Cassy O’Connor MP | Greens Leader and Education spokesperson
The Gutwein Government’s target of 100% functional literacy is welcome, but will remain aspirational without substantial investment in recruiting and retaining speech pathologists.
A phonics check is useful, but there is little point investing in testing if you aren’t also investing in teaching resources and student support.
Tasmania currently only has 49.61 FTE speech pathologists in the public education system. This number has only been increased by an average of 1 FTE per year since 2015.
There are 196 public schools in Tasmania, responsible for the education of about 60,000 students. One speech pathologist every four schools is nowhere near enough to achieve high student literacy.
Many speech pathologists work at a different school each day, limiting the time they can spend with a student who needs their help.
The current functional literacy rate in Tasmania is about 50%. The proportion of students who meet the NAPLAN minimum standard are below the national average for reading, writing, spelling, grammar and punctuation in all year groups.
There is also no tertiary course in speech pathology available in Tasmania. This also poses significant barrier to reaching 100% functional literacy, as many Tasmanians who study speech pathology then stay on the mainland to work.
It’s going to take a much larger investment than a phonics test to reach the ambitious, and worthy target of 100% literacy.
In our Alternative Budget last year, the Greens provided funding to double the number of speech pathologists in Tasmanian public schools. The Gutwein Government should follow this lead.
We urge the Deputy Premier and Minister for Education to include an investment to recruit one speech pathologist for every two public schools in the upcoming State Budget.
We also encourage Mr Rockliff to work with UTAS to develop a speech pathology course. There is a clear, pressing need for this career pathway to be fostered in Tasmania if we are to achieve 100% student literacy.