Page 4086 - Week 13 - Thursday, 31 October 2013

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(3) calls on the ACT Government to integrate the recommendations and strategies from the Taskforce report into any review of the ACT’s Literacy and Numeracy Strategy; and

(4) calls on the Minister for Education and Training, Joy Burch MLA, to report back to the Legislative Assembly with an update of progress on implementing the Taskforce’s recommendations in February 2014.

I am pleased to be here today to discuss this motion and to provide an opportunity for the members of this place to give consideration to the issues of learning difficulties faced by children in the ACT and how we can best respond.

I tabled this motion against the backdrop of receiving the report from the task force for learning difficulties and the government response to that task force. The task force was commissioned by the former education minister Dr Chris Bourke as a response to growing concern amongst some parents and advocates that their children’s needs were not being met. My former colleague Meredith Hunter also tabled a petition of 625 ACT citizens in regard to students not having their diagnosis of dyslexia recognised by ACT directorates.

The ACT is, by all accounts, performing well ahead of our national counterparts on literacy and numeracy achievement in the early school years. The ACT often scores the highest on overall NAPLAN results as compared to the rest of the country, although we have areas of concern regarding students from a low socio-economic background and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Having said that, one would expect that the ACT, with our highly-educated demographic, should be doing better than other jurisdictions.

But even so, some parents of children in the ACT are telling us that that they cannot get the help they need for their child to learn to read properly and that they cannot access the services in a timely manner to get their child assessed for a learning disorder such as dyslexia. When and if they do get an assessment that indicates a learning difficulty, they report that many teachers do not actually know how to teach their child in a way that makes sense to their child. They tell us that there are too few school counsellors and support teachers and that there are limited options about where you can take your children for help. Some of those options offer little more than the same teaching methods, but slower and one on one.

The incidence of learning difficulties in our classrooms is hard to identify, primarily because the definitions of what constitutes a learning difficulty vary so widely. Learning difficulties encompass a range of problems that children have in the classroom. The DSM-V, the new edition of the diagnostic manual used by psychologists the world over, takes a broad approach to defining learning difficulties. They say:

The diagnosis requires persistent difficulties in reading, writing, arithmetic, or mathematical reasoning skills during formal years of schooling. Symptoms may include inaccurate or slow and effortful reading, poor written expression that lacks clarity, difficulties remembering number facts, or inaccurate mathematical reasoning.

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