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Australian primary English curricula and their planned exclusions

By Chris Nugent - posted Thursday, 31 October 2013

In my last article I ran a very simple 'word count' analysis on Australia's current National (primary) English Curriculum. This curriculum was issued by ACARA in the December of 2012.

A word count analysis is probably the simplest and quickest way of statistically checking a literacy curriculum document to find out, within reasonable confidence limits, precisely what its writers are choosing to either write or not write about. In the case of the Primary School sections of our current national English curriculum, our word count exposed a large number of inexplicable omissions that had been driven out by an 'educational' ideology:

In effect, our national primary English curriculum had omitted almost totally to advise teachers on what they should teach in order to help them in the testing and tutoring of (a) English Read Aloud Skills (b) the English Alphabetic or 'phonic' Principle and (c) English spelling.


The ideology that had excluded these three foundation skills was named as the whole language ideology. My article then went on to list a number of the consequences of this ideology. Over the past 3 decades, this ideology had been largely instrumental in producing up to 8 million Australian workers and more than 1.5 million school students with problems in their basic reading and spelling skill.

Ignorance always lies at the foundation of fanatical ideologies like this: a primary English curriculum that is not meticulously detailed in its provisions for the teaching of the 3 most foundational of the 'literacy basics' is about a viable as a fruitcake without fruit or a brick house without bricks.

The sad/glad truth about the leading role of our current national English curriculum is that it now makes it is easier to evaluate the view that the spelling and reading problems in Australian schools and workplaces are planned nationally at the curriculum writing stages. I do not mean planned with any active malice mind you, but definitely planned with meticulous attention to every topic that is chosen for inclusion in the curricula. Blatant omissions such as year level spelling lists and even phonic check lists for each year of the primary school are simply never accidental.

Illiteracy in Australia then, is quite definitely planned, and we do not need any large or disciplined study to prove it. For present purposes only simple reasoning is sufficient to make the inflammatory charge of 'planned illiteracy in Australia' stick.

The very public literacy test record for Australian students and workers is a deafening rebuke of Australia's literacy curricula. There are only 3 basic literacy skills that we need to look at when we are called on by aspiring politicians and others to rally under a 'back to the literacy basics' banner. In summary, these skills are alphabetic (or phonic) skills, read-aloud skills and English spelling.

If a student or worker has a deficit in any one of these 3 skills he or she will remain disabled in basic literacy competence until that deficit is fixed. There is simply no other way around this teaching problem. Insightful but very simple diagnostic testing and competent reteaching, that is aimed at eliminating the specific skills deficit, is the only answer for students and workers like this.


That's why Education Department bureaucrats everywhere need to urgently promote the testing and teaching of these 3 skills with explicit attention to all necessary detail. But will they? Let's look at a few bleak and longstanding barriers.

The first basic literacy skill: The alphabetic (or 'phonic') principle

School curricula around the English speaking world often use the word phonics to refer to that part of basic literacy teaching that helps children to cope with the sounding-out of English words. This sounding-out process is alternatively referred to as the alphabetic principle or phonic skill, and no English word has ever been written without it.

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About the Author

Chris Nugent is a retired specialist teacher. He is the author of Planned Illiteracy in Australia : The Very Clear Evidence.

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All articles by Chris Nugent

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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