Release type: Transcript


Opening remarks at the policy roundtable on Students with Dyslexia


The Hon Christopher Pyne MP
Minister for Education
Leader of the House


CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Thank you very much, Lisa. It’s a pleasure to be welcoming you to this policy roundtable to support students with dyslexia. Thank you for taking the time away from your important work, especially those who have come from interstate, to be here today. This is the first of a number of policy roundtables that I intend to hold so we can have a discussion about how to better support students with learning difficulties.

With the estimate that one in 10 students in Australia has dyslexia, it’s important that we move forward with strategies to identify and support students with this learning difficulty. It’s vital that we identify evidence-based practise and make sure students have access to appropriate teaching strategies based on solid research.

I’m really pleased that we have in this room with us today several researchers who are contributing significantly to the evidence base for dyslexia, including Professor Anne Castles – where’s Anne? Anne, nice to see you. And Associate Professor Genevieve McArthur – where’s Genevieve? Genevieve, from the ARC Centre for Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders.

The Australian Government is contributing significant funding to this centre and we’re confident that it’s delivering strong research into learning difficulties, and just as importantly, developing this research into practical tools and resources that will benefit students with dyslexia and their teachers.

I’m also pleased that we have many users of this research and resources here today; school students, and former students, their parents and families, schools and education authorities. We have Suze Leitao. Where’s Suze? Is that how you pronounce your last name? How do you pronounce it?

SUZE LEITAO:          [Indistinct]

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Leitao. Okay. What’s that derivation?

SUZE LEITAO:          [Indistinct]

CHRISTOPHER PYNE:        Lovely. Thank you for coming. Suze is a speech pathologist and researcher from Curtin University, who brings a clinical perspective to learning and language disorders.

As Minister for Education, it’s critical for me to be able to hear from stakeholders with first-hand experience of dyslexia and its educational impacts. Today is about everyone sharing their experience, expertise, and ideas in how to best support students with dyslexia in school. Let’s plan to make the day’s discussion a forward – take today’s discussion forward in practical ways that will make a difference to young people with dyslexia.

I’m excited by what we might be able to achieve today and I look forward to joining you all day to hear the ideas and recommendations that have been discussed and how these can be progressed. Often the answer to better supporting students is not more money, but leveraging from the many programmes and supports that are already available.

My role as Federal Minister for Education is to ensure national leadership in education. State and territory government and non-government authorities have primary responsibility for delivering school education, providing specific programmes, and support for students in the classroom.

I believe there are a number of opportunities to improve the support for students with learning difficulties like dyslexia in schools that stem from some of the existing programmes that this Government is implementing in areas like strengthening parental and family engagement, greater autonomy for schools, and improved teacher quality. There are also opportunities to work collaboratively with my state and territory ministerial colleagues.

Change is something we can all achieve working together. It can take time and hard work, but I am committed to making it happen. As I’ve said, I recognise that the hard work of coping with dyslexia falls on individuals and their families. Not only do they have to cope with direct impacts, which can be very demanding, but they have to find appropriate support and assistance. It isn’t always easy.

Dyslexia has certainly affected my family and I understand well the need for families to work in partnership with schools to achieve the best possible outcomes. I’m aware of a number of parent initiated organisations that are working to effect change in how students with dyslexia are supported in schools.

We have Dr Sandra Marshall here today who is the chair of the Dyslexia Action Group in the Barossa and Gawler Surrounds. Sandra, did you want to identify yourself? Where are – there you are. Excellent. I’ve been impressed by how this group has worked with schools at a regional level to raise awareness of dyslexia and improve assistance to students in these schools.

People across Australia in states and territories have been fortunate to have the support of amazing organisations like SPELD, or the Specific Education Learning Difficulties Association, and I’m pleased that today we have two representatives from SPELD in this room, Mandy Nayton and Sandy Russo.

SPELD is a non-profit organisation that provides advice and services to support children and adults with specific learning difficulties, including dyslexia. SPELD has been underway for more than four decades and has helped an extraordinary number of people in that time. I’ve been working with SPELD to raise awareness of their work and I’ve been proud to present petitions on the need for greater awareness and action on dyslexia for tabling in the Australian Parliament.

