Graduate teachers failing without basic literacy skills
Exclusive: Graduate teachers are leaving university without basic literacy skills, including spelling and grammar, and are increasingly needing tutoring to pass the literacy portion of their qualifying exam.
Tutoring agencies are seeing a rise in the number of graduates seeking help to pass the federal government's Literacy and Numeracy Tests for Initial Teacher Education (LANTITE) test, required to become a teacher, and experts are saying the test should be done as an entrance exam to weed out unsuccessful candidates.
Some agencies say students are struggling with basic skills like fractions, grammar and even knowing the number of weeks in a year.
"We have been surprised by the number of university students studying to be teachers who are seeking assistance with their literacy skills to pass their LANTITE, and who may have already failed this test a number of times," Cluey Learning chief learning officer Dr Selina Samuels said, adding there had been more than 750 inquiries for LANTITE support in just four months.
Teacher Melinda Wood from The Tutoring Academy said many of her students were missing basic foundation skills.
"With literacy they don't know the simple rules for grammar, punctuation and how to spell or do fractions," she said.
"I had one student who didn't attend primary school in her own country and came to Year 8 in Australia and has difficulty reading. She is doing a Masters of Education and she is struggling a lot."
Ms Wood gave one example of a question asking students to estimate an annual income from weekly pays but students were failing it in practice tests as they "don't know how many weeks are in a year".
"They use spell check and stuff at home to help them but the second they are in exam conditions they don't know how to cope," she said.
The recent PISA scores shows Australian students are falling behind and Centre for Independent Studies' Blaise Joseph said a teacher's core skills needed to be high, regardless of what grade they were teaching.
"Evidence shows it is really important teachers be high achievers and they do get better outcomes for students. Over the years we have lowered the bar for entry standard for teacher education degrees," he said.
"We have about one in five Australian students below the minimum standard for literacy and that is going to be reflected in new teacher intake.
"So across the country we have a bit of a negative cycle where you do have a lot of teachers who don't have the necessary skills to pass on basic literacy and that passes on to the next generation of teachers and the next generation of students.
"It defies common sense you have uni students who don't have basic literacy and numeracy skills who are then going to be responsible for teaching literacy and numeracy to children."
Mother of three Sarah Bell said she got Cluey Learning's help in to tutor her son Harley in Year 5 after realising he was falling behind.
"He was really struggling with spelling and then he would feel bad he would feel like he was failing," she said.
"I definitely think we need some changes to the system."
Mr Joesph said universities have the option to make the exam an entrance test but they choose not to.
Another woman by the name of Sarah, who did not provide her last name and is a mature age student, agreed the test should be done earlier. She is due to take her LANTITE test next week.
"I feel like I could complete my course, pay $60,000 for two years and not qualify. The only thing stopping me is LANTITE and it is very upsetting," she said.
The student said some of the questions were very hard and should be adapted to the level you plan to teach at.
Australian Tutoring Association chief executive Mohan Dhall said the test should be an entrance exam, adding there had been a steady rise in the number of student teachers seeking tutoring to pass the test since its introduction in 2016.
"We have seen an increase, particularly for students needing help with the literacy component," he said.
The pass rate for first time LANTITE literacy candidates has dipped from 95.2 per cent in 2016 to 90.4 per cent in 2018 - the most recent data - with nearly 60,000 candidates.
But Australian Catholic University's Professor John Munro said he was aware of students who have achieved high level results through university but not in the exam.
"LANTITE literacy was usually the only subject they struggled to pass," he said.
"In other words, they had at least adequate literacy knowledge and skill for their specialist subject teaching areas but struggle with the LANTITE version of literacy.
"It is debatable whether individuals such as Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso or Winston Churchill could qualify to teach in our schools because they were dyslexic and would probably fail LANTITE."