The discourse of ESL policy: the
impact of the ‘literacy crisis’
Mairead Hannan
Master of TESOL
Why this research?
Practicing ESL teacher since 1990
Wanted to understand what what happening
to ESL profession in schools
Why basic literacy is the focus to exclusion of
other needs
Why many schools don’t provide ESL support
Why teachers and communities seem to have
lost voice
Determined the reasons for
changes as relating to:
 Discourse
 The ‘literacy crisis’ (Lo Bianco and Freebody 2001)
Currently focus on economic discourse
and away from the rights of multilingual
Australian communities
What has happened to ESL
Subsumed by literacy needs (Lo Bianco 1998)
 Collapsed into literacy funds
(Lo Bianco, Hammond, Michell 1998, 2009)
Silenced (Ives, 2008)
Why and how has this
Examined federal language and literacy
from 1986:
 National Policy on Languages (1987)
 Australian Language and Literacy Policy
 Literacy For All (1998)
Victorian documents
ESL Companion to CSF (2000)
ESL Companion VELS (2005)
The ESL Handbook (2006)
ESL Continuum (2008)
PoLT (2004)
Blueprints (2003; 2008)
Literacy Teaching and Learning in Victorian
Schools (2006)
VCAA (2008)
Research Methods
Critical Discourse Analysis (Blommaert
2005, Fairclough 1992,1995, 2001)
Grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss1967)
 Political Sociology (Faulks 1999)
 Neo-liberalism and education (Apple 2004)
Research premise
That policy and planning for languages and ESL
exhibit three orientations (Richard Ruiz
1. Languages as a problem
2. Languages as a right
3. Languages as a resource
Resource model is most desirable and
productive for a multilingual nation (Clyne 2005).
15-30% of Victorian students are bilingual.
Research process
Highlighted key words in policy texts
Matrix of comparative, contrastive and
incommensurate data
Related discourse to wider socio-political
Theorized about discourses and related to
existing literature and theory
Essentialized ideas relating them clearly to
the data
Themes arising from the data
Policy style and discourse
• i) A collaborative style and inclusive multicultural
• ii) A directive style and discourse of economic reform
• iii) An imposing style and discourse of crisis
• iv) A neo-liberal discourse focussed on competition and
the individual
Five restrictions
i) Restriction of languages
ii) Restriction of literacy
iii) Restriction of assessment
iv) Restriction of voice
v) Restriction of participation
A Neo-liberal state school ‘system’ in
Victoria means that:
 Varying practices and difficult to
ascertain common practices relating to
provision, programs and teaching
 ESL is fore-grounded, back-grounded
and absent in Victorian documents,
depending on their sources
Manifestations of
The government simultaneously:
 Devolves responsibility
 Applies accountability and compliance
Marketisation of education and prioritisation of
choice and the individual. (Apple 2004).
Results in a lack of voice for minority groups
and reflects a simplistic understanding of
power. (Faulks 1999)
Literacy and language are conflated.
Benchmarks and state-regulated tests are
designed for native English speakers and
disadvantage ESL students.
‘Literacy crisis’ makes individuals responsible
for own learning.
Accountability measures abound but
Dept does not ensure that ESL funds are
directed towards ESL programs.
(It seems ESL Survey no longer has a compliance measure but
NAP and Multicultural Education have)
Orientation towards language
planning in Victoria
ESL documents can show
multilingualism as a resource but also
exhibit other orientations as affected by
mainstream concerns
 General documents show
multilingualism as a problem: either
backgrounds or omits planning for a
multilingual population
General documents
PoLT: no ESL
 Literacy Teaching and Learning Paper
no. 9: no ESL
 VCAA: ESL backgrounded
 DEECD: ESL backgrounded or absent
Diffused practices in Victoria
Self managed schools ‘system’ mean
there is great variety of practices and
difficult to ascertain.
 Schools respond to markets and clients:
Whose voices? Dominant discourses?
ESL and literacy
ESL is not properly seen as a part of literacy
Benchmarks and tests not ESL-friendly
Literacy documents and national policy omit
ESL (and languages)
ESL documents are backgrounded and
practices subservient to literacy needs which
are ‘in crisis’
This is re-confirmed in documents, media,
schools provision, curriculum - throughout.
2009 Developments
National Curriculum describes EAL/D
students well in “considerations”
 NAPLAN assessment continues to be
designed for mother tongue English
speakers and applied across the nation
 2008 policy broadbanded all ESL
funding, including NAP – how many
states will have ESL units in 2010?

The discourse of ESL policy: the impact of the ‘literacy