The Literacy Taskforce agreed that, even with best practice in every classroom, effective intervention programmes are still needed for children who will benefit from more intensive, specialised teaching. This need is most likely to arise in the first year of instruction but may arise later for some children, particularly those with poor oral skills in the language of instruction.
The taskforce stressed that intervention is not inoculation, and its success depends on ongoing effective teaching in the classroom. The presence of effective intervention programmes must not lessen the importance of best practice in the classroom.
Current interventions that provide specialist assistance include Reading Recovery, Resource Teachers of Reading, Resource Teachers of Māori, and the Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour. The taskforce focused on the first two of these, although it acknowledged the significance of the latter two. In particular, some members of the taskforce stressed that their preference was for the Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour to focus as much on learning as they did on behaviour – particularly since most of their work in learning was concerned with developing literacy skills in limited-progress children. The taskforce also acknowledged that the Resource Teachers of Māori carry a significant workload in that they are expected to provide advice and support across all essential learning areas of the curriculum.
Reading Recovery is internationally recognised as one of the most successful acceleration and intervention programmes to support children making limited progress in reading. The Literacy Taskforce acknowledged the strengths of Reading Recovery and agreed that it must remain an essential feature of New Zealand’s education system.
However, members of the taskforce raised several issues about the programme itself and the way in which it is currently implemented. These issues were as follows:
The Reading Recovery programme is used with the lowest 20% of children compared with their cohort in an individual school. The taskforce believes that, in order to make the best use of available resources, Reading Recovery should be targeted to children with the greatest need, particularly those in lower decile schools. Further, the taskforce was concerned that a combination of factors can lead to higher decile schools having more Reading Recovery trained teachers than lower decile schools, thus compounding the problems of accessibility for children most at risk of underachieving.
The taskforce also considered that the stage at which Reading Recovery is delivered could be more flexible. For some children, it might be beneficial to participate in the programme earlier than the end of the first year of instruction; others might take longer than this first year to develop their oral language skills to a point where they can make the maximum gains from the programme.
For Māori children in general classes, the taskforce emphasised that cultural affirmation by Reading Recovery teachers is an important element of the teaching.
Members of the taskforce believe that some children with learning difficulties have specific needs that cannot be met through Reading Recovery. Although Reading Recovery can identify these children, they need a different programme.
Despite Reading Recovery being heavily researched overseas, the taskforce was concerned that only two research studies have been carried out on the programme in New Zealand independently of the programme's own monitoring and research. This is considered to be insufficient to identify any trends indicating the need for refinements or improvements.
The taskforce considered that a literal translation of an English intervention programme such as Reading Recovery is inappropriate for Māori-medium education. Instead, an effective, appropriate intervention needs to researched and developed for this medium. The taskforce agreed that it is critical that Māori initiate, develop, trial, and implement this intervention.
Resource teachers of reading
The Literacy Taskforce affirmed the work of the Resource Teachers of Reading, agreeing that the service is a critical intervention for those children who are hardest to teach. The taskforce noted with concern that the current level of resourcing is insufficient to meet demand.
Members of the taskforce also noted that there is variability in the qualifications and experience of Resource Teachers of Reading because of the way in which they have been appointed to their positions. Despite working with the hardest-to-teach children, Resource Teachers of Reading are not required to have specialist training. The taskforce believes mandatory specialist training should be considered.
A nationally co-ordinated system
The Literacy Taskforce believes that a nationally co-ordinated and managed system of second- and third-phase interventions is the most effective and efficient way of providing consistent, specialised instruction for the children most at risk of failing to learn to read and write for success. Such a system would also provide a way of gathering reliable data for monitoring progress towards the goal. The taskforce considered that the current nationally funded interventions, Reading Recovery and the Resource Teachers of Reading, should form the basis of this system but that changes would need to be considered to the programmes and operation of each to ensure consistency in targeting and equity of access.
This system should articulate with services being provided to schools by the Resource Teachers: Learning and Behaviour.
The Literacy Taskforce recommends that a nationally co-ordinated system of interventions targeted at those most in need be established by reviewing and building on the interventions that already exist, in particular, Reading Recovery and the Resource Teachers of Reading.