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
- 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
The expert task
- 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).
of this letter have
profound concerns about the task force and its functions for the following
Erroneous assumptions and
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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.
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
180+ concerned literacy educators
Dr Helen Adam Senior Lecturer Literacy and Course
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)
Atkinson Co-editor, Issues in
Auld Lecturer, Faculty
of Education, Peninsula Campus, Monash University
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
Bean Literacy Consultant,
ALEA Principal Fellow.
University of Cambridge
Prof William Bintz Professor of Teaching and Learning, Kent State University
Bonzos Teacher (retired)
Boylan Lecturer, Early
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
Burnett Professor of
Literacy and Education, Sheffield Hallam University
Bury Ph.D. candidate,
Literacy Consultant, Melbourne.
Dr Glenda Cain Senior
Lecturer; Literacy Coordinator
Sharon Callen Education
Callow Senior Lecturer,
University of Sydney
Prof Brian Cambourne AM Principal Fellow, University of Wollongong. International Reading Hall of Fame.
Campbell Literacy Consultant,
Director Campbell Consultancy
Carabott Assistant Lecturer,
Faculty of Education, Monash University.
Dr Liz Chamberlain Senior Lecturer in Education
Chapman Lecturer, Faculty of
Education, Monash University.
Chatto Primary School
Chen Senior Lecturer
Coleston Education Consultant,
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
Crawford Former English
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.
Davis Central Queensland
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.
Dobson Lecturer and Course
Coordinator of Early Childhood
Prof Henrietta Dombey Professor Emeritus, University of Brighton, UK. International Reading Hall of Fame.
Dowdell University of
Duke Sessional Academic
and Inclusive Education Consultant
Edelsky Professor Emerita,
Arizona State University
Elley Emeritus Professor of
Education, University of Canterbury, NZ
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.
Exley Course Convenor, ALEA Life
Consultant, New York
Faulkner Senior Lecturer,
Fellowes Reading Recovery
Janet Fellowes Language
and Literacy Consultant
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.
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
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.
Goodman Professor of Literacy
Studies, Hofstra University, NY.
Gorman Literacy Consultant;
PETAA Board Member
Grove O’Grady Program Director Combine
Degrees, University of Sydney.
Patrick Hampton Primary
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
Hornsby Literacy Consultant,
ALEA Principal Fellow, author, ex-principal.
Penny Hutton Session Lecturer University of Sydney; Professional Learning Consultant PETAA
Hyndman Education Consultant
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
Katrina Kemp President,
Australian Literacy Educators Association, Sydney North
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
Kneebone Primary teacher (retired)
Krashen Professor Emeritus,
University of Southern California
Lamond PhD candidate, Monash
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
Lockhart Sydney School of
Education and Social Work, University of Sydney
Janet Lyon Secondary
English teacher; teacher of students
diagnosed with dyslexia.
Prof Mary Macken-Horarik Associate Professor, Language and Literacy Education, Australian Catholic University
Mahar Literacy Educator,
Mahar Concerned teacher
Prof Jackie Manuel Associate Professor, School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney
Prof Richard Mayer Distinguished Professor, Cognition, Perception and Cognitive Neuroscience.
McBeath Publisher, Issues in
Emirata, University of Alberta
McDonald Primary teacher (retired)
Dr Lorraine McDonald Honorary Fellow, ACU; Literacy Consultant, PETAA/ALEA
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.
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.
Moss Deakin University
Niland University of Sydney
Nociti Lecturer, Early
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
Ozturk Senior Lecturer, Head
of English, Kingston University
Padgham ALEA Principal
Fellow, Fellow Australian Council Educational Leaders. ACT
Parr Professor of
Parsons Lecturer, PhD
Candidate, School of Education, Edith Cowan University.
Carol Pearce Literacy Consultant, Junior Primary Principal (retired), University tutor (Language and Literacy, English)
Pollock Formally Associate Professor of Language and Literacy,
Dr Debbie Powell Associate Professor Emerita, Language and Literacy, University of Northern Colorado, Wilmington
Rankine Curriculum Development; Teacher (retired)
Recovery Dr Catheryn Sale
Reedy Literacy Consultant
Dr Jennifer Rennie Senior Lecturer, Acting Professor, Monash University; Associate Editor Australian Journal of Language and Literacy.
Denyse Ritchie The
Rushton School of Education
and Social Work, University of Sydney
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
Scott Teacher (retired);
Professor, Associate Dean Education, Monash University
Literacy Education, RMIT; Literacy
Dr Cheryl Semple Lecturer,
Literacy Education, RMIT (retired)
Shann Adjunct Assistant
Professor, Secondary Literacy, University of Canberra.
Shepherd Literacy consultant,
Victorian State Director ALEA
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.
Simpson Professor Alyson
Simpson, Potts Point, NSW.
Snowball Literacy Consultant,
Brenda Stewart South
Prof Madonna Stinson Associate Professor, School of Education and Professional Studies, Griffith University
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.
Topfer Australian Literacy
Educators’ Association, Principal Fellow.
Towns OAM Academic researcher; teaching
experience in primary, secondary and tertiary.
Tualaulelei University of
Tunney Classroom teacher
University of Wollongong. International Reading Hall of Fame.
van Haren ACTATE Executive
Dr Lisa van Leent Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Education, Queensland University of Technology.
Valtin International Reading Hall of
Dr Maureen Walsh Previously Professor of Literacy Education, ACU; Honorary Professor, University of Sydney.
Janelle Warhurst ALEA
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.
Willy Education Consultant
Lorraine Wilson Literacy Consultant, author
Lesley WingJan Teacher (retired), Literacy Consultant
Wolpert Affiliated Lecturer,
University of Cambridge
Woods Faculty of Education,
Queensland University of Technology
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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