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Education - Literacy

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Tags: Education, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, in 2014 your Government's literacy target was to be at or above the national standard in six years' time. At that time $8.4 million was allocated in the budget. This hasn't happened and we haven't achieved the national standard. In this Budget, you have given yourself eight to nine years and allocated $5.3 million to achieve the national standard for all students. You have given yourself a third less money and a period that is a third longer than in 2014. How can we take you seriously on your investment and your target?

Ms COURTNEY - I am going to answer this in a few parts, Dr Woodruff, and I appreciate the fact you have such a strong interest in literacy.

As a Government we want to make sure that we have high aspirations for our young people. The fact that we have, since coming to government, achieved so much in terms of the new Education Act, completing schools to year 12 around Tasmania, is a clear demonstration of our entire Government's commitment to literacy across all age cohorts and outcomes. As I outlined earlier, minister Rockliff announced a new target that by 2029 all students will meet the minimum reading standard. To support this, there are a number of mechanisms we have to do; we can't just have a goal without mechanisms to achieve it.

We've made a year 1 phonics check available in all our primary and district schools so that we can support our teachers to make sure they are tailoring the planning and learning for young people. We've increased in this Budget the number of in-school quality literacy coaches, so that is an additional 40, which had increased the numbers by 50 per cent.

The Premier is overseeing the Literacy Advisory Panel, which will be chaired by Jenny Gale and Professor Natalie Brown. The purpose of this panel is to undertake a review of the current literacy approaches and support our community can provide, and provide recommendations on how we can continue to improve.

With regards to our young people, we want to see learning and literacy being demonstrated very clearly in our school settings. However, we also understand that for young Tasmanians, particularly some from more disadvantaged areas, it is how we support families and the whole community to be engaging with young people really early.

For literacy, in particular, making sure we have those early engagements is critical. This is why we have committed to additional Child and Family Learning Centres. It is why we are putting speech pathologists into them, so that we can actually work with them. It is why we have Working Together for 3 Year Olds, because we recognise that the earlier we are able to not just work with a young person but work with their family, that is the pathway to get better outcomes.

This is why we have seen significant investment by this Government in those early years. That is where we are going to help make a difference.

The other thing I mentioned in my opening statement was our focus on that year 7 to 12, of how we make sure we are retaining kids in the system. We need to make sure that the entire way along, we have mechanisms to identify where kids are at risk of disengaging. We already have a body of work underway in what we are doing, and how we do that further.

I will ask the secretary to talk a bit more about some of the literacy-specific initiatives and the focus on it. I can assure you that there is very rarely a conversation I have with the secretary where this is not part of the conversation and what we are doing.

Mr BULLARD - Thank you, minister. Absolutely, it is a top priority of the agency. We have done some really good work over the past few years to build strong foundations that are going to allow us to now make considerable improvements. We have built a culture where teachers are really open to responding to guidance and coaching. We have built an environment where principals are open to using data to make informed decisions about school improvement and we have built a system that has the supports in place for those schools to thrive.

We know that oral language is a continuing issue for the Tasmanian population. These are the children that then come to us in their early years without the vocabulary necessary to read. So, considerable investment through the speech pathologists and the Child and Family Learning Centres, absolutely. There is also going to be a focus on oral language and working with parents to speak to children, to have conversations with their children and to build that vocabulary. We also need an explicit focus on the teaching of phonics in the early years.

We are becoming very deliberate in what we are expecting to see in our schools and in our classrooms. We are also providing on-the-ground coaching to assist our teachers to know what to do, what to teach and how to identify where particular children have issues. To reiterate, next year in 2022, there will be 125.4 FTE literacy coaches. They are out in schools, working in classrooms with teachers to improve practice.

Also, through the additional teaching assistance, more support in Prep. We know that if you haven't made the gains you need to in kindergarten, then you need to have more support in Prep. That is why there has been an investment in education support specialists in that Prep year. They will be literacy-trained, through professional learning at-the-shoulder support again, to help those children who maybe are not on target to achieve. As you go through primary years, we need to make sure that if you haven't got the basics from kinder to 2, that you have an opportunity to catch up. That is an absolute priority for us as well.

