New literacy teachers recruited as NSW government axes Reading Recovery

Reading Recovery is being phased out in NSW after a report found it failed to produce long-term benefits. Photo: Lee Besford
Reading Recovery is being phased out in NSW after a report found it failed to produce long-term benefits. Photo: Lee Besford

A team of 50 literacy and numeracy experts will be recruited to support NSW teachers as the government axes the controversial $50 million Reading Recovery program, which is used in more than 900 schools but was found to be ineffective.

Principals were told in November that the NSW Department of Education would no longer be supporting Reading Recovery, which targets year 1 students who are struggling with literacy. Students undergo a one-on-one intensive program for up to 20 weeks.

But a report commissioned by the department found Reading Recovery, which costs more than $50 million a year to run in NSW, may have some impact on students who are really struggling with basic reading but the improvements are often short-lived.

In NSW, Reading Recovery is in 60 per cent of schools and at least 14 per cent of year 1 students take part in it.

It is understood principals will still be able to run Reading Recovery from their own budgets but from 2019 the government will redirect the $50 million it spends annually on Reading Recovery to other "evidence based" literacy and numeracy programs.

The government says the new positions are part of the government's $340 million NSW Literacy and Numeracy Strategy, which includes investment in the early education years through to supporting students to reach minimum literacy and numeracy standards in the HSC.

For the first time, year 9 students this year needed to achieve three NAPLAN band 8s in reading, writing and numeracy to pre-qualify for their HSC. If they did not, they will need to sit and online literacy and numeracy test.

The education minister, Rob Stokes, said the 50 new positions would support teachers with face-to-face professional learning in "new approaches to monitoring and supporting" literacy and numeracy from kindergarten to year 10.

The new positions will focus on understanding and diagnosing students literacy and numeracy tests, effective reading in the early years including systemic phonics, writing across the curriculum and number skills and algebraic thinking.

"This investment means that every teacher will have access to evidence-based professional learning to ensure every student has the best opportunity to develop strong literacy and numeracy skills," Mr Stokes said.

"This focus on literacy and numeracy skills is more important than ever in light of evidence that young people today will face a very different future when they finish school."

Despite its widespread use, Reading Recovery - which is also in the US, Canada and Britain - has had its critics and in 2015, influential US literacy academic Louisa Moats told education bureaucrats in Victoria that it was "indefensible" to spend money on the program.

Dr Moats said if she had a child with a learning disability she would refuse to let them take part in a Reading Recovery lesson.

"The instruction is directing their attention away from what they should be paying attention to. It's just not OK, it's harmful."

The federal government is also focused on literacy and numeracy in the early years of primary school, with the education minister Simon Birmingham backing a proposed reading test that would be based on the phonics screening check used in the UK since 2012.

Education ministers discussed the phonics checker at December's Education Council meeting but it is understood no decision on the test's implementation was made.

Mr Stokes has said that he "sees no reason" why it could not be rolled out in NSW but some education academics in Australia and the UK oppose the screening check, which tests 40 words, including 20 pseudo words such as pib, vus, yup and desh and 20 real words.

This story NSW government axes Reading Recovery program first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.