This open letter voices the concerns of over 180 literacy educators on the composition (and implied terms of reference) of the “expert task force” created to advise the Australian Government on the teaching of phonics and reading.
In his press release of 15th October 2019, the Federal Minister for Education, the Honourable Dan Tehan, announced he had asked the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) to create an expert task force to do two things:
- provide AITSL with advice on the inclusion of phonics in national accreditation standards for Initial Teacher Education (ITE); and
- advise on how to ensure graduate teachers can teach the fundamentals of literacy through learning how to teach the five essential elements of literacy: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency, comprehension.
Since the press release, further details have emerged about the function of the task force, which includes giving advice and resources to academics in ITE, informing them how to teach phonics and early reading.
The expert task force comprises:
- Jennifer Buckingham – an AITSL board member, former researcher at the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) and Strategic Director for MultiLit (a provider of commercial synthetic phonic programs);
- Lorraine Hammond – Associate Professor at Edith Cowan University, teaching courses in Direct Instruction, and President of Learning Difficulties Australia;
- Robyn Cox – Associate Professor at the Australian Catholic University and President of the Primary English Teachers Association of Australia (PETAA).
The signatories of this letter have profound concerns about the task force and its functions for the following reasons:
Erroneous assumptions and narrow focus
- the Minister’s announcement is premised on an erroneous assumption, which is that phonics is not being taught in schools and universities;
- although five essential elements of reading are mentioned, the discourse appears to privilege phonics. In his press release the Minister mentioned phonics six times, reading twice and comprehension once, which implies the remit of the task force will be narrowly focused.
- literacy education consists of more than the five essential elements referred to in the Ministerial press release.
- the emphasis on reading and phonics appears to privilege one mode of language over others (e.g. speaking and listening, writing, viewing) and privileges only one aspect of reading (phonics), when NAPLAN data demonstrates that writing and higher order comprehension in upper primary and secondary years require attention.
Composition of the expert panel (task force)
- The educational perspectives represented in the task force membership are not balanced.
- Two members of the task force have highlighted their bias in media releases in which they claim Initial Teacher Education providers have not taught students how to teach phonics.
- One member of the task force has a vested interest in synthetic phonics, as a senior employee at MultiLit. We consider this may constitute a conflict of interest.
- One member of the task force is an advocate of Direct Instruction, which may result in advice that privileges narrowly framed teaching methods.
- One member of the task force has links with a conservative think tank (CIS), which brings into question the political neutrality of the task force.
Initial Teacher Education provider viewpoint and concerns
- University Initial Teacher Education courses that are accredited by AITSL already must meet both the AITSL Program Standards, AECEQA and the Australian National Curriculum and have evidence of meeting the Graduate Teacher Standards.
- The Australian National Curriculum includes phonics and the five essential elements of literacy.
- Academics teaching into Initial Teacher Education programs/courses have both authentic classroom experience and high-level qualifications in the field, with many holding a PhD.
- The imposition of narrowly prescribed methods, by an external body, is not conducive to professional dialogue.
As a collective we ask our Australian Education Minister, Dan Tehan, to consider the following as a constructive way forward:
- review the composition of the task force with a lens of expertise in child/adolescent language and literacy development to include experienced practitioners who represent a broader spectrum of pedagogical approaches to teaching oracy, reading, writing and visual literacy;
- minimise the potential possible perceived conflicts of interest;
- work collectively with the various State and Territory Regulators of Initial Teacher Education programs to review the evidence presented by each Higher Education provider as part of the accreditation process;
- acknowledge the work currently undertaken by all Higher Education providers who have nationally accredited Initial Teacher Education programs approved by AITSL;
- restore confidence within the community about the quality of the Initial Teacher Education programs, that they are accredited, and quality assurance has been undertaken as part of the accreditation process.
As a collective we share the minister’s views and goals regarding the enhancement of children’s literacy. We acknowledge the diversity of the school population and the need for our initial teacher educators to be able to differentiate the curriculum.
We also acknowledge that the role of a Graduate Teacher, although classroom ready, is indeed only at the Graduate level and that there is a need for all state and territory Ministers of Education to be committed to ensuring the continued professional development of graduate teachers as part of the professional standards as articulated by the Australian Institute of Teaching and School leadership.
180+ concerned literacy educators
Dr Helen Adam Senior Lecturer Literacy and Course Coordinator
Dr Misty Adoniou Associate Professor, University of Canberra
Dr Jennifer Alford Senior Lecturer, English as a Second Language and Literacy Learning
Prof JoBeth Allen Professor Emeritus, Language and Literacy Education, University of Georgia. International Reading Hall of Fame.