In addition to receiving ongoing support and services, it’s also vital that children with dyslexia are properly identified and supported in the school setting from an early age. That’s where there is a strong role for Government and I’m keen to pursue further with you today.

Today we are joined by researchers such as Dr Nola Firth and Dr Lorraine Hammond – where are Lorraine and Nola, there you are, nice to see you – who are at the forefront of working with schools to assist them in becoming dyslexia-friendly.

And I’m also delighted we have with us today some schools that are demonstrating best practise in supporting students with dyslexia. The principals of O’Sullivan Beach School, Wasleys Primary School, Samford State School, John Curtin College of the Arts, I’d like to extend a warm welcome and say that I’m looking forward to you sharing your experiences about supporting your students and your teachers.

While there are many excellent programmes underway in schools across the country, today I want to explore if there is more we can do to boost awareness and action for students with dyslexia. Can I say on a personal level, I am very committed to action on dyslexia. My father was Dr Remington Pyne, who was one of the founders of SPELD in South Australia in the early 1970s with Shirley Dibden and others. And, in fact, he was the Father of the Year in 1976 for his work with - founding SPELD with his work with dyslexic children.

He was an eye surgeon. He was one of the pioneers of using coloured lenses to assist children with dyslexia, and while I don’t want to talk about my individual family experiences, because my wife doesn’t like it and neither does my mother, I can say that dyslexia has affected generations of my family and I am personally very committed to action on dyslexia, and as the Education Minister, I intend, hopefully, over three, six, nine, hopefully more years to end this role having made a difference in this area for young people struggling with dyslexia, because there’s so much that can be done to assist people with learning difficulties, and I think we need to take action to do it.

Can I also say on a personal level what I hope to get out of today. I hope today will not be simply another call for more money from the Federal Government for state and territory school systems, because I think everyone knows that we have a tightened fiscal situation at the Commonwealth Government level, and so simply asking for more resources, while that may, in some cases, be necessary, simply asking for school resources is not really going to be the answer that we can take out of today.

What I’m hoping to get out of today is, one, raising the awareness of dyslexia, which is obviously extremely important, because there are still horror stories about teachers and others saying to young people in schools with dyslexia, no, you simply aren’t going to be able to achieve educational attainment because you’re a badly behaved child or you lack discipline or you lack focus, rather than discovering that that particular child has dyslexia and taking the action necessary to help that particular child.

So we want to raise the awareness of dyslexia, but we also want to find out what we have available to us now and how to use that better in schools across Australia. There are a lot of resources already available for children with dyslexia and even children with a disability if their dyslexia is so chronic that it’s become a disability. I want to talk today about how to use those resources better. I also want to talk about encouraging the state and territory governments to take a genuine action about dyslexia.

To me, dyslexia is not a disability, it’s a learning difficulty which can be addressed and assisted, and I’m not yet ready to throw in the towel and say it’s a disability, because to me that is putting students and young people in a bracket which many of them are not ready to be in, and attaching a nomenclature to children with dyslexia which I think is not necessary, because I think it’s a learning difficulty that can be addressed, and I want to be part of addressing that.

So thank you all very much, those of you who particularly have come from interstate to my electorate here at the Fogolar Furlan, a club I’ve been to many, many times over the last 25 years. I’m sure they’re very happy to have us here today. I hope so. And I look forward to the discussion.

I was going to have to leave and go to another electorate function, but I’ve decided to stay for the duration of the roundtable because I think it’s extremely important, especially those of you who’ve made the commitment to travel from interstate, that we do touch on all those subjects that I’ve raised and also that I can hear what the responses are, because there’s nothing like hearing them individually from people rather than reading them in a sheet of paper.

For those of you who are from SPELD, I think you all know my deep passion about dyslexia. I hope I can convey that over the course of the day and I hope by the time you leave it hasn’t been another meeting with a Minister for Education who is ticking a box, but, in fact, it has been a meeting where you get the very strong impression that there is a passion and a commitment to make a difference for young people with dyslexia. Thank you very much.