Crikey reporter Jane Nethercote writes:

Last Thursday, we reported on the poor take up rate of the government’s $20.3 million literacy voucher scheme, particularly in Victoria and Queensland where private company Progressive Learning was charged with administering the scheme.

Under the project, $700 worth of tutoring was offered to each student
who failed the AIM literacy test in grade three in 2003, but in
Victoria, only 12% of eligible students and in Queensland, only 18% of
students received any help. So in 2005, most of the already disadvantaged
students were forced to sit the grade five literacy test, without any interim
intervention.

What’s more, it looked like Progressive Learning had done a runner. But had they, as we asked on Thursday? It would appear not.

In fact, online publication Teaching English managed to track down Tony Hanlon,
Senior Executive of
Marketing and Personnel of the North Shore Development Centre
Company, of which Progressive Learning was a subsidiary. (Now that the
literary voucher scheme has finished, Progressive Learning, established
solely for handing out the vouchers, has closed shop.)

And interestingly, Hanlon’s come out swinging punches, blaming government
bungles for the low percentage of take ups, says Alex Prior on TE:

According to Mr Hanlon, as a private company Progressive Learning was
faced with major challenges that weren’t present in New South Wales or
South Australia, where the contract to deliver the vouchers was given
to the state education departments…

The problem, according to Mr Hanlon, was that as a private company
Progressive Learning was denied direct access to the names and
addresses of eligible students. The state governments hold those
addresses, and are legally prevented from transferring them to a
private company.

In West Australia, the contract was held by the not-for-profit Group
Training Australia (WA), and the take up rate was a fairly dismal 30%.
GTA’s office was unattended, but their website notes that “GTA (WA)
does not have a list of eligible students, so is unable to notify
parents that this initiative is available.”

So let’s get this straight… government contracts were awarded to
organisations that were not actually equipped to carry them out. Seems like a pretty major bungle. And it’s not the first time
the department, formerly with Brendan Nelson at the helm, has
mishandled the voucher scheme. We rang the Department of Education,
Science and Training for their response to Hanlon’s claims.

Minister for DEST Julie Bishop was unavailable to answer our questions
but her department’s press release on the issue certainly reads as if
there were stuff ups somewhere along the line, even if the government’s
not admitting fault:

An
independent evaluation of the pilot is currently being undertaken. The
Government will provide further literary assistance in Queensland and Victoria.
Any decision to extend the pilot nationally or provide further literary
assistance will be a matter for future consideration by the Australian
Government.

Peter Fray

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