The inclusion of an early phonics check as part of school funding conditions announced in the Federal Government’s 2016-17 Budget this week is an encouraging development for child literacy standards in Australia.
The Government has identified this correctly as an area likely to have a big impact. Education research shows a clear link between phonics instruction and reading ability. Phonics training is the type of reading skill most often shown in research to have a positive effect, for both typical and poor readers, so assessing this properly, and addressing it early, makes sense.
Phonics is one of the core skill areas that is comprehensively covered in LiteracyPlanet, and we see that students in Foundation to Year 3 spend up to 25% of their time using LiteracyPlanet doing phonics exercises. While older years move onto spelling, punctuation, comprehension and grammar, we continue to see the use of phonics exercises right through to Year 9.
Last year reading researchers at Macquarie University did a randomised controlled trial using the phonics and sight words exercises in the LiteracyPlanet program. They found that using these exercises had a ‘significant’ effect in improving reading outcomes for poor readers. The benefits of using these exercises to improve reading accuracy and fluency would be the same for typical readers. More details of the study are available here: https://peerj.com/articles/922/
This study involved one of Australia’s leading reading researchers, Professor Genevieve McArthur, head of Macquarie University’s Department of Cognitive Science and Director of the Macquarie Cognitive Clinic for Reading. According to Professor McArthur investing in phonics instruction for early readers is sensible and “definitely a good thing”.
An early phonics check is a good solution to at least identify children at risk before they move on to higher year levels, where the pressure on their literacy skills increases and remediation becomes more difficult. It’s also an opportunity to detect or flag children who may have a learning disability, such as dyslexia, that further impairs their ability to read at an age appropriate level.
We hear about too many students entering secondary school behind in their core literacy skills, leaving them at a significant learning disadvantage, and leading to frustration and lack of confidence.
Funding that addresses both detection and remediation can go a long way to solving the underperformance of these children in school, as well as supporting their teachers and parents who may not be equipped to do the same. Ultimately, we want to see all children have the same academic, social and life chances that are grounded by the ability to read and communicate effectively.