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The Turnbull Government has announced an expert group of principals, teachers, speech specialists, academics and researchers will progress the staged implementation of a nation-wide phonics assessment and the development of a numeracy check.

Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham said the short assessments of year 1 students' literacy and numeracy skills are backed by evidence and will provide early identification of those students who are behind so they can be targeted with interventions before the achievement gap grows.
 
Minister Birmingham said following three significant national and international reports in 2016 that showed Australia’s education performance at best plateauing and at worst declining and the gap between our brightest and struggling students widening, this reform was deliberately targeted at those students who start school “behind the pack”.
 
“The time to act is now if we’re going to turn around our declining national and international education results. We can’t afford to wait any longer,” Minister Birmingham said.
 
“The Turnbull Government is acting. While we work with states and territories on our reform agenda, it is important that these evidence-based reforms are ready to hit the classroom as soon as possible once new agreements are finalised and this expert panel will ensure that is the case.
 
“These highly regarded academic, health and education experts will drive these reforms, establish an implementation plan including an initial pilot to be scaled up to an early years’ skills check for all Australian students. They will consider the frequency, timing and core skills to be assessed prior to reporting by mid-2017.

“This panel will also consider existing examples from Australia and overseas, such as the Year 1 phonics check used in England that involves children verbally identifying letters and sounds in both real words and made up words to show a child’s understanding of how language works.
 
“Similar numeracy checks see children undertake tasks such as simple counting, recognising numbers, naming shapes and demonstrating basic measurement knowledge.”
 
Minister Birmingham said the implementation of the phonics assessment was an example of an evidence-backed reform that had previously been lost in the “washing machine debate” of schools funding over many years.
 
“The introduction of nationally consistent assessments on-entry to school for every Australian child with a specific focus on decoding skills and word reading accuracy using objective testing was recommended in the 2005 National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy. This is an example of the Turnbull Government acting on something that is long overdue and has long been called for.”
 
Minister Birmingham said progressing the literacy and numeracy skills checks in a staged and consultative approach towards a national roll-out showed the Turnbull Government’s ‘back to basics’ education approach was focussed on ensuring our record and growing levels of funding were being directed towards reforms that would make a difference for all Australian students.
 
“Importantly, these skills check are not expected to be a confronting test but rather a light touch assessment that ensures teachers, parents and schools know at the earliest possible stage if children aren’t picking up reading or counting skills as quickly as they should, enabling them to intervene rapidly.
 
“In England, the improvement in the first five years of students taking part in the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check has been significant and includes the number of children meeting the expected standard from just over half in the first year to more than eight in 10 this year. The results are even more promising in the year following a student completing the initial assessment.
 
“The Turnbull Government’s commitment to policies shown to boost outcomes like this proposed Year 1 school assessment will allow those children who might need a little extra assistance to be identified at the earliest opportunity and better supported to succeed at school. 
 
“It is important to identify if a child is not learning to read effectively, because then you can intervene and you can fix that problem, while evidence indicates that once a child reaches the age of eight there are enormous challenges to turning that around and the learning gap only blows out further.”

Minister Birmingham said the panel that would report back to Education Council in mid-2017 would consist of:

  • Ms Mandy Nayton OAM – Chief Executive Officer, Dyslexia-SPELD Foundation, Western Australian President AUSPELD
  • Professor Pamela Snow – Head of the La Trobe Rural Health School, registered psychologist, having qualified originally in speech pathology
  • Dr Jennifer Buckingham – Education Research Fellow the Centre for Independent Studies
  • Mr Steven Capp – Principal, Bentleigh West Primary School Victoria
  • Professor Geoff Prince – Director, Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute
  • Ms Allason McNamara – Maths Teacher at Trinity Grammar, Kew, Vic, President Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT)

Minister Birmingham said the Turnbull Government is determined to use our record and growing levels of investment in Australian schools as effectively as possible to turnaround areas of stagnating or worsening performance.
 
“We will continue to grow funding from a record $16 billion last year to $20.1 billion in 2020, all to be allocated based on need and tied to the implementation of reforms like our phonics check outlined in Quality Schools Quality Outcomes.
 
“Those initiatives will build on our work over the last three years including our reforms to improve the training of new teachers, our de-cluttering of the National Curriculum and investment in modern skills like coding through the National Innovation and Science Agenda.
 
“Australia cannot afford to follow the status quo in schooling. We must be focused on delivering reforms that evidence from teachers and researchers have shown us will boost student outcomes. 
 
“It’s time for Australian leaders, educators and families to focus on what works in our schools and I look forward to collaborating with all sections of the community to implement our reforms which are designed to support all students to achieve their absolute best.”  
 
The Terms of Reference for an early years’ assessment expert panel can be found at http://docs.education.gov.au/documents/terms-reference-expert-advisory-panel-national-literacy-and-numeracy-check-year-1-check

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