The West

Fight looms over  reading lessons
Write and wrong: Fight looms over reading lessons. Picture: The Kalgoorlie Miner

A fight could be brewing between Federal and State politicians over the most effective way to teach children to read and write.

Newly elected Perth MHR Alannah MacTiernan has tried to reignite the reading wars debate by calling on the Federal Government to intervene in State education to make sure schools place more emphasis on phonics when teaching children to read.

She said universities and State education departments were controlled by people with career attachments to the "whole language" method of reading teaching, which assumed it could be acquired as naturally as speech and asked children to guess words based on context or picture clues. There was growing scientific evidence for using phonics, which taught children to break down language into sounds.

"The public is rightfully perplexed as to how Australia can pour so much money into education and keep hearing that our children's literacy is declining," she said. "It is time for Federal intervention."

State Education Minister Peter Collier said WA schools already used phonics and Canberra would never intervene in State education.

"While we pay 90 per cent of the funding for our State schools, we will determine what is taught in our schools," he said.

But Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne said it was coalition policy to encourage a back-to-basics approach, with a strong focus on phonics and direct instruction.

It planned to do that by reviewing the national curriculum and improving teacher training.

Melbourne literacy consultant John Fleming, who was in Perth last week to coach teachers, said even though the national curriculum included reference to phonics, it should provide teachers with more guidance on what strategies to use.

Edith Cowan University education senior lecturer Lorraine Hammond said some WA schools taught phonics better than others.

"There are some high- performing schools, both Catholic and public, that are following a definitive explicit model and they are achieving very good results," she said.

The West Australian

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