Election 2023: National releases education policy, pledges to require schools to teach structured literacy if elected

National has pledged to force primary schools to teach structured literacy, but it's unclear if it's only applicable to the English language.
National has pledged to force primary schools to teach structured literacy, but it's unclear if it's only applicable to the English language. Photo credit: Paddy Gower Has Issues.

The National Party has pledged to require primary schools to teach a structured literacy framework if elected to Government in October. 

Structured literacy is an approach that explicitly teaches systematic word identification and decoding strategies, teaching phonics, syllable patterns, vocabulary, and writing structure.

Erica Stanford, National's education spokesperson, said under the plan all tamariki in Aotearoa will be learning the research-based method of reading and writing in a bid to turn around our "steadily declining" literacy rates. 

"Mountains of evidence shows it is the most effective method to equip children with strong reading skills. However, not all schools currently use it. 

"Ensuring children learn to read, write and communicate effectively from an early age is critical to their life prospects." 

It is unclear if National's policy would apply to English literacy only, or if it would also include literacy in te reo Māori. 

It comes after Paddy Gower Has Issues revealed in May that a structured literacy approach has shown substantially better results for tamariki learning to read and write in English.

In the latest global Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) study of 400,000 children in more than 60 countries from May, Aotearoa had fallen from 13th to 27th place between 2001 and 2023. 

Education Minister Jan Tinetti told AM in May the Government's Te Ara Reo Matatini / Better Start Literacy Approach (BSLA) has been wildly successful in improving literacy rates for tamariki. 

"In fact, I could've only dreamt of the results we're seeing at the moment when I was in the sector," Tinetti said at the time. 

Several schools already teach the Government's BSLA structured literacy approach for Years 0-2.

Stanford said National's policy, which would extend that up to Year 6 by 2027, would "give all kids the best chance of success in life". 

After eight years in school, 56 percent of students meet the criteria for their age for English-language reading, she said.

"Further, kids in low-decile schools are almost two years behind their peers in high-decile schools. 

"We also had one of the largest gaps between the highest and lowest-performing learners, with more kids failing to reach the proficiency standard than ever before." 

Erica Stanford, National's education spokesperson.
Erica Stanford, National's education spokesperson. Photo credit: AM.

Stanford argued the education system is embedding inequality. 

"National's Teaching the Basics Brilliantly policy will teach an hour each of reading, writing and maths to every child, every day." 

Under National's policy, which would cost $60.5 million over four years, schools would receive funding to hire a "structured literacy provider". 

It would be phased in for Years 1-3 in 2025 first, then extended to Years 4-6 by 2027. 

"National is serious about reversing New Zealand's decline in educational achievement," Stanford said. 

"Every child, irrespective of their background or where they attend school, deserves a world-class education that equips them with the basics, and National's Literacy Guarantee is a critical part of our plan to make this a reality." 

National's policy would: 

  • Require primary schools to teach reading using structured literacy 
  • Introduce short phonics checks for Year 2 students to measure progress 
  • Provide structure literacy intervention to students needing extra support 
  • Make structured literacy teaching a requirement of teacher certification.