost personal income tax revenue by 27% over four years. The Senate has always been a threat to implementation of the expenditure savings, but the latest threat to Plan A is the extremely low annual rate of increase in average wages (1.9%) reported by the Bureau of Statistics. If wage increases remain very low, bracket creep on the scale projected by the government will not occur. The recent surge in commodity prices would help offset low wage increases, but nobody expects the surge to be sustained.
Relying on bracket creep was never a good idea. It is a large tax increase by stealth. It will not be a bad thing if the government is forced to develop a Plan B, which should place much greater emphasis on spending restraint. We will find out next May whether the government chooses that path. But if they do, they must start now to make the case in the court of public opinion.
Last week’s powerful address at the National Press Club, by Jacinta Price, Marcia Langton and Josephine Cashman on the epidemic of violence in Indigenous communities (see video below), highlighted not only the appalling statistics and personal experiences of victims, but the equally appalling apathy of government.
For over a year Marcia and Josephine have been trying to get the Prime Minister to agree to a public demonstration of support for the No More campaign — a movement started by ABC sports presenter Charlie King in 2006 to address the scourge of family violence in Indigenous communities.
The idea for the name of the campaign came from the men Charlie King talked to when he visited Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory who said ‘all men should link up’ and say ‘no more.’ The campaign not only seeks to eradicate Indigenous family violence, but all family violence.
Following the National Press Club address and a personal plea from Charlie King, Malcom Turnbull has agreed to link arms with Labor leader Bill Shorten and other parliamentarians next week in what Indigenous leaders hope will be a ‘watershed’ moment in uniting the country to fight the epidemic of violence plaguing Indigenous communities.
Let’s hope that Turnbull doesn’t stop at symbolic gestures, and does more for the cause than just linking arms. Let’s also hope the PC brigade doesn’t derail the important points made by the three women at the Press Club.
Already there have been disturbing signs on ABC’s Q and A show and the Guardian that some people are seeking to deny the role political correctness has played in perpetuating the violence.
While there are many Indigenous people working ‘invisibly’ to tackle violence in their communities many non-Indigenous people have been afraid to speak out about this issue for fear of being labelled a racist. As Edmund Burke said: “evil triumphs when good people do nothing.”
What has been tolerated in Aboriginal communities would never have been tolerated in the major cities and towns of Australia. It is not racist to expect that Aboriginal people should be afforded the same rights and responsibilities as all Australians. It is time to say No More.