House debates

Monday, 8 February 2016

Private Members' Business


11:43 am

Photo of Nick ChampionNick Champion (Wakefield, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) people with dyslexia have difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters and other symbols;

(b) dyslexia does not affect general intelligence; and

(c) the primary symptoms of dyslexia are:

(i) problems learning the letter sounds for reading and spelling;

(ii) difficulty in reading single words, such as on flash cards and in lists (decoding);

(iii) lack of fluency;

(iv) reading slowly with many mistakes;

(v) poor spelling; and

(vi) poor visual gestalt/coding (orthographic coding);

(2) acknowledges:

(a) the hard work of support groups, educators and families in raising awareness of dyslexia;

(b) the many programs and services helping students to achieve their best every day; and

(c) dyslexia as a disability through the Disability Discrimination Act 1992; and

(3) calls upon the Government to consider:

(a) continuing to work with the states and territories to complete the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability program and implement the disability loading recommended in the Gonski report;

(b) developing a national program which encompasses accreditation and development of schools which specialise in dyslexia, including early identification, teacher training, school autonomy, assessment and examination;

(c) adopting models such as the United Kingdom model for dyslexia, the Education, Health and Care Plan; and

(d) Dyslexia Aware School accreditation education programs in South Australian schools.

Years ago when I was a union official I was called out to a prominent South Australian retailer, and the issue was that a carpet salesman was not filling in his dockets properly and the company could not read customers' addresses. It was causing all sorts of problems. This was one of their best salesman—he was on the highest end of their commissions and they simply thought he was working too quickly, going too fast, and as a result his handwriting was barely legible on the dockets. They would have to ring customers and ask their address. In the middle of this meeting, in which the managers were being pretty tough on the salesman, he burst into tears and announced to us all that he could not read or write. It was at that point that we found the real issue there in the workplace. It was simply that he was not equipped with the skills to read or to write down the suburbs on the dockets, and it was very, very distressing for him. Once the company realised, it was distressing for them as well because the managers realised they had been giving him a hard time—and it stretched back quite a while—on an issue that he really had no control over. I also remember being quite surprised, because I had not thought that this successful salesman could have been afflicted with this very serious problem.

I think dyslexia is something that is often hidden. It often affects very intelligent people and is often underestimated by the general community. I am fortunate in my electorate to have Dr Sandra Marshall, who is a prominent GP in Gawler, who is president and chairperson of the northern Adelaide group Dyslexia Action Group Barossa and Gawler Surrounds They were formerly known as DAGBAGS but they have given themselves a new name. They have gone around some of the schools—Gawler, Immanuel College, St Brigid's Catholic School and Evanston Gardens Primary School—with a consultant from the United Kingdom, Neil MacKay, who is the creator of Dyslexia Friendly Schools in the UK and a consultant to the British Dyslexia Association. Along with my old schoolmate Bill Hansberry, who is also a student of the Kapunda High School system, as it were, they have run a number of workshops for local educators. It has been about getting those schools dyslexia friendly by being able to identify dyslexia and help the children who are affected by it.

I think this is a very hidden problem, but in many ways it shows up in the statistics, which are disturbing, with 46 per cent of 15- to 19-year-olds functionally illiterate. I had to get people to double-check that figure, but that was the figure in 2011 from the ABS.

We know that there has to be a greater investment in education. Labor's 'Your Child. Our Future' plan does have a stronger focus on a single child's needs, more attention for students, better trained teachers, more targeted resources and more support for students with special learning needs. But we also know that we have to correctly identify dyslexic students in the school system and make sure they get the proper attention in a structured learning system. Phonics is a possible learning system, because it has a lot of one-on-one help. This is the sort of thing we need to do to combat dyslexia in our schools and in our society.

