Lifting Literacy Aotearoa is astonished that a report published last week by the Ministry of Education’s Chief Education Scientific Advisor, Prof. Stuart McNaughton, fails to mention the International Best Practice research ‘Science of Reading’.

‘Science of Reading’ is a body of research in developmental psychology, educational psychology, cognitive science, and cognitive neuroscience on reading – one of the most complex human behaviours – and its biological (neural, genetic) bases.

To become an independent reader the brain of each child must undergo change, which French neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene describes as “neuronal conversion” (Dehaene, 2010).

This gold standard research has been conducted for decades around the world, and provides clear, evidence-based direction for how all children should be taught to read.

But this structured literacy approach remains generally absent from teacher training and literacy curriculum delivery in schools in New Zealand, says Lifting Literacy Aotearoa, a lobby group advocating for change to the way children are taught to read.

“The omission of this core research from the report is disappointing at best, and dangerous at worst”, says Alice Wilson, Lifting Literacy Aotearoa Chair.

“The Ministry has commissioned some positive projects which trial a structured literacy approach to great success, but this report is a backwards step. The longer the Ministry of Education waits to formally acknowledge and adopt the Science of Reading, the greater the number of children at risk of falling behind in those critical first years at school.”

The report by Prof. McNaughton, The literacy landscape in Aotearoa New Zealand, seeks to
survey the evidence and landscape to set out what we know, what needs fixing and what we should prioritise.

However, Lifting Literacy Aotearoa believes the report lacks rigour, and only serves to delay the adoption of national and international best practice in New Zealand schools. The report fails to refer to two important longitudinal studies of early literacy learning in New Zealand, both funded by the Ministry of Education.

The group says that the Chief Education Scientific Advisor seems to have overlooked the vast body of research which demonstrates the suite of evidence-based classroom methodologies that lift literacy rates significantly for all.

“We are glad to see the Ministry and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Education Scientific Advisor take such a keen interest in the reading success of our young people. We too are passionate to see all of our young people become skilled readers and writers.

“But the quality of this latest report is not what it should have been as it omits highly relevant research and evidence available. We are also concerned at the conflict of interest the author has in being a Trustee of the Marie Clay Institute”, Alice Wilson says.

The group is urging the Prime Minister’s Chief Education Scientific Advisor and the Ministry of Education to ensure any further literacy initiatives be guided by an Expert Advisory Group comprising practitioners, researchers, and speech language therapists, and that all relevant national and international research and evidence is taken into account when deciding on priority action and allocation of funds.

“The single most effective thing we could do to raise literacy achievement in Aotearoa New
Zealand is invest in evidence-based training of all teachers (early childhood and early primary) so that all children receive the most effective instruction from the start.

“The tamariki of Aotearoa deserve to be taught by teachers who know about how the brain learns to read and the best practice approaches that work to facilitate this”, says Alice Wilson.

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