Prof Richard Allington Professor Emeritus, University of Tennessee. International Reading Hall of Fame.
Dr John Andrews Curriculum Advisor, Senior Curriculum Advisor Education Department of Victoria; Author; classroom teacher (retired)
Roger Atkinson Co-editor, Issues in Educational Research
Dr Glenn Auld Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Peninsula Campus, Monash University
Prof Caroline Barrett-Pugh Early Childhood Studies
Dr Pam Bartholomaeus Lecturer, Rural Education and Literacy Coordinator of Secondary Initial Teacher Education Programs, College of Edn, Psychology & Social Work
Wendy Bean Literacy Consultant, ALEA Principal Fellow.
Dr Eve Bearne Formerly University of Cambridge
Prof William Bintz Professor of Teaching and Learning, Kent State University
Faye Bolton Literacy Consultant, Melbourne.
Georgina Bonzos Teacher (retired)
Fiona Boylan Lecturer, Early Childhood Studies
Elizabeth Broad International Convenor, United Kingdom Literacy Association
Prof Greg Brooks Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Sheffied U.K. International Reading Hall of Fame.
Dr Nikki Brunker School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney
Lisa Burman Education Consultant, author
Prof Cathy Burnett Professor of Literacy and Education, Sheffield Hallam University
Lynne Bury Ph.D. candidate, Literacy Consultant, Melbourne.
Dr Glenda Cain Senior Lecturer; Literacy Coordinator
Phillip Callen Education Consultant, SA
Sharon Callen Education Consultant, SA
Dr Jon Callow Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney
Prof Brian Cambourne AM Principal Fellow, University of Wollongong. International Reading Hall of Fame.
Terri Campbell Literacy Consultant, Director Campbell Consultancy
Kelly Carabott Assistant Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Monash University.
Dr Liz Chamberlain Senior Lecturer in Education
Dr Denise Chapman Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Monash University.
Helen Chatto Primary School Principal
Dr Julian Chen Senior Lecturer
Keay Cobbin Education Consultant
Robyn Coleston Education Consultant, New York
Prof Barbara Comber Research Professor, School of Education, University of SA. International Reading Hall of Fame
Prof Phillip Cormack Adjunct Research Associate Professor, University of SA
Christine Cougan Teacher
David Crawford Former English teacher
Prof Ken Cruikshank School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney
Prof Wendy Cumming-Potvin Associate Professor
Narelle Daffurn Sessional academic, PhD Candidate; MEd Learning Support – Reading Difficulties. Experienced Senior Teacher.
Prof Susan Davis Central Queensland University
A.J. Dempster Master Teacher, ACT
Dr Michael Dilena Formerly Director, Learning Language and Literacy Research Centre, University of SA and Hong Kong Institute of Education. Now University of Hong Kong.
Dr Madeleine Dobson Lecturer and Course Coordinator of Early Childhood
Prof Henrietta Dombey Professor Emeritus, University of Brighton, UK. International Reading Hall of Fame.
Dr Clare Dowdell University of Plymouth, UK
Dr Jennie Duke Sessional Academic and Inclusive Education Consultant
Prof Carole Edelsky Professor Emerita, Arizona State University
Prof Warwick Elley Emeritus Professor of Education, University of Canterbury, NZ
Prof Marie Emmitt Emeritus Professor Australian Catholic University
Dr Angela Evangelinou-Yiannakis Lecturer and Honorary Research Fellow
Prof Robyn Ewing Professor Emerita Robyn Ewing, Sydney School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney.
Prof Beryl Exley Course Convenor, ALEA Life Member.
John Farvis Literacy Consultant, New York
Dr Julie Faulkner Senior Lecturer, Monash University.
Judith Fellowes Reading Recovery Tutor, Victoria
Janet Fellowes Language and Literacy Consultant
Julie Fitzpatrick Teacher
Prof Bev Flückiger Professor in Education, Griffith University
Prof Alan Flurkey Professor of Literacy Studies, Chair Dept of Specialized Programs in Education, Hofstra University, New York.
Narelle Furminger Classroom teacher; literacy leader.
Prof Susanne Gannon Associate Professor, Western Sydney University
Dr Paul Gardner Senior Lecturer, Literacy; UK Literacy Association Ambassador for Australia.
Prof Robyn Gibson Associate Professor, School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney
Shani Gill Teacher
Libby Gleeson AM Writer
Prof Yetta Goodman Regents Professor, Emerita, University of Arizona; Past President International Reading Association; Board Member of other major professional literacy organisations.