This motion before the House is the start of a long journey for the parliament, but it is a journey that Dr Sandra Marshall, her friends, fellow educators and fellow parents have been walking for a very long time. It has been particularly frustrating for those parents with dyslexic children to be battling a school system that is both underfunded and perhaps does not devote the time and attention to dyslexia that we would expect. I certainly commend this motion to the House, and I acknowledge that it is the beginning of a journey to address this issue for both this parliament and the education system.

Photo of Andrew SouthcottAndrew Southcott (Boothby, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

11:49 am

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion

Photo of Karen McNamaraKaren McNamara (Dobell, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this motion regarding dyslexia. I thank the member for Wakefield for bringing this motion to the House. Whilst it is commonly known that students develop and learn at varying rates, for some students reading and writing present a continual challenge. These are the students who struggle daily with the condition known as dyslexia. It is important that we acknowledge and support these students and, for that matter, adults with the condition.

Dyslexia is better understood as a persistent difficulty with reading and spelling. It is a language based learning condition affecting up to 16 per cent of Australians. It impacts on the skills involved in accurate and fluent reading and spelling.

Dyslexia does not affect general intelligence yet it is a lifelong condition which can severely impact on an individual's ability to complete mainstream education and training. We heard from the member for Wakefield about successful salesmen, but there are a lot of famous people who have suffered from dyslexia and have achieved great things such as Steve Jobs.

It has been reported that the estimated prevalence of people with dyslexia ranges from three to 20 per cent of the population and the Australian Dyslexia Association believe that children identified at risk should receive evidence based, multisensory approaches and early intervention for reading and spelling, and teachers must be able to identify, plan and tailor the needs of individual students.

I would like to highlight some of the great work being undertaken by organisations and individuals within my electorate of Dobell to assist those with dyslexia. As elected members, I believe we should all play an active role in creating a brighter educational future for our children.

It was a privilege to be asked to open the Alison Lawson remedial and dyslexic therapy centre in Dobell last year. This centre focuses on a visual dyslexia therapy approach and a program made up of a minimum of 10 one-hour treatments. When opening the centre, the staff's passion for and commitment to what they are achieving to help those suffering from dyslexia was evident. This is why I joined with the Central Coast Dyslexia Association to provide dyslexia information handbooks for primary schools in Dobell. These handbooks help implement the advice of the Australian Dyslexia Association by providing schools with an additional resource to assist teachers and volunteers who work with students affected by dyslexia.

I also look forward to working to help raise awareness of the need for volunteers, including retired teachers, to help implement dyslexia programs in schools on the Central Coast. Programs implemented by the Central Coast Dyslexia Association provide those children with dyslexia with the opportunity to shine and, importantly, cope in a world which expects so much from numeracy and literacy skills.

This work builds on that of Mr James Bond, resident of Dobell, who for over 25 years has been a tireless advocate for people with dyslexia. He was instrumental in securing technology to address dyslexia in our schools. Jim, who was affected by dyslexia, has championed the introduction of text-to-speech computer software in primary and secondary schools. Jim has also shaped and influenced changes to legislation, including the recognition of dyslexia as a disability in various legislation jurisdictions.

Technological advancements to assist people with dyslexia now mean that a quality education for people with dyslexia is possible. In 2014, this government held a policy round-table on dyslexia to look at what is working in schools and what can be done better. One of the many practical suggestions that arose to better support students with dyslexia concerned improved teacher training. Last year the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report 'Action now: Classroom ready teachers' was released. The report provided advice on how teacher education could be improved to better prepare new teachers with the practical skills required to be successful in the classroom and ensure that all students, including those with dyslexia or learning difficulties, are supported.

