Teens’ literacy issues put under the spotlight

Teens’ literacy issues put under the spotlight

A new study is urging educators and governments to turn their attention to secondary school students who are struggling literacy learners.

The reading progress of primary school students has been the topic of discussion following the Federal Government’s changes to phonics teaching.

Now, a study from Edith Cowan University (ECU) is asking researchers, educators and the Federal Government to address secondary students’ literacy issues.

The study, titled: ‘Fallen through the cracks: Teachers’ perceptions of barriers faced by struggling literacy learners in secondary school’, noted that literacy research and interventions for struggling literacy learners typically focus on the primary school years.

Citing recent PISA figures, the report found that almost one in five adolescents are in the lower performer category. A recent analysis of 10-years’ worth of NAPLAN data also shows that reading progress for K-12 students would slow as early as in Years 5-7.

Despite knowing that a number of secondary school students still struggle with literacy, the study says “little is known about the teaching adjustments and intervention initiated for these older SLLs (in Year 7 and beyond) in Australia”.

Surveying over 300 teachers for the study, ECU senior lecturer Dr Margaret Merga said they found that the interventions which solely focus on “developing literacy skills in the classroom may be having little impact.”

The study found that SLLs are met with recurring barriers beyond having learning difficulties and disabilities such as absenteeism, home factors, or even having English as a second language, which make it harder for teachers to accommodate.

The research further suggests that the diversity of barriers SLLs may have can be connected to the negative influence on teachers’ perception of time they can allot to support these SLLs.


Instead of funding high-stakes testing which is considered as a form of intervention or making use of “silver bullet approaches”, the study suggested that the funding should be used to address the barriers faced by secondary school SLLs instead.

“[W]e need to be more adaptive in our approach, looking holistically at students and their circumstances," Merga said.

“For example, teachers using skills-based interventions may only have limited success with students who have become profoundly disengaged through years of failure in literacy, or who have high rates of absenteeism from school.”

The study further noted that researchers and schools would have to work closer with students as well as their communities to address the other barriers.

Likewise, the education sector would have to be supported by the Government and policy makers in drafting and implementing innovative solutions.