Page 1 of 1

Prof Kevin Wheldall writes an open letter to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli about Reading Recovery

Posted: Sat Jan 30, 2016 2:07 pm
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
Minister, reading recovery requires more than Reading Recovery

An open letter to NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli

Dear Minister

I have been impressed by your determination to enhance the effectiveness of teaching in NSW schools. Your recent policy initiatives designed to improve teacher quality, by requiring that future teachers meet higher entry standards and can also explicitly demonstrate their proficiency in literacy and numeracy, have much to commend them. The next step is to improve the quality of instruction provided, especially for those whose needs are greatest, children from Indigenous and socially disadvantaged backgrounds. These students commonly comprise the greater proportion of young students struggling to learn to read. I would like to draw your attention to the needs of these struggling young readers... ... -more.html

...Your Department of Education must think that I sound like a broken record because I have been complaining about the Department’s continued use of the Reading Recovery program for well over twenty years now. But I am hopeful that you will decide that it is finally time to take action. Please bear with me while I reiterate a few of the arguments I have raised in the past.

First, may I point out that my colleagues and I were commissioned by your Department to carry out a thorough evaluation of Reading Recovery as far back as 1991. You may not be aware of this because our research reports have not been formally released by your department to this day

[My colouring and emboldening!]

Please read Kevin's whole post - this is such an important issue and raises questions, yet again, about the accountability of people who persist with both mainstream and intervention programmes and practices that are not based on the findings of a body of international research.

And, as Kevin points out, it is the weakest and most vulnerable children whose futures and lives are most at risk.

Kevin's letter and evaluation of Reading Recovery are also pertinent internationally because Reading Recovery is entrenched in other countries around the world. Serious questions have been raised about Reading Recovery over and again, in different countries and as a consequence of different reviews. One issue includes 'value for money' with regard to the huge expense of Reading Recovery intervention, but much more serious questions are raised about the nature of the 'research' of Reading Recovery, its efficacy relative to other possible interventions, and the fact it promotes multi-cueing reading strategies for guessing unknown words - a technique which has been discredited for many decades as it is potentially damaging for many learners.

Over and again, various researchers have urged that Reading Recovery needs to 'change' in light of the findings of the research on reading - but trying to ascertain any 'changes' which may be implied by RR personnel (as is claimed in England's context) proves somewhat impossible.

Professor Kevin Wheldall is an IFERI committee member and you can read about his experience here: ... australia/

This topic is also posted on the 'Around the World: News and Events' forum.

Re: Prof Kevin Wheldall writes an open letter to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli about Reading Recovery

Posted: Sat Jan 30, 2016 3:10 pm
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
Here is a link to a thread started by Susan Godsland which looks into the efficacy of Reading Recovery:

2014 Reading Recovery study - can we believe the results?


At the time of posting this, Susan's thread has over 4,600 views - way ahead of other topics on the IFERI forum.

'Reading Recovery' is big business one way or another. Is it unstoppable?

Is it impossible to hold RR personnel and government officials to account for its perpetuation?

Are there any teachers aware of the various reviews who have decided better than to become RR trained?

If you are such a teacher, please let us know.

Re: Prof Kevin Wheldall writes an open letter to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli about Reading Recovery

Posted: Sat Feb 06, 2016 3:42 pm
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
The Australian press pick up on Professor Kevin Wheldall's 'open letter' to NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli as can be seen by this piece published in 'The Australian':

Reading Recovery literacy program should be dumped: experts

Rick Morton, The Australian, 5 February, 2015

A controversial reading program that experts believe actually harms children in the long term is in its death throes in Australia and should be axed from schools in the last state that still supports it wholesale, an academic says.

Reading Recovery, which has been at the forefront of NSW’s literac­y intervention approach for more than two decades, will be rolled out again this year at a cost of $55 million — but international evidence and, now, the state’s own department says it doesn’t work.

The program — which relies on a “whole-language” approach and an intensive one-on-one half-hour lesson every day for up to 20 weeks — was first reviewed by Macquarie University professor Kevin Wheldall in 1993. Although he was commissioned by the department, his study — a randomised control trial — has never been released by the state government because it found even then that the program was effective only for about one in three students.

After the government quietly released its own evaluation of Reading Recovery over Christmas — it found minimal short-term gains for only the worst-performing students — Professor Wheldall wrote to NSW Education Minister Adrian­ Piccoli urging him to finally cut the program.

“Minister, for the sake of the children for whose education you are responsible, I urge you to show regard for the research findings on Reading Recovery, including those from your own department,” he writes. “(And) to provide educational leadership by discontinuing the earmarked funding for this progra­m of marginal utility.”

Centre for Independent Studies research fellow Jennifer Buckingham said Reading Recovery had made an attempt to “adopt the language” of evidence-backed reading instruction.

“It talks about phonics but it doesn’t include phonics in a systematic way,” she told The Australian. “On the surface it looks as though it has changed to reflect more recent research but in practice it has not.”

The failing program, a proprietary system developed in New Zealand, strikes at the heart of the decades-long reading wars that have infected debate among literacy educators in Australia because it advocates a whole-language approach­, which assumes reading is a natural skill that children will pick up, as if by osmosis.