This government takes the responsibility of ensuring quality and high-standard education very seriously. I know that there is a large amount of work completed behind the scenes between the states and territories and the federal government to ensure that those children suffering from dyslexia do not get lost in the system. I fully support needs based funding in Dobell schools and I will fight for this funding to schools in my electorate. Thank you. (Time expired)

11:54 am

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would just like to say that I support needs based funding in all schools, not only in schools in my electorate. I would like to put on the record that my colleagues on this side of the parliament all support needs based funding in schools. Dyslexia is one of those learning difficulties that really need support. Students with dyslexia struggle, and there is no nationally accredited program for dyslexia. I congratulate the member for Wakefield on bringing this really important motion to the House. It is something that I am quite passionate about. Dyslexia is not a disease; it is a different way that some people think and learn. Many programs have been run throughout the country over a number of years. SPELD was one of the first programs that was introduced. People have struggled with reading and spelling, despite having the same access to education as others.

One of my sons is dyslexic. I have three children—two boys and a girl. Two of them went to university; two of them completed their HSC; two of them had no problem whatsoever. And two of them have had different opportunities to my son who has spent his life living with dyslexia and all the problems associated with it. His opportunities in life have been much less than the opportunities of my other two children who were able to achieve a tertiary education.

Despite the fact that I linked him into many of the programs that were around at the time, there was no funding for those programs, obviously. You had to self-fund them. In addition to that, the programs necessarily were not well researched and did not work as effectively as they should have. There is a lot more knowledge about dyslexia these days. There are many different approaches, but there is still no national program to deal with dyslexia and to offer opportunities to young people and older people who are struggling with learning because they have dyslexia. What I find really sad is that from the time that my son was in school to today there has been very little progress. Motions like the one the member for Wakefield has put on the table here in the House are exactly what you need to change the way people with dyslexia can access education.

It is estimated that about 10 per cent of Australians are living with dyslexia. As I have mentioned, it is resistant to traditional teaching and regular tutoring. I spent a fortune on tutoring for my son, but it did not work because his way of learning was totally different to the way my other children learnt. He is equally intelligent. He has adopted different techniques and has followed a different vocational line, one where he does not have to rely on learning. Dyslexia can be seen as a language-based learning difficulty. It is recognised in law under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

I would call for a national approach to dyslexia and a full recognition that people with dyslexia learn differently. I also call on the government to ensure that every student, every child, that is living with dyslexia has access to a program that will help them learn to read.

11:59 am

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to speak in favour of this motion and thank the member for Wakefield for bringing the motion to the floor of the Federation Chamber. It is right that there are famous people with dyslexia who have gone on to have remarkable lives and contribute to our society. Albert Einstein had dyslexia and Tom Cruise is another famous person with dyslexia. But the difference between these people who have gone on to have great lives and great careers is the fact that they got early support. A lot of people with dyslexia live with it silently. A lot of people with dyslexia did not get the support they needed when they were younger and have not been able to achieve or to fulfil their lives in the way that others have. That is largely because it is a silent topic. It is something that is not talked about enough.

In more recent times students with dyslexia have been lumped with students with autism, and they quite often miss out on funding and support in their schools because they do not fit into the right category for funding support. That is why I echo the call from the member for Wakefield that our schools need the resources, need the needs-based funding that was put forward by the former Labor government to help all students with a learning difficulty and disability.

Yes, it is true that there are some innovative programs in our schools as well as in some schools overseas. But the problem is that there is no national approach. It is very much a patchwork approach. Quite often a school, a particular teacher or a particular principal has been the champion and has battled their own school and their own state education department to bring forward a program. In my own area of Bendigo we have some schools doing quite exciting work in this space. NETschool, which is a subsection of Bendigo Senior Secondary College, has a special class for students with dyslexia to support those students in re-engaging with education—because, as previous speakers have acknowledged, they learn differently. Some of our primary schools have special classes and use some of the techniques raised in this motion to encourage people to learn.

Part of the great challenge in this space is that we do not know the science. We do not know why it is that children or people with dyslexia learn differently and think differently. There is still a lot of research that needs to be done in this space to understand why it is the brain works differently for people with dyslexia. Simple things like mixing up your own name when you are tired, being able to learn how to drive, being able to read out aloud, being able to remember formulas or phone numbers are a challenge for people with dyslexia. Like all issues of this nature there are varying scales. There is some talk that wearing rose-coloured glasses may help, but it does not help all people with dyslexia.

