There is no question that English and literacy education receives a lot of attention in public discourse — politicians, the media and the wider community all have an interest in the work of teachers and the outcomes of education.

To clarify PETAA’s position on a range of the most commonly discussed aspects of English and literacy education, the PETAA Board have prepared a number of position papers, as below, with more in the pipeline. These papers are designed to strengthen PETAA’s place as an authoritative voice and to promote sensible discussion that is based on research.

Further information

For more information, including media queries, contact PETAA on +61(0)2 8020 3900 or [email protected]


Approaches to early reading instruction

Teaching reading is rocket science.’


Key questions

  • How do children learn to read?
  • What do teachers need to know to teach early reading?
  • What is the role of phonics and phonemic awareness?

Reading is a complex process of making meaning from texts. As readers engage with texts, they decode the orthography of the language to access meaning.

Meaning making in reading draws on students’ knowledge about the world and the topic. This knowledge is not restricted to ‘vocabulary’. Text structure, grammatical choices and illustrations in the text also contribute to intended and inferred meanings. In early reading contexts, children’s motivation for reading often begins with reading for social purposes, to participate with others in meaning-making, enjoying access to other people’s worlds, and to the rhythm and prosody of language. Over time they become familiar with reading to learn in different curriculum areas. 

Fundamental decoding skills for accessing meaning in the early years are:

The ability to use phonemic awareness, i.e. the awareness of sounds that make up spoken words
phonics, i.e. the relationship between letters and phoneme
the ability to syllabify, segment and blend individual sounds to form words. 
These skills comprise one decoding strategy which is extended using visual, orthographic and morphemic knowledge, allowing for multiple pathways to decode the ‘deep’ orthography of English. Decoding needs to become automatic as quickly as possible, in order for attention to be focused on meaning making. 


Expert teachers employ a wide range of teaching strategies based on a deep knowledge of how children learn to read and the needs of learners. They pay due attention to decoding, using explicit teaching and facilitating sufficient practice such that students become automatic decoders. Teachers support meaning-making by helping to build field and contextual knowledge about texts, bringing to consciousness and explaining the inferences they are intuitively making which may be culturally unfamiliar to students, building vocabulary with depth and repetition, and explaining how text structures and grammatical structures contribute to meanings and communicative intent. 


While students’ decoding skills continue to strengthen, teachers involve early readers in many joint readings of high-quality, authentic literature, and exposure to texts written for different purposes, engaging students in deep discussions about the meanings in the text and illustrations, at the same time supporting fluency and vocabulary development. Regular reading of simple texts, and commercial reading schemes have the essential purpose of practising decoding skills. Such texts are not a substitute for rich texts, but work in parallel. All this work also supports students’ abilities to write effectively.


Key points

  • Teaching reading is a complex process requiring teachers to use range of teaching strategies based on a deep knowledge of language.
  • Teachers need to know about the structure of the language and how children learn.
  • Effective teachers use specific and explicit instruction in meaning-making and decoding in varied and meaningful contexts.


Reading to write

In order to write confidently, students need topic or field knowledge

Key questions

  • What is the relationship between reading and writing (and talking and listening)?
  • What role does reading play in learning to write?
  • How can teachers integrate reading into the teaching of writing?

Learning to write requires gaining control of language at the levels of text, paragraph, sentence and word. It involves knowledge about genre, text patterns, grammar and vocabulary, spelling & punctuation, and being able to choose language for a particular purpose, and to communicate with a particular audience. 

Most primary teachers attend to these aspects of language as part of the regular literacy block. This paper argues the importance of the reading and writing connection, of ‘reading to write’ as part of literacy instruction. English and are used for a range of purposes. Students learn through texts, developing their reading and viewing skills, using texts as models for writing and creating. Imaginative and critical engagement with a range of high-quality literature is also a vital part of student learning in the English classroom.

Key points

  • Writing and reading (and talking and listening) are interdependent in the process of becoming literate. 
  • Students need to read in order to write confidently.
  • Reading provides students access to models of the texts that they must write.
  • Students must read in order to reflect, edit and refine their ideas.


Valuing teachers as professionals

The work of teachers is complex and multifaceted

Key questions

  • What is the nature of a teacher’s work?
  • What are the characteristics of an effective teacher?
  • What is role of the professional standards and professional learning?

Although the role of teachers is constantly evolving, research is now able to describe the qualities of an effective teacher. Teachers need to know their students and understand how they learn as well as know the content of the curriculum and the most effective ways to teach it. They also need to continually monitor student learning to inform the next steps in learning — for teachers and students — so that students make continual progress.

Teaching is a collaborative profession that is constantly informed by new research and evidence. Teachers must access quality professional learning to remain up-to-date and work with colleagues including other teachers, teacher aides, and specialists such as guidance counsellors and speech pathologists.

The value of teachers is not always acknowledged. Yet, effective teachers have a significant impact on learning and must be supported in their demanding and complex work. Effective teachers hold high expectations for all students, are creative, adaptable and reflective practitioners, life-long learners as well as positive and good communicators. Their achievements should be acknowledged and celebrated.

To be effective, teachers need to establish education as relevant beyond the classroom and beyond the years of schooling. They need to value student voice, parent engagement and community partnerships.

Accountability is important in every profession and teaching is no different, however measures of quality should reflect the complex and multifaceted nature of teaching. Professional standards are a useful way to describe the complexity of teachers’ work at different stages of their careers, provide the basis for substantive conversations about practice within a school setting and guide professional learning.

Key points

  • The work of teachers is complex and multifaceted.
  • Teachers have a significant impact on learning.
  • Measures of teacher quality should reflect the complex nature of teaching.


Language and grammar

Language and grammar are tools for making meaning.

Key questions

  • What is grammar?
  • What do students need to know about language and grammar?
  • Why is it important for students to learn about language and grammar?

Language is a system of choices made within cultural contexts. Language choices in texts are largely predictable as they function to achieve particular purposes within contexts. When looking at language, grammar can be a powerful tool for students to describe and analyse the language choices made by others and those in their own texts. Attention to grammatical accuracy is important, but it should always be seen in a context of meaning making.

An important part of this is metalanguage; language to talk about language. Students use it to describe, analyse and evaluate their own language choices and the choices of others. Metalanguage includes the terms usually associated with ‘traditional’ approaches to grammar, such as noun, verb, article etc. However, PETAA supports an approach to language which goes beyond labelling the form to understanding the role or functions different language features play in a text to make meaning. This functional approach includes descriptions of language, such as noun groups, which represent participants, and verb groups, which represent processes.

Students from literate, text-rich backgrounds may be unconsciously aware that language has patterns and be able to apply them to their own texts. However, they do not necessarily understand how the language is working and why. Some students will not have implicitly developed these skills. English as an Additional Language/Dialect (EAL/D) students benefit from explicit instruction in the structures and features of texts as it gives them access to the texts valued in schooling.

It is for this reason that grammar must be taught explicitly; to give students the key to unlocking language. To do this, teachers need to have a rich and deep knowledge about language and how to teach it.

Key points

  • A deep knowledge about language and how it works supports effective English and literacy teaching.
  • Students need a language to talk about language, using terms from traditional and functional approaches to language.
  • Grammar must be taught explicitly in context of meaning making across a range of modes.