Helping teachers make sense of the Year 1 phonics screening check

The Australian Government today announced its commitment to implementing a nationally consistent literacy and numeracy check for all Year 1 students across Australia.

At Oxford University Press we believe effective literacy teaching, and specifically the teaching of reading, should be grounded in findings from rigorous, evidence-based research.

In order to provide teachers with the tools to effectively teach phonics, we have developed a phonics webpage introducing teachers to the phonics test and information on why phonics teaching is so important.

Here is a short video introduction to phonics, featured on the webpage.

According to Dr Jennifer Buckingham, phonics plays an important role in teaching reading.

“There is an abundance of extensive and rigorous evidence-based research from all over the world about how children learn to read and the most effective ways to teach them.  Since 2000, there have been major national inquiries into the teaching of reading in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. These reviews, along with copious amounts of other research, all agree and identify five essential skills for reading competency:

Phonemic awareness: The ability to identify and manipulate phonemes, the smallest units of sound, in spoken words.
Phonics: The ability to decode words using knowledge of the relationship between sounds (phonemes) of spoken language and the letters (graphemes) that represent those sounds in written language.
Fluency: The ability to read effortlessly with speed and accuracy.
Vocabulary: Knowing the meaning of a wide variety of words and the structure of written language.
Comprehension: Understanding the meaning and purpose of the text.”

The phonics webpage provides details about the phonics check and what it means for schools and teachers, and offers teachers assistance in choosing the right program for their school and details of phonics-based professional development events across Australia.

OUP’s phonics test information page aims to provide teachers with an understanding of the newly announced test, the role of phonics, and the implementation of phonics education to help them provide the best possible learning outcomes for their students.

For more on phonics and literacy, visit:

The Importance of Comprehension

Literacy tools to help parents ensure their children are school-ready

Phonics is Not a Dirty Word




From cooking to a trip to the zoo – fun ways parents can build children’s early literacy skills

Many parents are looking for ways to help ensure their children are school-ready. One way of doing this is by helping children to develop early literacy skills that will set them on the path towards learning to read.

The Australian Literacy Educators’ Association (ALEA) has developed the Little People’s Literacy Learning Modules to provide parents and carers with guidance on introducing early literacy to their children.

The modules developed by authors Anita Ayre and Professor Trevor Cairney  started life as a book created for Anita’s first grandchild to assist his parents in engaging him in talk and text.

Anita and Trevor’s advice for parents covers reading to children, speaking, rhythm and gross motor development, including:

  • Help your child clap the syllables in words, beginning with your child’s name, then familiar words. The slash is used to separate syllables, for example, Ja/son; Ste/pha/nie; Mum/my; Nan/na; Grand/dad; ba/by; toy/box; shop/ping/cen/tre; pen/ cil; man/da/rine; pi/an/o; as well as any words your child uses. Clapping the syllables in words helps to decode unknown words by breaking up the words into sections.
  • Ask your child to close his or her eyes and listen to sounds in different environments. Discuss the sounds that your child hears, for example, at home, at the zoo, on the train, in the park or a walk through a natural environment. Can you hear a rhythm in the sounds, such as rhythm in a bird’s call? Allow your child to use an electronic device to record the different sounds in different environments. Store the recordings in a ‘sound library’ so your child can revisit the experience of different sorts of sounds.
  • Look at a picture and encourage your child to tell you what the picture or story may be about. For example, look at the front cover and ask: ‘What do you think this story/book might be about?’. Looking into the book you can ask questions such as ‘What’s this?’, ‘What type of animal is that?’, ‘Is it a windy day?’ or ‘How can you tell?’.
  • If you cook with your child, it can become a reading and learning activity. When following a written recipe, you and your child can try to read the instructions. Safety permitting and with your adult supervision, your child may be able to carry out some steps of the procedure. Some examples of conversation throughout the preparation process include: ‘Look at the picture of the eggs. How many eggs does it say to use?’, ‘Let’s read the first step.’, ‘What do we have to do next?’ and ‘What happened when we poured the flour into the egg mixture?’.

ALEA National President Beryl Exley said parents could play an important role in helping their children develop early literacy skills, with the ALEA Literacy Declaration stating:

“Parents and caregivers play a critical role in fostering children’s engagement in and enjoyment of a wide range of experiences that enhance literacy development. They need to understand that children benefit from rich oral language experiences and opportunities to interact with high quality literature representing diverse cultures, experiences and perspectives.”

