“When my son started school, I was excited to see how different his classroom was to anything I had experienced in my childhood. There were no assigned seats, and the children could move around at will in a room full of beanbags, books and toys.
At the end of the first year, I told my son’s teacher that I thought there was a problem with his learning but she assured me he was making good progress.
In the second year, at my insistence even though his teacher thought it unnecessary, my son was placed in the school’s new Reading Recovery programme. I was delighted at the individual attention he received, but at the end of the programme, his Reading Recovery teacher assessed him to be on Level 30 while his classroom teacher assessed him to be on Level 18, and his tutor assessed him to be on Level 9. When I asked why there was such a discrepancy, I did not receive an answer.
Over the next few years, I took my son to all sorts of education consultants looking for an explanation for a problem that I could sense with my ‘mother’s instinct’ but no teacher could explain. I was told that my son had every known learning difficulty (dyslexia, dyspraxia, auditory processing, visual processing difficulties, gifted etc.). The one problem that no-one ever discussed with me was that he might be an instructional casualty.
When my son was in Year 4 at a high-fee private school, he scored zero on a test of phoneme/grapheme correspondences implemented at the Royal Children’s Hospital Learning Difficulties Centre. At the time, I didn’t fully understand what this meant but I knew from the Psychologist’s reaction that it was important. I took this information back to his school and they assured me they would act on the report.
For the next 3 years, the school did nothing different. Subsequently, I realised no one at the school even read the report.
I eventually found a retired teacher who taught my son systematic/synthetic phonics and after twelve hours of explicit instruction in sound/letter correspondences, his spelling had improved 4 Year Levels, from Grade 2 to Grade 6.
My son went through six years of formal schooling without any of his teachers realising he couldn’t read and spell (decode and encode).
I was just a stay-at-home mum with no formal qualifications in education, but when I realised how little classroom teachers knew about teaching beginning reading, I got angry.
I started writing letters to politicians, education bureaucrats and academics and was eventually appointed to the Committee of the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy (NITL). The NITL Report, ‘Teaching Reading’ was published in 2005.
I was subsequently invited to join the Development Disorders of Language and Literacy (DDOLL) network, a “… group of scientists, clinicians, teachers and parents interested in discussing, and disseminating information about the investigation and treatment of developmental disorders of language and literacy through sound scientific methodology and evidence-based research.”
I was involved in overturning Years 11 and 12 Outcomes Based Education in Western Australia organised by the teacher’s protest group known as PLATOWA.
In 2006, I took legal action against my son’s high fee private school, and my story was published on the front page of The Australian newspaper and picked up by all our media.
Legal action against schools in Australia is uncommon and when it does occur, parents only option is to claim their child has a learning difficulty and was discriminated against by the school. The problem with using the anti-Disability Discrimination legislation to sue is that an assumption is made before the case even starts that the problem is with the child, not the school. I used the Trade Practises Act and took action on the grounds that the school had not delivered the programme that they had promised, and that the programme they did deliver was not of merchantable quality.
I believe this was the first time one of our schools was held accountable for the quality of their teachers and teaching programmes.
Since then, I have assisted a number of parents who have taken legal action against their children’s schools. In most of these cases, the parents have taken a payment and signed a confidentiality agreement. While this is the best result for individual students, it means that little is publicly known about the deluge of students who are instructional casualties and have taken legal action against their schools.
I have worked for Learning Difficulties Australia (LDA) part time since 2009, assisting at conferences and Professional Development sessions, (e.g. the Sir Jim Rose national tour, and the Tunmer and Chapman evidence for Reading Recovery’s failure presentation) building website content (e.g.the glossary), writing draft responses to government inquiries, (e.g. the Gonski inquiry into school funding, and the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into schools), as well as doing the weekly LDA news posting.
I co-wrote a critique of the new Australian National Curriculum, (2009), for its multi-cueing approach to teaching beginning reading. The letter forced the Prime Minister and the Chairman of the National Curriculum Authority to publicly announce their support for explicit instruction in synthetic phonics. However, the final document contained a mish-mash of multi-cueing strategies and a minimal focus on phonics.
In 2014, the Government ordered a review of the National Curriculum and a key recommendation is that more focus needs to be placed on the explicit teaching of synthetic phonics.
So the work continues…!”