To Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull,Minister Simon Birmingham, Minister Susan Ley Health Minister Jack Snelling, Premier Jay Weatherill, Edu...

Meet The Team - Dr Sandra Marshall

20:41:00 My Red Letter Dyslexia Awareness 0 Comments

To Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull,Minister Simon Birmingham, Minister Susan Ley
Health Minister Jack Snelling, Premier Jay Weatherill, Education Minister Susan Close, Rick Perse CEO DECD, Helen O’Brien CEO SA Catholic Education, John Proeve Executive Director SA/NT/WA Lutheran schools

I am one of the co-founders of Dyslexia SA (formerly DAGBAGS) and am the current President of Dyslexia South Australia ( Dyslexia SA) . I am a General Practitioner at Gawler Medical Clinic and I am a parent of 2 boys. 

My younger son (aged 12) has dyslexia and his school journey has not been easy. It was his difficulties and abject school failure that made me aware of what is quite frankly, an unbelievable situation in Australia when it comes to dyslexia and the teaching of reading in general. Following the 2005 National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (http://www.dest.gov.au/literacyinquiry ), the then Education Minister Brendan Nelson said :

“Too many of our children are not achieving even minimum standards in reading. In 2003, 8 per cent of Year 3 children and 11 per cent of Years 5 and 7 children did not achieve minimum national benchmarks. The results for Indigenous children are even more disturbing. It is unacceptable that a significant number of Australian children are barely able to read and write. I am determined that we not fail our children in this task. Literacy is the fundamental key to a child’s future success, happiness and ability to participate as a contributing adult member of society. The Government is committed to ensuring that all Australian children achieve high standards of literacy and that they acquire essential reading skills.”

11 years on and we are still waiting for this commitment! Standards have plummeted even further.

While we wait, tens of thousands of students with dyslexia (some identified with dyslexia, most not), are presenting to GPs seeking mental health support and intervention for what is an “education system failure”. These students have been let down by an education system that has failed to recognise dyslexia as a learning difficulty, and failed to address their learning needs.

In Australia, students with dyslexia are subjected to what is broadly known as the "wait to fail" model of identifying dyslexia where schools wait until a child has fallen well behind peers in reading attainment. Typically a learner has to have failed for several years before schools might (even then many don’t) investigate the reasons for their low levels of attainment. We rely on Speech Pathologists (some) and Educational Psychologists to diagnose dyslexia, a very
expensive business, and only middle class families can afford. By the time these students are properly identified, failure has taken its toll on their feelings about themselves as a learner and many have disengaged. Its thought that only 10% of students receive a diagnosis. The rest go through life thinking that they are dumb, and generally underachieving.

Why don’t we care more about how we make kids feel at school?

“Dyslexia Aware Schools” are the exception rather than the norm. All kids start school with hope and excitement. To have 7 year old children giving up on education and wanting to die because they feel so worthless at school is inexcusable.

I think it is a calamity that students that haven't been taught to read are then blamed for being disruptive and for not trying hard enough! We have failed them, and continue to fail them daily.

Kids are presenting in large numbers to health providers after having had year after year of failure. How has this been allowed to happen? How can Health Professionals fix young people broken by the education systems? Who will teach them to read? Tutors are expensive, and good ones are rare. It is often too little, too late. Education reform and accountability is way overdue.

Why do we wait until Grade 3 to assess Literacy and Numerical skills? (NapLan)

International research has proven over and over that if a child is not reading at grade level by grade 3, they have a 75% chance of never being able to read at minimum standards.

It is well established that phonological awareness is the strongest predictor of reading success. Come on leaders, get the year 1 phonic screen happening!

To hear Premier Jay Weatherill say that we have a “world class education system” on Q and A on 26th September is laughable. Across Australia 25% year 4 students are not reaching minimum International benchmarks for reading.

In Australia 53% of 15 - 19 year olds are functionally illiterate ( 2006 ABS ) . This means they cannot apply for online jobs, vote, read train timetables, or even follow medication instructions.

So we have a massive problem, and its the 1 in 5 kids with dyslexia, or Dyslexic-type learning needs who are set up to fail. Illiteracy locks families into vicious cycles of poverty that lay the conditions for:

● School anxiety

● School avoidance
● Depression
● Behavioural problems
● Truancy
● Low self esteem
● School drop out
● Drug and alcohol abuse
● Risk taking behaviour
● Suicide
● Unemployment
● Incarceration

Many schools are using non evidence based teaching and assessment methods leaving vulnerable kids as the victims, and teachers become despondent due to the lack of results.
Teachers report to us frequently that they are desperately frustrated. The majority of graduate and post graduate teachers are not being taught how to teach kids to read. Nor are they being taught about dyslexia. It is not an unreasonable community expectation that learning how to
teach reading would be a core component of pre service training for teacher. Sadly it is not. Parents of children with reading difficulties are learning this every day in Australia when they are told that their child’s school cannot help their child learn to read.

How could something so important, be left to chance?

It has been 11 years since the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (NITL) was undertaken and unbelievably not one of the 20 recommendations has been implemented.

The government at the time said “The Government will now closely examine the findings of this important Report and its identification of best practice in literacy teaching and teacher preparation.”

They didn’t!

Australian education authorities have been allowed to ignore the recommendations of this inquiry into the effective teaching of reading. This has not only failed dyslexic students, but has seen all learners subjected to ineffective teaching methodologies. Even more tragic still is the fact that many current education leaders and politicians do not even know of this Inquiry’s existence!

There is nothing inevitable about illiteracy and school failure.

The 2016 levels of literacy and numeracy among Australian school students are a national and international disgrace. Whether or not a child learns to read should not be a matter of chance. Low literacy cannot be tolerated or excused any longer. This is a challenge we can overcome, and we MUST overcome.

So, what are you going to do?

Yours sincerely
Dr Sandra Marshall
BMBS FRACGP

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