Parents and carers can use games, song, reading and conversation to foster a love of words and language in their children, laying the groundwork for their future literacy education.


Oxford University Press is dedicated to improving childhood literacy, through projects including the Oxford Wordlist and the Children’s Word of the Year writing competition.


OUP staff select their top five books of all time

To mark the Australian Reading Hour on September 14, we asked some Oxford University Press Australia and New Zealand staff to list their top five reads of all time.

Do you agree with their selections? What books are in your top five?


  1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott  – I think anyone who has read this book identifies with one of the March sisters (I’m a Jo).
  2. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides– love the dark humour woven throughout this book, and the last paragraph always gets me.
  3. The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge – a dreamy fairytale set in the 1800s, with lots of strong female characters!
  4. Mary Poppins by P.L Travers– Book Mary Poppins is so much sassier than Julie Andrews!
  5. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – a fairly recent publication but a must-read! A fascinating look back at how we’ve evolved into the humans of today. (Also recommend the sequel, Homo Deus).


  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
  • Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop by Bob Stanley
  • The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
  • Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Ann Tyler


  1. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden – I love the setting and way the words make you feel like you are really there, living her life.
  2. Harry Potter by JK Rowling – I love that I can get lost in the world of Hogwarts. The words create such a vivid image in your mind and really make you feel magical! (Note for Fleur – I totally would have attended Hogwarts; I know it!)
  3. Lovely Bones by Alice Seebold – One of the most powerful books I have read. The character studies it created on the family members and how they all lived through their own trauma was so touching.
  4. The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve – AMAZING ENDING! I loved how it worked backwards in time.
  5. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – Really great twist that I did not see coming. Makes for a good, interesting read.


  1. Candy by Luke Davies
  2. Bossypants by Tina Fey
  3. The Good Cop by Justine Ford
  4. All the Goosebumps (literally all of them)
  5. Garfield by Jim Davis


  1. I love anything by Barbara Kingsolver, particularly Prodigal Summer, as I can re-read this over and over again.
  2. Anything by Ian McEwan, particularly Atonement.
  3. Currently working through The Secret Seven series by Enid Blyton with my daughter and really enjoying them
  4. I also loved Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar this year (a historical novel set in the Coorong in the 1800s, brilliant)
  5. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak is wonderful but heartbreaking so although I loved it, I’m not brave enough to read it again.


  1. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  2. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – a strange, mystical read that is hard to put down or forget.
  3. All That I Am by Anna Funder – beautiful language and a fascinating, tragic story.
  4. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver – a chilling story about motherhood and the nature of evil.
  5. The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton – for the nostalgia.


  1. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  3. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  4. Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
  5. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll


  1. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta (razor-sharp and so relatable – I read it at least six times a year)
  2. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  4. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
  5. Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden


  1. Tommo & Hawk by Bryce Courtenay
  2. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
  3. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
  4. Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under any Conditions by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber
  5. Animal Farm by George Orwell


  1. Jemima J: A Novel About Ugly Ducklings and Swans and Straight Talking: A Novel by Jane Green
  2. Tully by Paullina Simons
  3. The Pact, Second Glance and Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Piccoult
  4. The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve
  5. Watermelon, Sushi for Beginners and Angels by Marian Keyes


  1. Emma by Jane Austen
  2. The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald
  3. Just Kids by Patti Smith
  4. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  5. The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa


  1. Old Pig by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks – The first book that made me cry.
  2. The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton – I used to climb trees looking for magical lands, but sadly never found any.
  3. The Other Side of the Story by Marian Keyes – This book sparked my interest in a book publishing career.
  4. What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry – I read this with my Dad all the time.
  5. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine – I just love a good re-versioned fairy tale and I read this one repeatedly.


  1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick
  2. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  3. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  4. Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
  5. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind


  • Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
  • Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
  • The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell – This one is a memoir – just released and I’ve only just read it but it is amazing. I’m already looking forward to re-reading it very soon!


