Since the middle of last century, Australian education has seen the adoption, variable implementation and occasional jettisoning of a parade of methodologies including learning styles, multiple intelligences, critical literacy, constructivism, whole language, process writing, genre theory and text types, balanced literacy and learning progressions. Most have been introduced without obvious due diligence in relation to teacher expertise or objective consideration of applicability — and effectiveness — in the Australian context. Many of the local proponents remain influential.
A consequence of these shifts in policy and practice has been the near abandonment of consistent, explicit instruction about how the English language works as a system, juxtaposed with an ideological preoccupation with the socio-cultural ‘experience’ of students in the classroom. Generational decline in student achievement and teacher expertise in writing — the poor cousin of reading in Australian educational research — is under increasing scrutiny as parents, employer groups, tertiary institutions and other stakeholders express concern about school leavers’ preparedness for the literacy demands of post-school life and work.
In the context of national reviews of curriculum and teacher education, this paper traces Australia’s history of policy instability in English literacy education and proposes strategies for improvements and greater accountability.