As part of the Coalition’s plan, all Victorian primary schools will also be required to test students halfway through year one using a screening check based on a British test students where students are asked to read a list of phonically decodable words where half the words are real and the others are made up.
Last month the Andrews government committed to introducing a mandatory screening test for students at the start of grade one to check whether pupils have grasped the fundamentals of using phonics in the first 12 months of school.
The Coalition has also promised to provide schools with “high-quality lesson plans” as well as decodable books which often have a simple narrative but primarily contain words with the sound-letter combinations that children have been taught, allowing them to use their decoding skills. .
But Lucinda McKnight, a senior lecturer in education at Deakin University and an expert on teacher autonomy, said relying on decodable readers could deter some students.
“What is the quality of these readers when we know it is so important for students to be captured by reading and develop a love of reading?” she said.
She also warned against forcing teachers to take a one-size-fits-all approach to language and literacy education, saying it was important for teachers to be able to choose the theories and texts they use in the classroom.
“Students are incredibly diverse, and we are meant to be differentiating for their different needs. How do you do that if a program is systematic, and it’s just handed to you?” McKnight said.
The Coalition would also appoint an independent panel to help develop a revised literacy curriculum, recommend classroom resources and lesson plans.
“For teachers, where is the joy, where is the creativity?” McKnight said.
But Snow said English was the most complex alphabetic code in the world, and it wasn’t possible for a range of approaches to all be best practice. She said the current ad-hoc approach to literacy education left oral language and reading skills “too much to chance” and an intervention was needed to ensure disadvantaged students weren’t left behind.
“The end point is a widening gap between the haves and have-nots.”
As part of the multimillion-dollar election promise, the Coalition will also boost school-based support services for students with funding for 50 extra school nurses and 150 allied health specialists such as psychologists and speech pathologists to work alongside teachers.
The policy follows an earlier election pledge by the Coalition to review the state’s curriculum for prep to year 10 students. Opposition Leader, Matthew Guy, promised to make Victorian children the best readers “by implementing better resourcing and evidence-based reading programs” in schools.
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