Prof Kenneth Goodman Professor Emeritus, College of Education, University of Arizona; Past President of National Council of Teachers of English; Board Member of other major professional literacy organisations.
Dr Deborah Goodman Professor of Literacy Studies, Hofstra University, NY.
Mardi Gorman Literacy Consultant; PETAA Board Member
Dr Alison Grove O’Grady Program Director Combine Degrees, University of Sydney.
Patrick Hampton Primary Program Coordinator
Prof Jane Hansen Professor Emeritus University of Virginia. Member of Reading Hall of Fame.
Prof Colin Harrison Emeritus Professor of Literacy Studies in Education, University of Nottingham. Past President, United Kingdom Literacy Association. Member of Reading Hall of Fame.
Prof Jerome Harste Distinguished Professor, Culture, Literacy and Language Education, Indiana University. Member of Reading Hall of Fame.
Dawn Haynes Literacy consultant
Christina Holly Lecturer, Diversity and Inclusion, Primary and Secondary Education
Dr Jessica Holloway DECRA Research Fellow, Australian Research Council, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University
David Hornsby Literacy Consultant, ALEA Principal Fellow, author, ex-principal.
Penny Hutton Session Lecturer University of Sydney; Professional Learning Consultant PETAA
Danny Hyndman Education Consultant
Prof Jenny Jay Associate Professor for Early Childhood Studies
Prof Moss Julianne Professor Julianne Moss, Deakin University
Dr Anne Keary Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Monash University
Olivia Karaolis University of Sydney
Katrina Kemp President, Australian Literacy Educators Association, Sydney North
Tony Kennedy teacher
Bushra Khateeb Deputy Head of Primary; Primary Curriculum Coordinator, Islamic College of Melbourne
Dr Lisbeth Kitson Lecturer, English and Literacy Education, Griffith University
Dr Bree Kitt Lecturer, Language and Literacy, School of Education and the Arts, CQU.
A.Prof Marianne Knaus Associate Dean, Early Childhood Studies, School of Education, Edith Cowan University
Barbara Kneebone Primary teacher (retired)
Prof Stephen Krashen Professor Emeritus, University of Southern California
Margrete Lamond PhD candidate, Monash University
Dr Gloria Latham Honorary Senior Lecturer, University of Sydney; former Literacy lecturer, RMIT University
Prof Carol Lauritzen Professor Emerita of Education, Eastern Oregon University
Joy Lawn Freelance children’s literature expert
Narissa Leung Education Consultant
Alison Lockhart Sydney School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney
Dr Kaye Lowe Read4Success
Janet Lyon Secondary English teacher; teacher of students diagnosed with dyslexia.
Prof Mary Macken-Horarik Associate Professor, Language and Literacy Education, Australian Catholic University
Susan Mahar Literacy Educator, Melbourne
Tim Mahar Concerned teacher (retired)
Prof Jackie Manuel Associate Professor, School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney
Prof Richard Mayer Distinguished Professor, Cognition, Perception and Cognitive Neuroscience.
Dr Clare McBeath Publisher, Issues in Educational Research
Prof Jill McClay Professor Emirata, University of Alberta
Mary McDonald Primary teacher (retired)
Dr Lorraine McDonald Honorary Fellow, ACU; Literacy Consultant, PETAA/ALEA
Dr Kelli McGraw Lecturer, Queensland University of Technology.
Dr Pam McIntyre Author; honorary senior lecturer in literacy RMIT University, former lecturer in literacy at the University of Melbourne.
Anne McNamara Former Early Years and Primary Teacher, Ex-President ALEA, Curriculum Consultant ACT.
Deb McPherson Chief Education Officer, English, NSW Dept of Education (retired) Geringong, NSW.
Dr Margaret Merga Senior Lecturer
Dr Richard Meyer Regents’ Professor, Department of Language, Literacy and Sociocultural Studies, University of New Mexico.
Prof Kathy Mills Research Professor, Literacies and Digital Cultures, Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education, Brisbane.
Prof Julianne Moss Deakin University
M. Murphy Teacher
Dr Amanda Niland University of Sydney
Karen Nociti Lecturer, Early Childhood Studies
Dr Annemaree O’Brien Lecturer, Language and Literacy Education, University of Melbourne
Dr Joanne O’Mara Associate Professor in Language, Literacy an Literacy Education
J. Oksiss Teacher
Alayne Ozturk Senior Lecturer, Head of English, Kingston University
Jo Padgham ALEA Principal Fellow, Fellow Australian Council Educational Leaders. ACT
Prof Judy Parr Professor of Education
Sandra Parsons Lecturer, PhD Candidate, School of Education, Edith Cowan University.