  1. What do you think, Feezal? by Elizabeth Honey
  2. White Tiger by Kylie Chan
  3. Model Spy by Shannon Greenland
  4. Death by Water by Kerry Greenwood
  5. High Five by Janet Evanovich


  1. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil Degrasse Tyson


  1. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
  2. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  3. Choke by Chuck Palahniuk
  4. Ode to Billy Joe by Herman Raucher
  5. Wetlands by Charlotte Roche


  1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  3. Life of Pi by Yann Martell
  4. Of a Boy by Sonya Hartnett
  5. Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho


Interested in classics? Check out the Oxford World’s Classics range

Ethics, legal professionalism and mental health

By Paula Baron and Lillian Corbin

The growing awareness of mental health issues in the legal profession has significant implications for those entering the legal profession and for their ethical conduct. Knowledge that lawyers, as a profession, have higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide than other trades and professions has been well documented for over 30 years in the US. In Australia, the phenomenon came to light with the report Courting the Blues in 2009. Since that time, there has been a significant body of work by law societies, legal academics, and organisations such as the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation and beyondblue to try to address the issues of lawyer distress. Initiatives range from confidential lawyer helplines to mindfulness programs and organisational and individual strategies to promote well-being.

For lawyers, it is important to understand the linkages between misconduct and lawyer mental health. A few years ago, the then Legal Services Commissioner for Queensland, John Briton, estimated that some 30 per cent of misconduct cases were related to lawyer mental health issues.

Currently, we are analysing in more depth the intersection of ethical transgressions – misconduct – and mental health issues of the lawyers concerned in the misconduct. We are also looking at cases where applicants for admission have disclosed mental health issues. Our preliminary findings are that Tribunals and Courts are sensitive to mental health issues, and seek to strike a balance between protecting the public, protecting the reputation of the legal profession and safeguarding the rights of the lawyers concerned.

Admission will, of course, be of significant interest to law students given the necessity to disclose mental health issues. The principles governing this area were well articulated in Application for Admission by B as a Legal Practitioner [2016] ACTSCFC 2 (14 November 2016), where an applicant for admission had a long history of mental health and substance abuse issues. Firstly, mental illness or impairment is not of itself a bar to admission: ‘The test is whether the applicant is able satisfactorily to carry out the inherent requirements of practice as a legal practitioner. This, of course, must be assessed in the light of the applicant’s mental health’. Secondly, it was acknowledged that there are cases where professional misconduct has been caused or contributed to by mental impairment, and this must be a consideration. Thirdly, the acknowledgement by the individual concerned that he or she has a mental impairment that needs to be addressed can be important in ensuring that the disorder does not cause problems in conducting legal practice.

In this case, despite relatively recent issues of mental ill health, the findings were that the applicant’s mental health was under control and relatively stable; he was complying with his treatment regime and he showed insight into his condition and the benefits of treatment. The opinion of appropriate medical experts was positive and optimistic, though there was still some cause for concern, and there was some risk of reversion to drug use because of the stress of legal practice. Thus, given there were some concerns that the immediate post-admission period provided some risk to the applicant and, therefore, to the public, and that some further period of stability and continuing improvement in the applicant’s condition was required, admission as a legal practitioner was made subject to conditions.

Legal ethics, including the growing awareness of mental health issues, is by no means a stagnant area of law and it is fundamental to daily legal practice. We encourage you to engage with us in discussions on this subject.

Paula Baron and Lillian Corbin are the authors of Ethics and Legal Professionalism in Australia Second Edition

Ethics and Legal Professionalism

Further Reading

Norm Kelk, Georgina Luscombe, Sharon Medlow and Ian Hickie, Courting the Blues: Attitudes Towards Depression in Australian Law Students and Legal Practitioners (Brain & Mind Research Institute, University of Sydney, 2009).

Application for Admission by B as a Legal Practitioner [2016] ACTSCFC 2

Resources for Lawyers and Law Students

If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out to beyondblue or call 1300 22 4636. If you are in an emergency, or at immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, please contact emergency services on 000.

The Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation has information about mental health and wellbeing for lawyers and law students, including a Lived Experience Forum and directory of support services and resources.

For Australian tertiary students, beyondblue also has a free online program called thedesk which provides strategies and skills for success and wellbeing during university or TAFE.




Oxford Literacy Assess – What is the impact?