There are some really positive things going on. What you will see from us over 2021 22 is clear expectations of our teaching workforce - guidelines, system measures and targets in place to ensure that we can see where teachers are achieving what is expected and where they need more support.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. Minister, there is no doubt that teachers are doing extraordinary work and we all thank them for what they do, teaching our children. There are huge challenges and complexities they confront in the work they do. The fact remains, and I didn't hear you disagree with what I said, that the investment is a third less and you have three more years -

Ms COURTNEY - A third less than what, sorry?

Dr WOODRUFF - Than 2014. You put in $8.4 million into this area. Now you've invested $5.3 million for the next eight to nine years. I have a question about that time frame.

Ms COURTNEY - No. In terms of the premise to the question, I will ask the secretary to talk about the funding profile because we would like to refute the content of your statement.

Dr WOODRUFF - That was the previous question. That is the question that I have already asked that you have now answered.

Ms COURTNEY - You just asked me again, Dr Woodruff, and you asked me to confirm that. I was asking the secretary -

Dr WOODRUFF - Can I finish the question, because then he can answer both those things. It was about the target. It said, in my first question, that you've given yourself, according to the Budget, a target for 2029. That's what the Budget Papers say. The reference is to a March 21 announcement in the Budget Papers, but the March 21 announcement that we've seen, which was published by the Education department, says the target date is 2030. So, which of those two is true?

Ms COURTNEY - The correct date is 2029.

Dr WOODRUFF - And what we have is challenges that haven't changed and haven't become less. In fact, with COVID 19 they've got more for teaching. We have a new program, Phonics, but there's no increased investment to support teachers in this additional training. So my original question is that you're investing less, you're pushing the target out for achieving national standards out to 2029. You're not making any ground here from 2014.

Ms COURTNEY - I reject the underlying assertions in this. I've just outlined a number of the additional things we are doing, including recruiting more in school quality literacy coaches. We know the status quo is not okay, and we know we need to do more, which is why we have seen these initiatives delivered. In my opening statement, I said that we need to not just rest on what the previous minister had invested in, but look at new initiatives.

I will ask the secretary to talk about the year 1 phonics check, which teachers can use as a decision making tool, and how we are supporting staff, because the support of staff is fundamental to ensure they have the professional development they need to get the best outcomes for young people.

Dr WOODRUFF - I don't understand why the investment is less. That is the question, really.

Mr BULLARD - Thank you, Dr Woodruff. In terms of the investment, the $5.3 million is additional funding in this year's Budget. It's on top of $17.1 million over four years for the literacy coaches, and $17.5 million for the additional support in prep that I referred to earlier. What you're seeing in the Budget is the additional investment, which is paying for the additional quality teaching coaches, who will come on line in 2022.

There is considerable support in place for the teaching of phonics, beginning in kinder and moving through to year 2. Not only does that include the coaching support, it also includes the development of a scope and sequence, so that in every year from kinder to year 2 there's very explicit guidance on what we expect to see in terms of what our learners know and understand; it also outlines the teaching points, or teaching ideas, for achieving that.

Also, considerable professional learning is in place. Teaching phonics in kinder was held at the beginning of this year, with 246 attendees. Professional learning around the use of the scope and sequence that I just referred to was held in term 2, with 365 attendees. Phonics for writing in the early years is to be held this term, with 300 enrolments so far. These are actually providing teachers with evidence based strategies for teaching phonics and how to support children in those early years of school, to make sure they have the basics in check.

As the minister said, the Phonics Check is an important component for those children who aren't on track. That's held in term 3 of year 1. All students in year 1 are being uploaded into the hub, so any teacher can access that check for a child in their class, should they consider it necessary, looking at whether or not they have the mastery in phonics that we'd expect to see at that point in the year.

It's a really good safety net for those students who aren't on track. It then provides the rest of year 1 and into year 2 to ensure that they are on track for when they get to year 3.