Carol Pearce Literacy Consultant, Junior Primary Principal (retired), University tutor (Language and Literacy, English)
Dr John Pollock Formally Associate Professor of Language and Literacy, RMIT
Dr Debbie Powell Associate Professor Emerita, Language and Literacy, University of Northern Colorado, Wilmington
Dr Jacqualine Rankine Curriculum Development; Teacher (retired)
Reading Recovery Dr Catheryn Sale
David Reedy Literacy Consultant
Dr Jennifer Rennie Senior Lecturer, Acting Professor, Monash University; Associate Editor Australian Journal of Language and Literacy.
Denyse Ritchie The THRASS Institute
Amelia Ruscoe Lecturer
Dr Kathy Rushton School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney
Jennifer Ryan Teacher
Dr Jo Ryan Senior Lecturer English and Literacy Education, Faculty of Education and Arts, ACU
Tim Ryan Former early years literacy teacher; Language and Learning in the Middle Years tutor; Principal; New York based educational consultant
Dr Carmel Sandiford Senior Lecturer, Language and Literacy Education, Melbourne Graduate School of Education.
Dr John Saunders Honorary Associate, University of Sydney; Director of Education & Community Partnerships, Sydney Theatre Company.
Yvonne Sawers Senior Lecturer, Coordinator Primary Program
Johanna Scott Teacher (retired); Educational Publisher
Prof Janet Scull Associate Professor, Associate Dean Education, Monash University
Jan Senior Lecturer, Literacy Education, RMIT; Literacy Consultant.
Dr Cheryl Semple Lecturer, Literacy Education, RMIT (retired)
Dr Steve Shann Adjunct Assistant Professor, Secondary Literacy, University of Canberra.
Julie Shepherd Literacy consultant, Victorian State Director ALEA
Prof Runar Sigporssan Professor of Education
Dr Sharyn Silver Formerly Senior Lecturer English/Literacy ACU. 17 years in NSW DET in senior positions.
Prof Michele Simons Professor Michele Simons, Dean of Education, Western Sydney University.
Prof Alyson Simpson Professor Alyson Simpson, Potts Point, NSW.
Diane Snowball Literacy Consultant, Past-President ALEA
Brenda Stewart South Coast, NSW.
Prof Madonna Stinson Associate Professor, School of Education and Professional Studies, Griffith University
Deb Sukarna Literacy Consultant, ex-principal.
Michelle Tham Teacher
Dr Angela Thomas Senior Lecturer in English Education, University of Tasmania
Dr Anne Thwaite Lecturer, Language Education
Lyn Tonkin Former Teacher and Principal; Teacher educator at UniSA in Language and Literacy Education; Member and Executive Member of ALEA; Literacy Consultant Singapore, PNG, Philippines and Solomon Islands.
Christine Topfer Australian Literacy Educators’ Association, Principal Fellow.
Dr Deborah Towns OAM Academic researcher; teaching experience in primary, secondary and tertiary.
Dr Eseta Tualaulelei University of Southern Queensland
Tracy Tunney Classroom teacher
Dr Jan Turbill FACE, University of Wollongong. International Reading Hall of Fame.
Rita van Haren ACTATE Executive Officer
Dr Lisa van Leent Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology.
Prof Renate Valtin International Reading Hall of Fame. Berlin.
Dr Maureen Walsh Previously Professor of Literacy Education, ACU; Honorary Professor, University of Sydney.
Lorna Ward Independent Literacy Consultant
Janelle Warhurst ALEA member
Dr Craig Whitsed Senior Lecturer, School of Education, Curtin University; Visiting Fellow University of Groningen.
Dr Sandra Wilde Hunter College, City University of New York (retired)
Lyn Wilkinson Senior Lecturer, English, literacy and Language Arts, Flinders University for 25 years.
Stephen Willy Education Consultant
Cait Wilson Literacy Consultant
Lorraine Wilson Literacy Consultant, author
Lesley WingJan Teacher (retired), Literacy Consultant
Mary-Anne Wolpert Affiliated Lecturer, University of Cambridge
Prof Annette Woods Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology
Alan Wright Education Consultant, author
Dr Katina Zammit Deputy Dean / Senior Lecturer, English Pedagogy, Curriculum School of Education, Western Sydney University.
Roger Zubrinich Former English teacher; Lecturer; Coordinator professional writing TAFESA; Former Advisor to South Australian Government ministers.
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