Slow readers to get tuition vouchers

Geoff Maslen

AUSTRALIA

Parents with young children who have difficulties with reading will be eligible for a Aus$700 (pound;270) tuition voucher from Australia's federal government to spend over the next few months.

But federal education minister Brendan Nelson has been accused of using the vouchers to press states into publishing school league tables - since parents in states which refuse to publish test results for individual schools will not be eligible.

The government has promised funding of more than Aus$20 million to support a trial of the reading support scheme.

Parents whose children have not reached the Year 3 reading standard for seven to eight-year-olds, as measured by a national test, will get the voucher to pay for special assistance.

Last week, Dr Nelson announced the process of tender used to select brokers who will administer the scheme. He said it would be open to government and non-government organisations.

He added: "Those selected will act as brokers between parents and tutors, and will be responsible for promoting the initiative, vetting and contracting tutors and monitoring effectiveness."

Under a contract with the education department, the brokers will have overall responsibility for administering the scheme across the various states and territories. This includes verifying the eligibility of a child to receive tuition, contracting suitable tutors and organising payments.

Dr Nelson said the tutorial credit would provide for a "pre- and post-tuition assessment" with reading tuition delivered on a one-to-one basis outside school hours.

Parents would be able to redeem the credit with either private-tuition providers, teachers outside school hours or at their local schools.

But several states have refused to publish the test results for individual schools. Dr Nelson said parents in those states would not be entitled to the payments. Some parents' groups opposed nationwide testing because it was used to grade schools and make comparisons between them.

The Australian Council of State School Organisations said Dr Nelson wanted schools to publish a wide range of data on student performance, as measured against "rough and ready" national benchmarks.The council said it supported effective assessment of students - "but as individuals, not as statistics in a national league table".

Dr Nelson said the government was committed to improving the literacy and numeracy standards of all Australian children and ensuring that all parents receive information on their children's literacy and numeracy achievement against national benchmarks.

"In 2001, 10 per cent of Year 3 students did not meet the national reading benchmark," he said.

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Geoff Maslen

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