While illiteracy is stark among indigenous children, they are not alone. According to NAPLAN, each year one in five children reach Year 3 with extremely basic levels of literacy. In socioeconomically disadvantaged families, it is one in three. Only a small minority of these children has a disability that prevents them learning to read. Most have just not been taught properly.

    Reading scientists (as opposed to “literacy” academics) had finally been vindicated in their quest for mainstream acceptance of the empirical evidence on how children learn to read. Battle-scarred teachers who had insisted on using phonics were emboldened to speak up about their results. In 2009, the NSW government jumped on board, publishing three very good literacy teaching guides which explained the importance of high quality phonics instruction in the early years of school. Finally, the message was getting across: a truly balanced and comprehensive, high quality reading program epitomises the best of both worlds – a well-designed, rigorously implemented phonics program with a language-rich classroom environment with real books to develop vocabulary, comprehension and a love of reading. It’s not either-or; both are necessary…

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