Eager readers: (Clockwise from front left) Remy Savell-McKean, Tara Savell-McKean, Thomas Jones, Emma Jones and Mary Palethorpe choose a good read at the Beecroft Children's Bookshop. Photo: Anthony Johnson
Teaching children how to read is increasingly being outsourced to well-meaning volunteers rather than qualified professionals, according to leading author Jackie French.
The Diary of a Wombat author and Australian Children's Laureate said volunteer readers were shouldering an unfair burden as the number of trained teacher librarians and learning and support staff dwindled in NSW.
Ms French, who is severely dyslexic, accused schools that did not ensure each child could read at the same level as their classmates of failing their students.
Books for children of all ages.
''Increasingly, teaching kids how to read is left to unqualified volunteers,'' she said.
''They are not given the qualified help they need to find out why they are having problems with reading. All this does is teach the kids that they are dumb.''
While she praised the commitment of volunteers, who are usually parents or older students, she said they were no substitute for trained professionals who were in short supply.
''The teacher might only be able to give them one or two hours a week, which is not enough,'' she said. ''They need at least an hour a day. I don't know of any state-funded school where there are enough trained teachers who specialise in this area.''
Fellow author Andy Griffiths, a former high school English teacher, said he was inspired to start writing children's stories after he witnessed how many of his students did not read.
''Many of them had never had great experiences with books,'' he said.
He agreed that the importance of qualified teacher librarians could not be overstated.
''We need trained teacher librarians to be on top of all this and to be able to show the kids what's new and what they might be interested in,'' he said. ''We need those teachers and those parents to put the right book in the hands at the right time.''
The president of the Children's Book Council of Australia NSW, Gail Erskine, said the lack of qualified teacher librarians was ''the biggest area of neglect in primary schools''.
NSW Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron said teacher librarians and specialist support staff had become vulnerable under a state government program that gave autonomy to school principals.
''We have very serious concerns about the potential for NSW public schools to lose teacher librarian positions as well as other support positions for literacy because the government has refused to guarantee those positions as part of the school's entitlement,'' he said.
A spokesman for the Department of Education and Communities said every regular NSW public school employed a specialist learning and support teacher and that there were a number of programs available for students with reading difficulties.
The results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), released last year, showed the reading skills of Australian students had declined over the past decade.
Emeritus Professor of children's literature at the University of Canberra, Dr Belle Alderman, said educators needed to look at why children did not read.
''All kids love stories,'' she said. ''Rather than saying they are reluctant readers, what is it we aren't giving them to make them want to read and enjoy it?''