Researchers are increasingly focusing on the role of assessment in teaching practice, not only to measure learner progress, but also to enable it, allowing teachers to accurately identify the needs of their students and tailor their plans more efficiently. The importance of selecting the right assessment program is therefore paramount and has led to a growing demand among teachers for evidence about the effectiveness of different assessment programs.

In response to this thirst for research Oxford University Press conducted an impact study into its flagship assessment program, Oxford Literary Assess.

Oxford Literary Assess is a suite of print and online tools for gathering and managing reading assessment data, based on rigorous research and trialling, allowing student data to be gathered and analysed to identify individual learning needs. The program was implemented at Lalor Gardens Primary School in Melbourne in 2015 to improve the consistency and reliability of its assessment system.

In February 2016, six teachers and senior leaders at the school were invited to participate in a series of in-depth interviews, investigating their experience of using Oxford Literary Assess. During the interviews, teachers discussed how the program had impacted their teaching practice and helped them to develop their learners’ reading ability.

The staff who participated were positive about the impact of Oxford Literacy Assess on their school. They highlighted four key ways in which Oxford Literacy Assess had supported them in developing their learners’ reading ability

  1. Understanding learners’ support needs

All of the interviewees felt that Oxford Literacy Assess was a powerful tool for formative assessment that allowed them to identify individual learning needs. According to one teacher, using Oxford Literacy Assess made it “much easier to track a student and pinpoint their needs”.

“Oxford Literacy Assess is my go-to place. Doing the online reading records has been really beneficial in terms of consistency with other teachers. When kids are moving through reading groups, to go back and to see the records all there without having to go through papers makes it much easier to track a student and pinpoint their needs.” Heidi, Foundation teacher

  1. Providing instructional strategies to address individual and group learning needs

The teachers interviewed said that the data gathered using Oxford Literacy Assess was used to support the formation of guided reading groups by instructional need, placing students into groups based on the results they obtained in the reading records. As one teacher mentioned, “the information is really useful because it helps us set our focus for the group”.

  1. Increasing professional knowledge and learning

All interviewees felt that Oxford Literacy Assess had helped improve teacher knowledge and judgement, including literacy instruction and the ability to track and report on progress. This, in turn was perceived to have a positive effect on learners.

“It’s fantastic to have all the data online that you can refer back to throughout each student’s schooling.” Amy, Foundation team leader

  1. Facilitating planning and reporting

Two senior leaders mentioned that using Oxford Literacy Assess had supported the school’s ethos of evidence-based planning and had become crucial to the planning and reporting activities. Oxford Literacy Assess has established an accurate baseline of student achievement at the school level.

Senior leaders in the study felt that Oxford Literacy Assess had a more robust comprehension component than their previous method of assessment and “provide[d] a truer indication” of what assessment texts at a particular level should be.

 “The assessment results from Oxford Literacy Assess corroborate our NAPLAN and On Demand Testing results, showing that the data we have now is more streamlined and accurate compared to the data from our previous benchmarking system.” Cassandra Hoggins, Assistant Principal

This impact study demonstrated not only the importance of adopting a considered approach to assessment but also the benefits that Oxford Literacy Assess can have on teachers and students in a real world context.

Consistency and community key in Indigenous literacy: Q&A with Shirley Davey

Literacy is a community affair in the Top End, according to Literacy and Numeracy Trainer Shirley Davey.  In the remote areas where Shirley works, students, families, teachers and trainers are working together to bring the benefits of literacy and numeracy.

We asked Shirley about her experience working in Indigenous literacy.

Where do you work? Northern Territory Department of Education.

 What is your role?

Literacy and Numeracy Trainer, focusing on the implementation of the LANE (Literacy and Numeracy Essentials) project in rural and remote schools in the Northern Territory.

I currently support 11 remote schools across the Top End region with six schools focusing on numeracy and five focusing on literacy and numeracy.

What is the best part about working in Indigenous literacy?

The five schools that I am supporting with literacy are implementing Read Write Inc in their schools, as well as using an explicit teaching model.

Seeing the progress that a large number of students are making with Read Write Inc in 2017 has been amazing.  Seeing the excitement on the faces of the students, especially when they have the opportunity to share their successes with other students in their class or in the school is a great reward for me as a trainer. It is equally as exciting to see how proud families are of their children.

