There are numerous sources of evidence indicating that the literacy programs in early years classrooms do not consistently include explicit, systematic and sequential phonics instruction in every classroom, and that many teachers lack the knowledge to provide this type of teaching.

The Advisory Panel Report (2017) examined the evidence and found several reasons for this;

State government rhetoric is often not reflected in literacy policies and programs, for example the NSW State Government’s central early literacy program, L3 does not include explicit, systematic and sequential phonics instruction, rather it follows an incidental model.

The QLD government’s Prep-Year 2 literacy indicators includes phonics, however they emphasise the use of semantic and grammatical cues before the use of phonics cues. This is commensurate with the three-cueing strategy and current reading research suggests the three-cueing strategy is not effective for weak or at risk readers, and is counterproductive.

Peak professional literacy teaching organisations, such as PETA and ALEA, produce documents that do not support effective, evidence-based phonics instruction. These bodies use the language of explicit instruction, however ALEA’s Literacy declaration actually endorses incidental phonics instruction.

Among principals and employers of teachers, there is low confidence in the ability of new initial teacher education (ITE) graduates to teach reading

The Australian Primary Principals Association, 2015 discussion paper states, that “Graduate teachers are not adequately prepared to teach without significant levels of support. They are not classroom ready. For example, over half of graduate (primary) teachers could not teach reading (54%) and mathematics (51%) to a reasonable level.” 11

Initial teacher education (ITE) students and qualified teachers have weak knowledge of the language constructs that underpin expert teaching of reading

Australian initial teacher education undergraduates have been found to lack the knowledge of structures of the English language essential to the teaching of reading, this has been demonstrated in numerous studies. In the most recent study, a large proportion of Australian early primary school teachers were not familiar with very basic linguistic concepts —  only 38% of prep teachers correctly defined phonemic awareness, 41% correctly defined a consonant blend, and 53% correctly defined a morpheme. In this same study teachers overrated their abilities, thus compounding the problem because one cannot teach what one does not know.

The recent 2017 South Australian phonics check trial report commented that there was a ‘fragmented approach to phonics with teachers using different approaches and programs’. The report found that some teachers were well versed in phonics but some needed additional support. Teachers and leaders who participated in the trial indicated they needed more teacher training on phonics because ‘graduates are lacking in phonics teaching skills.” Teachers and leaders, also required greater guidance on how to respond to results, this would indicate an existing lack of phonic knowledge because teachers, if well trained,  should already know what to do if students were failing to meet the standards for the phonics check.

  2. FIVE from FIVE launch event, 8 March 2016
  3. Neilson, R. & Howell, S. 2015. L3 Early Years Literacy Program, Learning Difficulties Australia Bulletin, 47(2), 7-12.
  4. Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Years P-2 Literacy Indicators,
  5. Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Year 1 Assessment – Literacy Checkpoints – June
  6. Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Year 1 Assessment – Literacy and Numeracy Checkpoints,
  7. Australian Literacy Educators Association. 2015.
  8. Hempenstall, K. 2016. Read About It: Scientific evidence for effective teaching of reading. Research Report 11. Sydney: The Centre for Independent Studies.
  9. Primary English Teachers Association Australia
  10. Wolf, M. 2007. Proust and the Squid: The story and science of the reading brain. New York: Harper Collins.
  11. Australian Primary Principals Association. 2015. Initial Teacher Education: Teacher Preparation, Course Content and Specialisation at all levels but particularly in Primary Schools
  12. NSW Response to the invitation from the Commonwealth Minister’s Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group to comment on its Issues Paper.
  13. Buckingham, J., Wheldall, R. & Wheldall, K. 2013. Why Jaydon can’t read: The triumph of ideology over evidence in teaching of reading, Policy, 29 (3), 21-32; Snow, P. 2016. Elizabeth Usher Memorial Lecture: Language is literacy is language – Positioning speech-language pathology in education policy, practice, paradigms and polemics. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 18 (3), 216-228.
  14. Stark, H.L., Snow, P.C., Eadie, P.A. & Goldfeld, S.R. 2016. Language and reading instruction in early years’ classrooms: the knowledge and self-rated ability of Australian teachers. Annals of Dyslexia, 66, 28-56.
  15. Moats, L. 2014. What teachers don’t know and why they aren’t learning it: addressing the need for content and pedagogy in teacher education. Australian Journal of Learning Difficulties, 19, 75-91.