Coalition states sceptical on ‘reading blitz’

Rosanne Barrett and John Ferguson           From: The Australian  February 25, 2013 12:00AM

 JULIA Gillard has announced a new national “reading blitz” for all students between Kindergarten and Year 3 in response to falling literacy standards. 

Last year, 75,000 students failed to meet national minimum standards of reading in the inter-school NAPLAN tests.Poor results mean students are slipping internationally, with Australia’s Year 4 students placing 27th out of 42 countries tested in last year’s Progress in International Reading Literacy Skills test, an international benchmark of reading ability.The Prime Minister said without the plan, up to 150,000 students could be failing to meet the minimum reading standard by 2025.”Through this reading blitz we want to make a difference,” Ms Gillard said.

She said the plan would both grant students more opportunities after school and improve the economy in the long term.

“The evidence shows if you come out at Year 3 not reading well, you are very likely to come out of Year 9 not reading very well either,” she said.

“Which means you are very likely to end up an adult who never reads well, with all the consequences that has got with the jobs you can do and the jobs that are locked away from you.”

The funding will be directed to schools from every state in both the government and non-government sector that sign up to the intensive three-year program.

The schools would use the extra funding to identify and help struggling children.

Teachers will be encouraged to adopt evidence-based strategies such as keeping a running record of each student’s progress and teaching phonics, a method which involves sounding out words and letters.

State governments yesterday demanded the commonwealth stop intervening in schools and asked for more detail on federal Labor’s latest proposal to improve childhood literacy standards.

Amid an intensifying stoush over Ms Gillard’s Gonski school-funding reforms, conservative states staked their claim over schools.

Queensland Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said the Prime Minister’s latest announcement was revealed without consultation with the states, which implemented education policy.

“States run schools,” Mr Langbroek said. “It’s about time the Gillard government left education to the experts.”

Mr Langbroek said he would have welcomed the opportunity to meet with Schools Minister Peter Garrett to discuss the three-year intensive plan, but only learned about it through the media.

“Reading is vitally important and is the most fundamental aspect of learning,” Mr Langbroek said. “But once again, it is Prime Minister Gillard’s way or the highway.”

The Baillieu government, which has proposed its own model for education funding in opposition to the Gillard government’s plan, was also sceptical about the “reading blitz”.

“It should also be noted that in Victoria’s long experience of running schools and delivering education, ‘blitzes’ are never a substitute for long-term implementation of evidence-based education reforms,” a government spokesman said.

West Australian Education Minister Peter Collier called for more detail, saying the commonwealth had so far been “unable or unwilling” to reveal plans.

“We would hope the specifics on the reading plan will be available immediately,” Mr Collier said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING: JOHN FERGUSON, PIA AKERMAN

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