Some of the schools have involved their Assistant Teachers in the training of Read Write Inc, which has meant that they are building capacity in their own work. The Assistant Teachers are having conversations with the communities about what the children are learning and how, which has created an increased sense of pride within communities.

Overall, the level of dedication and standard that the teachers are working to is the best part of working in this area. Teachers expect that their Aboriginal students, particularly remote students, can learn and work to a high level, so it’s rewarding to see the positive improvements and sense of pride it ensues.

What are the main challenges you face in Indigenous literacy?

In the Northern Territory, education operates in a unique context given the vastness in location of our communities and the mobility of students between communities.

The benefit of schools implementing an explicit teaching and learning program such as LANE, is that the impact of mobility and their location is minimised. If a student moves between communities throughout a school year, teachers who are trained in the delivery of LANE can easily identify where a student is up to in their learning and can deliver a tailored program to suit. Most importantly, students benefits from this type of program, as they have familiarity in their learning which often results in achieving greater outcomes.

Over 40% of Territory school students identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, which means that for many students, English is an additional language. This can present a challenge in the delivery of a literacy program.

In the Northern Territory, we have a targeted focus on early years education to ensure that students have access to learning literacy and numeracy essentials from the youngest possible age. This learning is extended past the students and to the families, through other programs such as Families as First Teachers which includes mothers, fathers, aunties and grandmothers in the learning journey, so children are learning together with their family.

By focusing on working with children and families from the youngest possible age, we are seeing an impact on school attendance and engagement. This is a result of students and families developing a habitual routine to attend school every day as well as allowing them to develop a deeper understanding of the value of education and the positive impact it has on their future.

What improvements could be made in the way we approach Indigenous literacy?

A consistent approach across schools in terms of literacy is needed. LANE and the Explicit Teaching Model is one way of ensuring this, particularly in rural and remote schools.

Early feedback has shown that this has been an effective and successful model to ensure consistency, not only for our students but also for our teachers who are new to an Indigenous context.

Continuing the focus on early years education will also ensure that students have access to learning literacy and numeracy essentials from the youngest possible age.

Do you have any anecdotes about your experiences?

One remote school I support for literacy, Woolianna School has seen dramatic improvements in student literacy this year. They have seen five-year-old Aboriginal students who couldn’t read, now reading after six months at school.

It is even the little things, like feedback I receive from Assistant Teachers and parents about how their children are using the skills they’ve learnt to sound out words in the local community or even at the supermarket.

What is the future in Indigenous literacy?

The future of Aboriginal literacy, particularly in regards to remote schools in the Northern Territory, is very positive.

We are currently seeing students at Transition and Year 1 levels working at the appropriate levels in regards to the Australian Curriculum and this can only benefit them for the rest of their primary school education and into the high school experience.


Q&A: Indigenous literacy trainer Emily Davies

Working in Indigenous literacy can be ‘pure magic’ according to NT Government Literacy and Numeracy Projects Training Officer Emily Davies.

To celebrate Indigenous Literacy Day, we spoke to Emily about her role visiting schools in the Katherine region, the challenges she faces and the joy of helping Indigenous students to read.

Where do you work?

I work for the Department of Education NT as part of the Literacy and Numeracy Project team which is part of the Indigenous Education Review.

What is your role?

I am a Literacy and Numeracy Essentials Trainer. I go out to all the remote Indigenous schools in the Katherine region, which includes 26 schools with the furthest school being 773km away from Katherine. My role is to support teachers and principals to improve the literacy and numeracy of their students. This may include support in planning and assessment, modelling, team teaching and observations. It also includes supporting the Read Write INC phonics program.

What is the best part about working in Indigenous literacy?

“Working in indigenous literacy is the most rewarding job I have had.”

I work with students and teachers that have struggled to make progress in the past or have come to a road block. I love working with classrooms to overcome challenges and help students to succeed and make continual progress. This progress can become more rapid and exciting for these students when they don’t see it too often.

What are the main challenges you face in Indigenous literacy?

There are countless challenges. The language barrier can be a big and frustrating one. Teacher turnover makes it very difficult to make continue progress when we are constantly starting again. In my job, location is a challenge so it’s lucky I love driving!

What improvements could be made in the way we approach Indigenous literacy?

