Erica Stanford confirms end of reading recovery programme in schools, doesn't rule out job losses

  • 03/05/2024

Education Minister Erica Stanford has not ruled out job losses as the Government moves to end New Zealand's long-running reading recovery programme.  

The programme, which helps struggling readers, is being dumped as part of a $67 million dollar shake-up of the way literacy is taught in state schools.

The Government is making it mandatory for schools to use a structured literacy approach to teach reaching from next year - which is based on phonics, decoding and word understanding.

The reading recovery programme uses a different "whole language" approach, which has been criticised for using pictures to help children guess words.  

On Friday, Stanford confirmed the end of the programme.  

"We will be getting rid of reading recovery, using that same funding and putting that into what we call tier two and three interventions which are small group and one-on-one for the very few kids who fall through the cracks," she told AM. 

Stanford said feedback she's had from schools is the number of children needing remedial reading significantly drops when they are using structured literacy.  

There are about 270 reading recovery staff in schools and Stanford would not say if some may lose their jobs.  

"All of those people will be teachers, so there will be opportunities for them and we will be investing in retraining people in structured literacy," she said.  

Education unions have criticised the Government's new plan voicing their concerns a one-size-fits-all approach may not be right.  

Labour's education spokesperson Jan Tinetti told AM the devil is in the detail.   

"All approaches of structured literacy are not even and this is where we are getting really hamstrung in this debate.  

"We’re talking about structured literacy as if it is one approach and it isn't. And there are some approaches to structured literacy that are being taught in New Zealand that are... very damaging to young people," she said.  

Tinetti said personal development and teaching teachers needs to be a critical part of the process.  

"If we don't give teachers the knowledge of that, how will they know they're using a structured literacy approach that is damaging? 

"The way I'm hearing it talked about... is, 'This is the magic bullet' - it's not."  

Responding to the criticism, Standford pointed to Tinetti’s previous support for structured literacy when she was Education Minister in the last Labour Government.  

"She was on this show, not that long ago, saying this was the best results she's ever seen and that she could only have dreamt of seeing results like this when she was a principal."  

Under Tinetti's tenure, the Ministry of Education was working on a "common practice model" which would have implemented elements of structured literacy.