Laureate appointment a boon for ACU's literacy centre

Laureate appointment a boon for ACU

Australian Catholic University has announced that Professor Anne Castles has been appointed as a Laureate Fellow to the Faculty of Education and Arts’ new Australian Centre for the Advancement of Literacy (ACAL).

Professor Castles will be the first Laureate Fellow to conduct research at ACU in a significant boost to ACAL’s aim of building a collaboration of world-class literacy researchers.

The latest PISA results show the literacy rates of young people have been steadily falling over the past two decades, with as many as 40% of 15-year-olds failing to meet international minimum standards (PISA, 2018).

Professor Castles seeks to identify ways to improve literacy outcomes in Australian secondary school students by conducting a comprehensive, theoretically informed investigation of literacy in this cohort. Professor Castles’ focus will be on disadvantaged and non-English speaking students and situating the research within the broader socio-emotional context of adolescence.

As part of ACAL, the Australian Research Council Laureate Fellowship recipient will use a grant of more than $3m to investigate secondary school reading achievement with a focus on improving teaching practices and strategies for students in need of greater literacy support.

ACU Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Zlatko Skrbis welcomed Professor Castles to ACU and said her appointment signified the high calibre of researchers at ACAL and across the university.

“The Australian Centre for the Advancement of Literacy will be at the forefront of knowledge generation and translation designed to ensure evidence-based strategies and supports are available to those who need them,” Professor Skrbis said.

“Professor Castles’ appointment is a testament to how seriously ACU takes our role in helping teachers, schools, and students to achieve the literacy skills they need to excel in life.”

ACU Executive Dean of Education and Arts Professor Mary Ryan said it was an exciting time in ACU’s history with the largest provider of graduate teachers in Australia committed to improving literacy nationally.

“ACAL will not only build vital literacy expertise and conduct world-class research but will deliver this knowledge directly to our teaching students through our initial-teacher education programs, as well as to school systems through short courses for teachers, postgraduates and research opportunities,” Professor Ryan said.

“This is how we are going to ensure children and adolescents receive the best literacy instruction and interventions available to help them thrive. We are thrilled about Professor Castles’ appointment and know her significant research will help to support this aim.”

Professor Castles said ACAL’s development at a time when she was preparing to embark on her 5-year laureate research project was an act of serendipity.

She said she was excited to be joining ACU and using her research to help fulfil ACAL’s aim of improving literacy across the country as spearheaded by Professor Ryan and ACAL Director Professor Rauno Parrila.

“ACU is an excellent place to do this research. It is the largest provider of initial teacher education in the country and Professor Ryan and Professor Parrila have such great vision and expertise,” she said.

“Secondary school reading has been so neglected. There’s this assumption that kids can automatically read just fine once they transition into high school.”

Professor Castles said NAPLAN data and international literacy tests show that a significant proportion of high school kids in Australia do not have functional literacy.

“We need to do the groundwork to find out why and then develop appropriate tests and interventions.”

The original version of this article appeared as a media release from the Australian Catholic University.