We need to be putting students in the centre. There is so much policy and red tape that is stopping teachers do what is best for their students.

“These students are so unique and have unique needs that should never be compared to the rest of Australia.”

This is why I love Read Write INC phonics. It doesn’t look at how old you are or what you can’t do. It works for all students, even older teenagers that are struggling to learn, and it doesn’t compare them to early years students. It just helps teachers to do their job and teach.

Do you have any anecdotes about your experiences?

I am often told that once students get older, ‘it’s too late’ and programs are introduced to teach them how to function with low literacy in society. With a hard working school and teacher, I have seen huge progress in literacy using early years strategies, with a high level of trust established.

“I now see older students excited to read fairy tales to me and to read to each other. This is pure magic.”

What is the future in Indigenous literacy?

This will depend a lot on what the future policies will look like. I am seeing very small progress, but in a lot of places the overall progress is often going backwards because of the students’ difficult lives going on around them. So much needs to be done to see a change.


Suspension and exclusion rates from schools in most Australian states are skyrocketing. Are we inclusive or exclusive?

By Professor Emeritus Merv Hyde PhD AM, School of Education, University of the Sunshine Coast

More and more students are being suspended and excluded from schools than in the past, according to recent reports from several Australian school systems.  We have even seen rapidly escalating rates of student suspensions from Prep and Grade 1 classes.  Disturbingly, some states have more than double the number of suspensions and exclusions shown in other parts of the country.

Why is this happening?

In every Australian state, there are policies committing schools to national and international agreements to provide ’inclusive education’ for all students. In this context, the increasing trend of exclusion is hard to understand.  Are these students just ‘rotten apples’ spoiling other students’ education, or is the picture more complex than that?  This question is even more pertinent now, when an Australian politician finds it necessary to call for the removal of disabled and autistic children from regular classrooms.

Is Australia really going back to the last century?

The data show that the students most likely to be suspended or excluded from schools:

  • are boys
  • are from poor economic backgrounds
  • have an indigenous heritage
  • have a disability of some kind
  • show significant school absenteeism
  • are exposed to drug use
  • display aggressive behaviour, and
  • have low educational attainments, particularly in literacy.

Other data show that this cohort is most likely to be involved in criminal behaviour in the future. As the Victorian Youth Affairs Council noted in 2016, our school-based suspension and exclusion decisions result in these students becoming ‘tougher’ and more antisocial. The personal costs are high for these students: if they do not receive an education sufficient to achieve employment and effective citizenship they will suffer not only now, but in the future.  The social and economic costs of this outcome are also felt by the wider community.

All these issues inform our current inclusive education policies. So, do we just rest easy on the basis that these students are ‘out of sight and out of mind’, or do we find ways to practise education that is truly inclusive?

Children deserve better.

The answer is clear. It’s hard to achieve if you are not at school, so we need to make sure that the necessary supports are there for students with challenging behaviours, learning difficulties and disabilities.  No education system in Australia has ever indulged in mainstream dumping of kids with learning problems and we honour our moral and legal responsibilities to educate all students in a manner that keeps them in regular schools whenever possible.  We cannot wind the clock back and push more of them into ‘reform schools’ or into special schools. That didn’t work in the past and it certainly won’t work now. Parents expect more informed and responsive polices in the twenty-first century.

Much of the answer lies in well prepared teachers.  That is, teachers who better understand the principles and processes of child development and appreciate that education is not only about measureable curriculum outcomes.  It is about finding ways for all children to reach their curricular and personal potentials in our local schools, however long that may take.  It is about how we, a tax-paying community, support learners with special needs, including those with behavioural challenges, literacy and learning difficulties, disabilities and giftedness.

Modern, world-class education involves having the capacity to respond positively to diversity, with schools and teachers who are willing and able to adapt their planning, support systems and classroom practices. Excluding those who may present challenges is a backwards step, both for the students themselves and for society as a whole.


Merv Hyde is author of Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement.


Using the correct terminology – Teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives

(An abridged extract from Yarning Strong Professional Support Years 3-4)

Language and individual words gain their meaning from a particular context or the perspective of the observer. Within the Australian historical context, some terms used to describe past events are value-laden and need to be understood in context. For example, terms such as ‘discovery’, ‘pioneers’ and ‘explorers’ reflect a non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective. This point of view ignores the fact that after more than 40,000 years of occupation of Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had already discovered, explored and named all parts of the continent.

