The public school teachers union has blamed the widening gap between rich and poor for declining reading outcomes amid calls for an overhaul of reading instruction in the ACT.
In response to a report from Equity Economics which recommended urgent intervention to align the teaching of reading with scientific evidence, Australian Education Union ACT branch president Angela Burroughs said the union supported teacher's ability to decide which teaching methods to use.
"We are reluctant to give any oxygen to the old literacy wars when there are such critical issues in our schools that need attention and resources," Ms Burroughs said.
"But when a billionaire benefactor of Canberra's richest school funds a report written by an economics thinktank that degrades public education, we must take a stand."
Ms Burroughs said debate over effective teaching practises failed to take into account students' socioeconomic status.
"Teachers are expected to differentiate the curriculum to match each student's progress and learning needs. This creates a huge workload that sees most teachers work far beyond their paid hours every week," she said.
"They do this because they are education experts, and because they care.
"We take the strongest stand against suggestions that our members are so incapable that they should read from a script to deliver a curriculum."
Ms Burroughs said the science of reading and the science of learning guided every decision every teacher made.
But the Equity Economics report, funded by the Snow Foundation, found there was no consistency in public schools when it comes to teaching students how to read. It found ACT schools follow a balanced literacy approach, involving use of three-cueing and guided reading of levelled texts, and that phonics was not taught in an explicit, systematic and sequential way.
One current ACT primary school teacher was quoted as saying: "As a teacher, I just don't have the resources I need to teach children to read. The ACT is hardcore balanced literacy territory, but there are some brave schools trying hard."
The report calls for pre-service teachers to be only trained in high-quality, research-based literacy instruction informed by the science of reading.
University of Canberra Associate Professor of early childhood education Deborah Pina Pasternak said the university introduced new units on foundations of early literacy last year, but balanced literacy practices were also taught.
"There is a lot of good practice already happening in ACT schools, maybe not necessarily at scale and consistency we can potentially strive for, but I don't think it suggests that we're currently in such a critical situation that we would be disservicing our students within the ACT," she said.
Associate Professor Pina Pasternak said the benefits of the new units in the initial teacher education degree were yet to flow to the school system.
"The work towards upskilling needs to be multipronged and it needs to target our pre-service teacher education, for which we are responsible as a university, but at the same time it needs to provide those sources of professional learning for our existing teachers."
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