Learning Difficulties Australia


Current Issues

National Phonics Screening Check for Australia

Education Minister Senator Birmingham has announced a "Phonics Screen" for Grade 1 students as part of the federal government's commitment to high impact, low cost policies. Reading instruction is one of these policies. In 2013, the UK government introduced a Year 1 Phonics Screening Check in all primary schools in England. Since its introduction, the number of students failing to achieve the expected standard in Year 2 reading tests has fallen by one third. The test only takes 5–7 minutes per student to administer and allows for early identification of students who have not developed adequate phoneme-grapheme associations as a foundation for beginner reading. 

See what is happening in each state below:

NSW Phonics Check Trial

South Australia

Phonics results for 5 to 7 year olds: UK

Click here to see DDOLL network letter of endorsement.

An article in support of the Phonics Screen initiative written by LDA Members Professor Pamela Snow; Distinguished Professor Anne Castles; Emeritus Professor Kevin Wheldall and Emeritus Professor Max Coltheart can be viewed at:  https://theconversation.com/why-australia-should-trial-the-new-phonics-screening-check-69717

Click here to the UK Phonics check and Click here for  the accompanying UK Phonics Check scoresheet.

View the November 2016 CIS Research Report “Focus on Phonics: Why Australia should adopt the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check”, by Dr Jennifer Buckingham.

The proposed Australian phonics screening check will identify the schools that are teaching phonics well, and will hopefully encourage more schools to adopt the teaching of structured synthetic phonics so all beginning readers have a strong understanding of the alphabet code. 

Professor Pamela Snow writes: "Why is it then that children's educational wellbeing is not placed above the taboo of talking about uneven quality in teacher education and practice?"

Alison Clarke from Spelfabet writes: "There’s nothing more anti-teacher than failing to provide early years teachers with the training and tools they need to teach and assess early literacy according to the best scientific evidence, and to rapidly and successfully identify children requiring extra help."

Effective Teaching

The Centre for Independent Studies research report Read About It: Scientific Evidence for Effective Teaching of Reading by Kerry Hempenstall, edited by Jennifer Buckingham, focuses on the large and rigorous body of scientific evidence identifying the key elements of high quality reading instruction which unequivocally shows that explicit instruction methods are the most effective way of teaching reading, especially for novice readers and children at-risk of reading failure.

This report outlines the powerful research evidence on learning to read from the 1960s to 2015 and explains how having effective, evidence-based reading instruction in every classroom, every day can substantially improve literacy levels among Australian children.

The Productivity Commission Report on the “National Education Evidence Base.”

The Productivity Commission was asked to provide advice on the national approach to collecting and using data to improve Australian’s educational outcomes.

The report provides a framework for further development of a national education evidence base by:

  • Reviewing current education data and evidence
  • Identifying the existing gaps
  • Considering issues associated with data collection, processing and management
  • Addressing challenges
  • Focusing on improving research capability and the capacity to disseminate and apply education evidence

View the Productivity Commission's Draft Report  “National Education Evidence Base.

The Productivity Commissions “National Education Evidence Base” final report handed down 6 December 2016, and also to view the submissions made to the Inquiry and transcripts of the public hearings in Melbourne and Sydney, including evidence given by Yvonne Meyer, former Committee Member of the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy and LDA member.

High performing primary schools

Overcoming the Odds: A study of Australia’s top-performing disadvantaged schools

In this study, education research fellow Blaise Joseph investigated the practices of primary schools that perform well on NAPLAN literacy and numeracy tests despite having high proportions of students from disadvantaged social backgrounds — and not receiving any more funding than other similarly disadvantaged schools.

 The study — the first of its kind conducted in Australia — found six common themes across nine high-achieving disadvantaged primary schools: 

  1. School discipline. Based on high expectations, a clear set of consistently applied classroom rules, and a centralised school behaviour policy.
  2. Direct and explicit instruction. New content is explicitly taught in sequenced and structured lessons. Includes clear lesson objectives, immediate feedback, reviews of content from previous lessons, unambiguous language, frequent checking of student understanding, demonstration of the knowledge or skill to be learnt, and students practicing skills with teacher guidance.
  3. Experienced and autonomous school leadership. Stable, long-term school leadership, and principal autonomy to select staff and control school budgets.
  4. Data-informed practice. Using data from teacher-written, NAPLAN, and other assessments to improve teaching, track student progress, and facilitate intervention for underachieving students.
  5. Teacher collaboration and professional learning. Collaboration among teachers and specialist support staff to cater for the often-complex needs of disadvantaged students. With a focus on teacher professional learning, involving peer observations, mentoring, and attending practical professional development activities which help refine literacy and numeracy instruction.
  6. Comprehensive early reading instruction. Including five necessary elements of reading instruction: Phonemic awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension.


Access the research summary snapshot

High performing schools: What do they have in common

Emeritus Professor Bill Louden, University of WA education dean and deputy vice-chancellor, authored the publication “High performing schools: What do they have in common?” where he investigated nine public primary schools which showed consistent improvement on NAPLAN results.

All schools had three things in common - reading programs based on explicit teaching of phonics in the early years, well-developed school improvement plans and stable long-term leadership.

These schools have made the transition to ‘lower variation teaching’ which involves school-wide agreement on what to teach and how to teach it. Almost all the schools had implemented explicit instruction methods for the teaching reading, spelling and maths with direct instruction for intervention. These schools had also made significant investments in teachers’ professional development to build teacher knowledge and skills.

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