The below table is not definitive, but provides a general overview of preferred terminology to help teachers familiarise themselves with appropriate terminology.

Preferred term Inappropriate terms (not to be used) Explanation/notes for teachers
Aboriginal people


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

atsi people


full-blood; half-caste; quarter-caste; octoroon; mulatto


Racist terms such as abos, blacks, blackfellas, boons, coons, darkies, and so on

‘Aboriginal people’ or ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’, while generic terms, are still preferred to the listed inappropriate and racist terms. Historical documents may include inappropriate terms listed here, however, such documents are based on historical attitudes. For example, the classification of Aboriginal people by past government agencies according to skin colour and/or ancestry was based on racist doctrines of the 19th Century. This identity was imposed on Aboriginal people to enable greater government control.

In many communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will use local terms to describe themselves, for example Koorie in Victoria.


Aborigine As above Generally, this term should not be used as it is an anthropological term that has negative connotations and may cause offence to Aboriginal people. Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may use ‘Aborigine’ when referring to themselves, it is inappropriate for a non-Indigenous person to use it.
Torres Strait Islander people As above The preferred term is generic; local names may exist for Torres Strait Islander collective groups. Many Torres Strait Islander people refer to their island of origin (for example, Mer, Saibai and Badu). Occasionally, reference is made to the location of a group of islands (for example, Western, Eastern and Central Islands).
Language group/nation As above There exists a range of local/regional names for particular Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander collective groups. It is important for schools to consult with their communities to identify local preferences. Regional terms such as ‘clans’ may be in use; Indigenous people may also refer to themselves as a ‘tribe’ or ‘mob’. But it may not be appropriate for non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to use these terms.
Aboriginal aboriginal Use of upper case/ an initial capital reflects respect for Aboriginal cultures and people. This punctuation also applies to Aboriginal language or clan group names (for example, Arrernte, Wiradjuri, Goreng Goreng and Yolngu).
non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander


non-Torres Strait Islander





When comparing Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander groups with other Australian groups, the preferred terminology is ‘non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’, ‘non-Aboriginal’, ‘non-Torres Strait Islander’ or ‘non-Indigenous’.

Although used in many historical records, the term ‘European’ does not reflect the cultural diversity of the Australian community.

The terms ‘Black(s)’ and ‘White(s)’ should be avoided in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies activities; such language classifies people solely on their skin colour and could be perceived as racist.

the Dreaming Aboriginal religion


The Dreaming is a complex concept that embraces all aspects of Aboriginal cultures and societies. While the Dreaming is seen as Aboriginal spirituality, the more appropriate and complete definition is ‘the essence of being Aboriginal’.

Defining the Dreaming as ‘Aboriginal religion’ is an attempt to place it in a non-Aboriginal or Westernised framework. This does not capture the holistic sense of the word.

The term ‘Dreamtime’ appears regularly in a range of contexts; however, it also is a non-Aboriginal, anthropological term that diminishes the significance of the Dreaming. ‘Dreamtime’ also conjures up the belief that the creation stories and spiritual beliefs are merely myths or fairy tales.

Augadth/Zogo Time Torres Strait Islander religion


Augadth/Zogo Time refers to all that is known and understood by Torres Strait Islander people about the origins of the environment, themselves and their culture. Essentially it represents the creation history of the Torres Strait Islander people.

Augadth/Zogo Time is a complex concept; it impacts upon Torres Strait Islander values and beliefs, and their relationship with every living creature and feature of the land, sea and air. In relations to Augadth/Zogo Time, teachers are strongly urged to consult with respected Torres Strait Islander community members.


before time/bipotaim

pre-history The term ‘pre-history’ disregards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history prior to recorded/written history. ‘Pre-history’ may also suggest that Australia did not have a history before 1788, and minimise the richness and diversity of the oldest, continuous culture in the world.

