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Experts divided over best way to teach Kiwi children to read

Experts are at loggerheads over the best way to teach New Zealand's children to read.

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Accusations of bias have been levelled at a top Government advisor as more than a third of 15-year-olds don't have basic reading skills. Source: 1 NEWS

More than a third of 15-year-olds don't have basic reading skills in New Zealand, but a recent report into how to fix the issue has divided academic opinion.

Kaiapoi North School, north of Christchurch, has spent $30,000 on extra literacy resources and teacher training, picking up where it says the education system is letting young readers down.

“In New Zealand schools we've been looking too much at just learning comprehension and not enough on decoding,” principal Jason Miles said.

Decoding being a focus on sounding out letters to learn how to read words.

The method has seen achievement rise significantly at the school and is now being backed by a top government official.

Chief education science advisor Professor Stuart McNaughton is looking at the approach in a review on how to fix the country's declining literacy.

“We need to do something about the consistency of quality language, quality literacy programmes in early learning,”  Professor McNaughton said.

But Massey University's Professor James Chapman says it needs to go further than that. 

“We know from scientific research all children will benefit from structured systematic instruction in phonics, all children,” Chapman said.

“There's a lot of evidence to show that reading recovery has failed miserably in its state of purpose,” Chapman said.

McNaughton is a trustee of the Marie Clay Literacy Trust, the educator who created reading recovery, a link he has made clear to the Prime Minister's chief science advisor.

But researchers say it's a conflict of interest that's stopping him from speaking independently about the programme.

“A good scientist puts the evidence on the table and the connections one has, one declares them,” Professor McNaughton said.

Schools like Kaiapoi North now calling for the Government to support their approach.