Grattan Institute’s Report – Reading Abilities in WA 

February 22, 2024

As advocates for a quality education no matter where a child lives in Western Australia, the Fogarty Foundation acknowledges that Australia has a literacy crisis. Given the importance of ensuring every child has the essential skills for success, we recognise the imperative of transforming the way reading is taught in our schools. The recent findings from the Grattan Institute’s report on reading abilities serve as a call for action, reaffirming the need for systemic reform that utilises evidence-based interventions. 

At the heart of Australia’s reading problem lies a decades-long debate over pedagogical approaches to teaching reading. The Foundation believes that the time for debate is over. The evidence is clear: the ‘whole-language’ approach, with its reliance on the notion that reading is a natural, unconscious process, falls short of meeting the diverse learning needs of our students. 

Instead, we advocate for the widespread adoption of the ‘structured literacy’ approach throughout our education system. Grounded in research and proven effectiveness, structured literacy places a strong emphasis on phonics instruction, decoding skills, and phonemic awareness. By equipping students with the foundational skills to sound out words and decode meaning, structured literacy lays the groundwork for reading success. 

However, it is also key to recognise that structured literacy is not merely about phonics; it encompasses a holistic approach to reading instruction. It emphasises vocabulary development, comprehension strategies, and fluency practice, fostering understanding of texts and nurturing a lifelong love for reading. This comprehensive approach ensures that students not only read proficiently but also engage critically with diverse texts across various disciplines. 

Grattan argues that, central to its vision for a reading revolution, is the establishment of a ‘Reading Guarantee’ – a six-step commitment to achieving reading proficiency for all Australian students: 

  1. Pledge that at least 90 per cent of Australian students will become proficient readers, setting ambitious yet achievable targets for educational excellence. 
  1. Provide educators with clear guidelines on evidence-based reading instruction, ensuring consistency and effectiveness in teaching practices. 
  1. Equip schools with high-quality curriculum materials and assessments, empowering teachers with the tools they need to deliver effective reading instruction. 
  1. Implement universal screening of students’ reading skills and provide targeted support for those in need, ensuring no child falls through the cracks. 
  1. Invest in teacher professional development and appoint Literacy Instructional Specialists in schools, building educators’ capacity to deliver high-quality reading instruction. 
  1. Mandate a nationally consistent Year 1 Phonics Screening Check and hold schools accountable for their performance in teaching students to read, driving continuous improvement in literacy outcomes. 

By implementing evidence-based reading instruction and committing to the Reading Guarantee, significant positive change can be achieved that will benefit generations to come. The Fogarty Foundation supports the findings of the Grattan Institute and welcome the level of public interest in the growing challenge facing our schools and the education sector. 

Let’s use this momentum to drive reform, ensuring that every child has the opportunity to unlock their potential through high quality, evidence-based, literacy instruction in West Australia’s schools. 

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