‘Pre-contact’ recognises the point in time when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people first came into contact with non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

‘Before time/bipotaim’ is used in the Torres Strait Islands to describe the time period of Torres Strait Islander settlement.

invasion settlement


From the perspective of Aboriginal people, Australia was not settled peacefully but invaded. The term ‘invasion’ acknowledges not only Aboriginal occupation but also the resistance shown by Aboriginal groups in defending their traditional lands.
intrusion settlement


Within Torres Strait Islander settings, the term ‘intrusion’ is also used to describe sporadic contact with non-Torres Strait Islander people in the period 1606-1788.
Mer, Ugar, Erub, Saibai, Badu, Mabuiag, Poruma, Warraber, and so on Avoid non-Torres Strait Islander/anglicised names that are rarely used by Torres Strait Islander people, such as Talbot, Musgrave, Cornwallis, and so on When referring to individual Torres Strait Islands, use the traditional names established before Torres mapped the region in 1608.

Torres and later navigators gave these islands anglicised names. In line with the move towards autonomy, Torres Strait Islander people have replaced the anglicised names with traditional names, or use dual names.


Primary students show age is no barrier to creativity

There was a stubborn dog and a deadly beast, a new student in the class and a sleepy language-lover – the entries in the 2016 Wordlist Writing Competition for primary school students showed some wonderful creativity and originality.

In the lead up to National Literacy and Numeracy Week between September 4 and 10, we’re looking back some of the winning entries in last year’s Wordlist competition.

In an entry titled ‘Narrative Jam’, Agna from Grade 4 presented an original and surprising interpretation of the traditional fairy tale. She wove her love of writing into the storyline, using phrasing in unexpected ways.

“10 cent coins, 20 cent coins. Maths. I prefer writing. Writing narratives. Of course, lots of people like Maths better. Then there’s Dance, Drama, Geography and History and Music. I’m going in alphabetical order, if that helps, but let’s not get too carried away.”

Later, she became part of the fairy tale as a somewhat reluctant participant. Agna challenged fairy tale norms, writing about a ‘not-so-brave knight’ and expressing dismay at the ‘pink dress with puffy sleeves’ that she was wearing.

Another impressive entry came from Alessandra from Grade 2/3, who wrote a suspenseful story that included a description of being chased by fierce animals. Alessandra described the ‘vicious fangs’ and ‘razor sharp claws’ of the animal that pursued her.

“You’re running, running to be free of the chase. You hear the roaring right behind you so you go faster but you know you can’t outrun a deadly beast like this!”

It was not action, but emotion, that was at the heart of the story by Eva from Grade 5. In ‘Notebook’ Eva wrote about her character’s first day at a new school, and a poignant and insightful speech she made to her peers, despite believing that she looked like a “shaky blob of jellyfish”.

“A new beginning at a new school – again. Another teacher calling another roll.”

Other winners took a more light-hearted approach, with Pippa from Grade 5 writing about Rex the Stubborn Dog who wore “puffy floaties and a yellow sun cap” to the beach and was “as silly as a goose”. Splashing in the waves, chasing pelicans and singing a funny song, Pippa’s story was written with humour and a sense of fun.

“Suddenly, Rex saw a dark shadow in the ocean. He dodged, dove, ducked and dipped under the cold water. I wonder … am I tough enough to catch this creature?”

Grade Prep student, Tanvi, wrote about a rabbit called ‘Alasco’, who enjoyed going on adventures with his dad. However, when he discovered his father was missing one morning, he found his own adventure involving a treasure map and pirates.

“When he work up his dad was gone. Then he looked under his bed and he found a map. It was no ordinary map. It was a treasure map.”

Finally, Archie brought a creative approach to current affairs and politics, with his story involving a president who forced ‘Mexi Bunnies’ to build a wall.

“Mr Bunny was the president of the Bunny States. He was a mean president, he shouted, “Mexi Bunny shouldn’t be able to cross to Bunny States because they are the silliest of Bunnies!”

One of the most exciting elements of the stories from the 2016 competition was their diversity – funny, heartfelt, controversial and suspenseful – they revealed the wonderful depths of young people’s creativity.

We’re looking forward to reading this year’s entries in the Children’s Word of the Year competition!


This year, teachers and guardians can enter primary school students’ writing samples in the Children’s Word of the Year writing competition. Through the competition, Oxford University Press aims to find out more about the language of Australian children, and the way they use that language in their storytelling.

A lesson plan is available to help inspire students in their writing, and some great class and individual prizes are up for grabs.