Principals lead the way in lifting literacy levels

An innovative reading program focusing on school principals as leaders and change makers is raising literacy levels across Australia.

The Principals as Literacy Leaders (PALL) program, originally developed and presented by Griffith University, Edith Cowan University and the Australian Catholic University in 2009, aimed to improve students’ literacy outcomes by empowering principals to become literacy leaders.

The program was developed under thesponsorship of the Australian Primary Principals Association, and was funded by the Commonwealth Government’s Closing the Gap initiative.

More than 1500 people inQueensland, Victoria,Tasmania, Western Australia, New South Wales and South Australia have now undertaken the program.

Professor Tony Townsend from the Griffith Institute for Educational Research offers the research and development program in partnership with Anne Bayetto, a literacy and numeracy expert from Flinders University.

“In the early days, it was just the principals that were involved, but we found that having a single person in the school was not as effective as principals being able to talk with other leaders about how to implement reading interventions,” Professor Townsend said.

“So now the program has expanded to being principals and other leaders such as assistant principals and literacy coordinators in the school. It spreads the load at a time when principals themselves have so much else to do.”

He said the program’s key strengths were the five modules delivered throughout the year together with about ten hours of coaching and support and follow-up activities in between the workshops.

PALL uses two main focuses for its approach, the Leadership for Learning Blueprint, developed by Professor Emeritus Neil Dempsterfrom Griffith University, which provides leaders with a plan for implementing innovations in reading and the BIG 6 (developed by Associate ProfessorDeslea Konza fromEdith Cowan University.

The Big 6 suggests that for students to learn to read well, teachers must use and consistently teach oral language; phonological awareness; letter/ sound knowledge (phonics); vocabulary; fluency; and comprehension.

“It’s a leadership program for a very specific purpose – and that purpose is to improve student reading,” Professor Townsend said.

So we want students to be more engaged, be able to say what and how they are learning and we want to see student achievement increase as well.”

“We have seen that for schools that have used the program consistently over time, there has been significant improvement in teaching practices.

“Teachers are more capable of teaching and assessing reading and students are more engaged and interested in reading. They’re interested in how they’re reading and how they learn.”

Professor Townsend said as well as school-based evidence showing improved literacy levels, there was also improved trends in NAPLAN testing. “There is always a time lag in changing NAPLAN because many of the schools’ projects focus on the early years of school and NAPLAN doesn’t happen until year 3.”

“PALL has a major impact on what schools do and how students are responding.”

Director of the Griffith Institute for Educational Research, Professor Greer Johnson, explained that since its inception in 2009, PALL’s appeal to a diverse range of schools across Australia has been its accessibility in engaging busy principals in leadership for learning with staff, parents and members of the community.

Three PALL programs are currently running in Tasmania — one generic program for primary (and some secondary) schools, one specifically for the transition period from primary to secondary and a third program that focuses on helping families become more actively involved in helping their children to read.

There are also two generic programs running in Victoria and one will start in South Australia in the second half of 2017.