Dr Buckingham said the pendulum in the debate had swung back to recognising that the phonics method was necessary, even if it was still not taught in a systematic way in schools. “It’s a vicious cycle because, even though phonics is now in the national curriculum, teachers are not necessarily being shown how to do that in their initia­l teacher education,” she said.

A series of audits commissioned by the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards in 2014 criticised teacher education and found, crucially, that teachers did not know how to use or teach phonics.

“There are lots of programs that focus on what the scientific researc­h has suggested is critical, including a strong emphasis on phonics,” Professor Wheldall told The Australian.

He is the chairman of MultiLit, one of these evidence-based programs, and director of the research unit of the same name where literacy clinics are held for children such as seven-year-old Tom Basile. With teacher Sophia Kolnar, Tom is given a deeper look at how the English language works, something schools around Australia are now demanding.

Citing a lack of evidence, Queensland stopped using Reading Recovery in 2008 and Victoria cut the number of schools that offer it to about 10 per cent in 2014, although it will not reveal the current figure.

South Australia’s executive direct­or of learning improvement at the Department of Education and Child Development, Susan Cameron, said the state had canned the RR program last year and would not be bringing it back this year. “The uptake of this intervention program by DECD schools was minimal and, due to this, the long-term sustainability of the current model of deliver­y is not viable,” she said.

Re: Prof Kevin Wheldall writes an open letter to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli about Reading Recovery

Posted: Sat Feb 06, 2016 3:47 pm
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
With this topic in mind, some observers have drawn attention to the sites of organisations that promote literacy programmes and, arguably, irresponsibly exaggerate their efficacy - which could be described as making misleading or, indeed, false claims, for example:

According to the NSW Department of Education’s website:

The success of Reading Recovery as an early intervention in literacy has been carefully documented since its inception and it has proven to be extraordinarily successful. Reading Recovery has the strongest evidence-base of any intervention program.

See ... search.htm

No mention of Kevin Wheldall's 1993 study or the 2002 statement by 31 leading international reading researchers that concluded that:

Reading Recovery has not met the needs of [the] lowest performing students. Most significantly, its excessive costs can make it more difficult for a school to provide help for all students in need, especially those who are behind in the upper grades. Thus, Reading Recovery is not a productive investment of taxpayers’ money or students’ time and is a classic example of a “one size fits all” method. . Reading Recovery leaves too many students behind.

See statement at

Seems to me like false and misleading information on the Department’s website.


Similar to New Zealand. The RR New Zealand website as follows:

Reading Recovery is an effective early literacy intervention designed to significantly reduce the number of children with literacy difficulties in schools.

The aim of Reading Recovery is to prevent literacy difficulties at an early stage before they begin to affect a child's educational progress. Providing extra assistance to the lowest achievers after one year at school, it operates as an effective prevention strategy against later literacy difficulties. Nationally, it may be characterized as an insurance against low literacy levels.

There is no NZ evidence to support these claims!!

Re: Prof Kevin Wheldall writes an open letter to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli about Reading Recovery

Posted: Tue Feb 09, 2016 12:58 pm
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
I'm cross-referencing this thread with one featuring a very well-conducted half hour radio interview with Professor James Chapman about the efficacy of Reading Recovery in New Zealand and Australia:


Re: Prof Kevin Wheldall writes an open letter to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli about Reading Recovery

Posted: Thu Feb 11, 2016 1:04 pm
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
Here is a follow-up piece about the radio interview on 'Life Matters' with Professor James Chapman: ... rk/7150074

Does Reading Recovery work?

An early intervention program targeted at children struggling to read may not be delivering the results its advocates promise. Reading Recovery has been around since the 1970s, but its effectiveness is increasingly being called into doubt. Tiger Webb takes a look.

If you have a child who develops reading difficulties within their first year of school, the chances are pretty good they have been involved in an intervention program called Reading Recovery.

And they wouldn't be alone: a 2015 government report found over half of NSW government schools offer Reading Recovery, a 10-12 week program focusing on daily 30 minute lessons for struggling readers in their first year of education.

Re: Prof Kevin Wheldall writes an open letter to Education Minister Adrian Piccoli about Reading Recovery

Posted: Mon Feb 15, 2016 11:28 am
by Debbie_Hepplewhite
Alison Clarke of 'Spelfabet' flags up a further radio interview for 'Life Matters' with Dr Lorraine Hammond as the debate about the use of Reading Recovery in Australia and New Zealand hots up:

Sorry, all kids deserve the gold standard ... -standard/

The excellent Lorraine Hammond, President of Learning Difficulties Australia, was on Radio National’s Life Matters program this morning, with the unenviable task of explaining how children learn to read in ten minutes.

You can listen to what she said here.

The program was a follow-up to last week’s much longer discussion about the research showing that the widely-used literacy intervention Reading Recovery is not effective.

Many people contacted the show afterwards to defend teaching literacy using a bit of everything – a bit of rote-memorising “sight words”, a few alphabet lessons, a bit of guessing etc. This is what currently happens in most schools.

Lorraine pointed out that this still leaves us with many children who can’t sound out words, and thus struggle in school and fall further and further behind. One upper primary school child she met had had 10,000 hours of instruction, and was still looking at the first letter and guessing words. Unbelievable.