The rollout of indigenous leader Noel Pearson’s signature literacy program will be extended after an independent evaluation found it was having a positive effect on the reading and writing skills of indigenous students in remote Australia.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham will announce today the 12-month extension of the $23.8 million Flexible Literacy for Remote Primary Schools pilot.
The measures to boost literacy and numeracy are being delivered by Mr Pearson’s not-for-profit Good to Great Schools Australia in 35 mainly indigenous remote or extremely remote schools and are based on the principles of Direct Instruction or Explicit Direct Instruction.
The government will fund the extension of the pilot with an additional $4.1m.
“We’ve backed DI and EDI since we came to government because we could see its potential,’’ Senator Birmingham said.
“The independent analysis highlights the ‘green shoots’ coming through in the literacy skills of students that have been involved in the program.
“No program can be expected to turn around entrenched literacy issues overnight but there are early indications of improvements in some literacy measures as well as anecdotal feedback from the teachers and principals who have been involved.’’
The evaluation report, undertaken by Melbourne University’s Centre for Program Evaluation and out today, finds mixed results in the Northern Territory, Western Australian and Queensland schools taking part in 2015 and 2016, including the chronic problem of high teacher-turnover rates. On average, NT schools in the program lost more than half of their teachers last year and three-quarters of their teaching assistants, which interrupted implementation of the drills-based literacy program. Student truancy compounded the problem.
But despite these hurdles, the report found “pockets of promise’’, saying “there is little doubt that the program has already had a positive impact’’. “Systems, communities, and schools can disrupt the current challenges that may be restraining the program or causing variable results,’’ the report said. “The need for the program is clear, while the will to implement is variable. The program has already accrued clusters of successful change in a complex environment. Undoubtedly, the program is disrupting falling literacy results in schools and is on track to generate further change.’’
Mr Pearson championed the back-to-basics teaching method after piloting it successfully in schools on his home turf in far north Queensland. Under DI, teachers follow tightly scripted incremental lesson-by-lesson plans that unfold in a set sequence. The program, developed in the US in the late 1960s to help underprivileged African-American city children, has drawn criticism because of the rigid framework.
The report finds that although teachers and principals describe the program as inflexible, they acknowledge the structured approach “allows students with irregular attendance to re-enter the program and, more importantly, re-enter the learning’’.
The program is run in 19 NT government and independent schools, 15 WA Catholic, independent, and government schools, and one Queensland school.