ACA sees considerable room for improvement with regard to the promotion of reading skills in schools

31.01.2020 - As regards the promotion of reading skills in Austria, many players are involved, school lessons were reduced

Today, the Austrian Court of Audit (ACA) published the following reports:

The ACA gives poor marks for the promotion of reading skills in primary schools and new secondary schools. For years, international and national studies have pointed to the pupils’ poor reading skills. However, a comprehensive strategy on the improvement of reading literacy has not been adopted. On the contrary: many players are involved and school lessons were reduced. Moreover, school libraries are, in part, still equipped with books based on old spelling rules. This was revealed by the ACA’s audit on the “Promotion of Reading Skills in Schools” in the school years 2014/15 to 2017/18. The ACA audited the federal ministry of education and the provinces of Salzburg and Lower Austria.

School lessons were reduced

From the school year 2003/04 on, school lessons have been reduced: from 92 to 90 weekly hours in primary schools, from 127 to 120 weekly hours in the then lower secondary schools (today: new secondary schools). In the academic secondary schools / first stage, lessons were reduced from 126 to 120 weekly hours. In view of the fact that reading is a basic skill, the ACA recommends to the federal ministry of education to evaluate such reductions.

Up to a quarter of the youth has massive reading difficulties

International studies such as the PISA test or the PIAAC study, but also national assessments of educational standards point to poor reading skills in Austria. The educational standards assessment on German (Bildungsstandardüberprüfung Deutsch) in the school year 2014/15 revealed that 13 per cent of the children failed to meet the standards at the end of primary school. Such pupils had difficulties with the easiest reading tasks. The analysis of the educational standards assessment on German in new secondary schools showed a particular dramatic result: 24 per cent of the pupils of the 8th grade had great difficulties with receptive reading, 35 per cent could only deal with simple texts and only 41 per cent reached the standards or more. The figures refer to the school year 2015/16.

In Austria, education is still inherited – a fact that is also true for reading as shown by many studies and tests. Boys, children with a migrant background and children whose parents have low education levels often have more reading difficulties. However: with the signing of the 2030 Agenda, Austria committed itself to ensuring that all children complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education by 2030.

Too many players, schools in Salzburg well on course

The federal ministry of education strived to counteract the reading difficulties with projects such as the Austrian National Literacy Framework (Österreichischer Rahmenleseplan). Numerous framework conditions in school development are also to show a positive effect. The ACA, however, noted the lack of structured, comprehensive concepts. In addition to the manifold measures, numerous players were involved in the promotion of reading skills, starting from the educational coordination unit “Literacy” of the ministry up to different institutions, such as the association “Buch.Zeit” (“Time.for.Books”), and reading mentors. Although the ACA considers the numerous players involved in the school-related promotion of reading skills as positive, it recommends to the ministry to establish clear structures and to pool the different activities after an evaluation of the players.

The provincial school board of Lower Austria established the “ARGE Lesen NÖ” (reading-related working group of Lower Austria) as early as in 2007. Unlike Lower Austria, the provincial school board of Salzburg designated the provincial school inspector as the primarily responsible person for reading from 2008 on. According to the ACA’s view, Salzburg is on the right course. Therefore, it recommends to the education directorate to designate a central point of contact for the field of reading.

Books based on old spelling rules in school libraries 

School libraries are particularly important for the promotion of reading skills in schools. Salzburg scored better also in this area. 72 per cent of the primary schools in Salzburg, for example, had their own school libraries. In Lower Austria, the number of school-owned libraries amounted to only 46 per cent, representing less than half of the primary schools. In both audited provinces the ACA found books based on old spelling rules in numerous primary schools, but also in the new secondary schools. A central recommendation of the ACA to the respective education directorates of the two provinces is therefore to inform the school providers on the pedagogical necessity of school libraries equipped with books based on new spelling rules.

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Report: Promotion of Reading Skills in Schools (in German)

From November to January 2019, the ACA carried out an audit of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research, the provincial school boards and/or education directorates for Lower Austria and Salzburg as well as the provinces of Lower Austria and Salzburg with regard to the promotion of reading skills in schools.

Report: Promotion of Reading Skills in Schools (in German) Download

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Report: Study Choice - Guidance and Information (in German)

From September 2017 to January 2018, the ACA carried out an audit of the advisory and information-related services on the choice of study. The audit aimed at assessing the strategy and objectives of the study choice guidance and the services offered by the then ministry of education and the then ministry of science as well as by the Austrian Students’ Union (Österreichische Hochschüler_innenschaft).

Report: Study Choice - Guidance and Information (in German) Download

Central recommendations

  1. A standardized reporting system on the “Programm 18plus” as a basis of information for the further development and management of the programme should be introduced.
  2. As regards the advice provided for upper level secondary school graduates, it should be clarified which services in the field of school choice guidance should be provided by the Austrian Students Union. Furthermore, the contractual commitments entered into with the Austrian Students Union should be adapted accordingly. In the meanwhile, also the form and the content of the reports to be issued by the Austrian Students Union should be defined.
  3. The psychological school service should also be included in the management group of the “Programm 18plus”.
  4. The necessity of a printed school guide should be evaluated in consideration of the cost-benefit ratio and the already existing online services.