According to Edith Cowan University researcher Dr Margaret Merga, interventions should not focus solely on developing adolescents’ literacy skills.

“Rather than allocating considerable expense to high-stakes testing regimes, or embracing silver bullet approaches, we need to be more adaptive in our approach, looking holistically at students and their circumstances,” Merga said.

“For example, teachers using skills-based interventions may only have limited success with students who have become profoundly disengaged through years of failure in literacy, or who have high rates of absenteeism from school.”

Merga surveyed more than 300 teachers working with struggling literacy learners in mainstream high school English classes.

“Teachers may be catering to multiple learning barriers in their classroom, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, diagnosed learning difficulties such as dyslexia, or students acquiring English as an Additional Language,” Merga said.

“However, students may also be struggling for a wide variety of other, non-academic reasons and not fall into any of these categories.”

Among the other factors Merga identified as barriers to literacy learning are absenteeism, home factors, student attitudes and engagement, school and systems factors and disabilities influencing learning.

Merga called for more collaboration between schools, researchers, students and communities.

“Teachers need strong support and resourcing from governance and policymakers to help identify and enact innovative and multi-faceted solutions,” she said.

“Researchers must listen closely to teachers and school leaders rather than imposing top-down findings on schools that may not be contextually appropriate, or sufficiently responsive to students’ diverse challenges.

“Literacy levels reach beyond the classroom and are closely related to social factors and future employment prospects in adulthood.

“While early-primary literacy initiatives remain essential, the secondary school years cannot be neglected.”