Teachers challenge union about “outrageous” phonics push-back

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Although the AUE acknowledges phonics is an effective teaching method, it argues the announcement about rolling out the change should have been done in consultation with teachers.

Frustrated teachers are questioning their own union after it released a fiery statement criticising the Victorian government’s decision to roll-out structured phonics to the state’s public school students in years prep-two.

The move by the Australian Education Union’s (AEU) was described by one educator as “scandalous and outrageous”.

The AEU has accused Deputy Premier and Victorian Education Minister Ben Carroll of not understanding the current curriculum and pedagogy. The union represents more than 50,000 teachers, principals and support staff across Victoria and says that the state government neglected to consult the profession before making the announcement about the major change in literacy education.

Minister Carroll announced made the announcement on 13 June – stating that all public schools would employ the explicit teaching model from 2025, with Victoria among the last of the nation’s territories and states to implement the change.

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Schools that have not adopted the model by 2025 are expected to show planning for the change over the next three years.

Phonics education across Australia

  • Victoria will implement a new teaching and learning model with explicit teaching at its core from 2025. All students from prep to year two will be taught using a systematic synthetic phonics approach, with a minimum 25 minutes’ daily explicit teaching of phonics and phonemic awareness.
  • South Australia introduced its Literacy Guarantee in 2018. All government schools are required to use the year one phonics screening check. SA employs about 30 literacy coaches to help schools build teachers’ expertise in reading instruction.
  • New South Wales mandated the year one phonics screening check for public schools in 2021. It also funds ‘decodable’ books for all foundation students. It discontinued funding for reading programs that were not effective and updated the NSW syllabus this year to align with the evidence.
  • In 2023, Tasmania committed to a ‘minimum guarantee’ that every Tasmanian primary school will teach reading according to the evidence by 2026. The state will also roll out the year one phonics screening check.
  • Western Australia has provided schools with a list of recommended phonics programs and assessments.
  • The ACT Literacy and Numeracy Education Expert Panel’s final report, released in April 2024, recommended system-wide reforms to implement a structured literacy approach in ACT classrooms. The minister has accepted these recommendations in principle, with a four-year implementation plan to begin in 2025.

Source: Grattan Institute

Teachers accuse union of not consulting

Primary school teacher Brad Nguyen is one teacher unhappy with the union’s decision to argue the phonics announcement and says the AEU itself is guilty of not consulting its own membership about its own response to the phonics issue.

“What they [the union] meant was there was no consultation [from the government] with them, they also need to know how working teachers feel,” Nguyen says.

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“The union should be advocating for clarity, the funding necessary for changes to be done well and to ensure adequate resources were in place for schools to provide a quality reading education.”

Although he says he will maintain his union membership, other teachers claim they will abandon theirs and are calling on the AEU to have better systems in place to address the views of teachers.

“I know many folks in the literacy community who were appalled and horrified [by the AEU statement],” says registered teacher Jackie Nieuwenhuizen.

Nieuwenhuizen is currently a literacy support lead at a secondary school and has previously worked as a literacy specialist in private practice.

“It’s scandalous and outrageous for the union to actively block something which is going to improve the lives of literally thousands of students and teachers,” she says.

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Despite the push-back from some Victorian teachers, Victorian AEU president Meredith Peace maintains her stance that the state’s education minister should have consulted teachers.

“Teachers are qualified, experienced professionals who have a right to be consulted about educational matters, like all professions would expect,” Peace says.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live