This motion calls upon the government to consider working with the states. It calls upon the government to work with the states to develop a national program which encompasses accreditation and development of schools specialising in dyslexia. These are all steps we need to take. One of the previous speakers mentioned how things have not improved since her son was at school. That is correct. We need to turn best practice into common practice. We need to see there be a national program to support all children with dyslexia. If they can learn the basics at school then they can go on to be the next Albert Einstein or the next Tom Cruise, or any other number of famous people with dyslexia. But if they cannot master the basics then they will struggle for the rest of their lives.

I will end with a story from a young boy in my electorate. For his eighth birthday he asked for a ride-on mower that was broken—not fixed, not working, but broken. He rebuilt that ride-on mower. Shortly after his birthday a great clip popped up on Facebook as he cut the lawn of his parents' paddock with this ride-on mower that he had rebuilt. This young boy has dyslexia and hates school. He cannot read. His parents just hope that one day it will click into place. They are hoping that his love for motor mechanics will trigger an interest so he can overcome the barriers that he is experiencing in reading, writing and maths. A young boy who can rebuild a motor should not have to struggle the way that he struggling is at school. Our schools should have the resources to support students with dyslexia to ensure that every kid gets the best possible start. I support the motion.

12:04 pm

Photo of Alannah MactiernanAlannah Mactiernan (Perth, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased that we have an opportunity to discuss this important issue of dyslexia. Like many people, I have had a personal experience of this. I spent a good decade trying to help my son, going through every one of the particular programs, the coloured glasses, the orthotics—the whole range of ideas that people dreamt up as possible solutions for this problem of dyslexia. I am pleased to say that, finally, my son, in his late 20s, worked his way through these issues and ended up with a first class honours degree from Curtin University, so these things can be overcome. But I do understand, at a very personal level, the trauma that can be involved.

I want to say first up that we have to make sure that we are not creating instructional casualties. There is a very strong argument that many of the children that are currently diagnosed as having learning difficulties are in fact the victims of failed pedagogy. There is an increasing understanding that some of the fads that we adopted in the 1980s, in terms of the way in which we taught reading, have contributed to this problem. I think the very first thing that we have to do is look at our pedagogy. If we get our pedagogy right and use an explicit instruction model, then we know that around 95 per cent of children will be able to readily learn to read and write. But there will always be some children for whom there is an added problem that cannot be solved by the pedagogy alone.

I have great respect from Mandy Nayton, who is the Executive Director of SPELD in WA. She is doing extraordinary work with schools and in prisons to ensure that we have the best possible way of delivering literacy to our community and that we really have an evidence-based system. It would be true to say that Mandy has some concerns about some of the proposals. I want to put on record some of her comments.

She says: 'I think, if we are going to head down the dyslexia-friendly schools path, we need to be very careful about the model we select and the message we are sending. We are of the view that a dyslexia- or learning-disability-friendly school is a school that is inclusive, welcome and responsive to a diverse range of needs of all students, while maintaining high expectations from all students; provides evidence-based instruction to all students, including well-delivered oral language and phonological awareness instruction in Foundation Year 1; has a structured synthetic phonics program for all children in the early years; and, throughout the primary years, has explicit instruction in vocabulary, reading comprehension and spelling, in addition to a systematically delivered program that teaches the foundation skills necessary to write accurately, fluently and with meaning. Children with learning difficulties, including dyslexia, will be far more easily identified in those schools because they will generally be the children who have persistent and enduring difficulties in learning to read and write, despite this high quality instruction.'

It is important that we collate the knowledge that we have nationally and that we have a sound, evidence-based way of proceeding with this. But we must first and foremost ensure that we are not creating instructional casualties with a failed model of pedagogy.

Debate adjourned.