Recent research into the Federal Government’s Flexible Literacy for Remote Primary Schools Program has found the program did not improve the reading standards of Indigenous children whose schools took part in the program.

In 2013, the Federal Government committed $22 million to ‘Flexible Learning’ for remote schools. The Flexible Literacy for Remote Primary Schools Program 2020 Guidelines outlined the funding regime and the two primary aims of the program.

These aims were to “improve student literacy … through embedding either Direct Instruction or the Explicit Instruction teaching pedagogy approach in primary school classrooms” and to “increase teacher pedagogical skills in teaching literacy through either Direct Instruction or Explicit Instruction”.

The Direct Instruction (DI) concept was based on a trial completed in Cape York, Queensland, however there is no evidence to say DI was the successful aspect of the trial, as many factors were not considered.

The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education analysed MySchool data for 25 remote school participants, where 80 percent of the students were of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent.

The data showed the program was unsuccessful in improving Indigenous children’s reading skills as well as decreasing participating schools’ NAPLAN scores.

A comparison over three years found schools’ NAPLAN scores declined by 23.43 points, in stark opposition to schools without the program, which increased on average by 4.47 points.

Worse still, attendance at schools with the program dropped by 7.52 percent.

Despite ongoing negative results, the $30 million Federal Government initiative was extended twice.

When questioned about why there were no intermediate checks on the program, the Northern Territory Department of Education said communities were responsible for the program’s renewal.

“In line with local decision making, communities were given the choice to have the program continue in their schools,” a spokesperson from the Department said.

The extent to which the program was rolled out at its peak in the NT is unknown, however the NT Department said there were very few who were still delivering the program.

“There are currently three schools in the NT delivering this program.”

The Western Australian Department of Education’s Assistant Executive Director, Teaching and Student Support Services, Martin Clery said individual schools decided whether to implement the program and that a small amount of schools chose to participate.

“The Flexible Literacy for Remote Primary Schools Program … is delivered by the not-for-profit organisation Good to Great Schools Australia,” Clery said.

“Individual schools can choose to participate in this program based on their own context and education needs.

“In Western Australia there are very few schools which choose to participate.

“This year there are only two schools involved, one public primary school in the Pilbara region and one district high school in the Midwest region.

“Due to small student numbers at the primary school, there are not enough students participating in NAPLAN to make any conclusions about the school’s relative performance.”

The program’s guidelines outline that the funding regime for the program will run until 2021, with a decrease to $750,000. It remains unclear whether there will be a replacement program.

By Caris Duncan