$2.5 million to support children's learning

La Trobe University is the recipient of a significant gift to help more schools use evidence-informed approaches to teaching children to read, helping ensure children – in particular from regional areas, disadvantaged backgrounds and with diverse learning needs – don’t fall through the cracks.

The Bertalli Foundation has donated $2.5 million over five years to the University’s ‘Science of Learning’ programs – including the creation of evidence-based reading and writing clinics at La Trobe’s Bendigo and Bundoora campuses for children who have fallen behind with reading, writing and spelling.

The funding will also empower schools that excel in using the science of learning techniques to become regional hubs, showcasing best practice to other schools – and enable research into how rural and regional children are taught during the first three years of school.

Dean of Education at La Trobe University, Professor Joanna Barbousas, said not only will this donation benefit children who are being left behind, it will provide evidence-informed approaches to reading instruction and better prepare graduates in the science of learning.

“We know that children who are confident readers are more engaged with their learning, have fewer behavioural and emotional problems, are more likely to complete Year 12, and are less likely to have contact with the youth justice system,” Professor Barbousas said.

“Despite increasing awareness of the science of learning approach, many schools are teaching children to read using methods for which the empirical evidence base is weak or non-existent – leaving too many children behind

“This very generous gift will help our passionate researchers and educators, who have been lobbying hard in this space for many years, reach many more schools – ensuring thousands of Victorian children have the best possible educational experiences, setting them up for future success,” Professor Barbousas said.

Neville Bertalli from the Bertalli Foundation said he recognised the need for evidence-informed programs when working with schools in the Western Port and Mornington Peninsula regions.

“We saw the incredible difference that a strong evidence-based reading and language program can make – and the ripple effect that building kids’ confidence has throughout families and communities,” Mr Bertalli said.

“Not only did the children enjoy school more, their NAPLAN results improved.

“We were so excited by these outcomes we wanted to multiply our efforts – and recognised that La Trobe is a leader in this space and has academics with the passion and deep expertise to bring our vision to life,” Mr Bertalli said.

The $2.5 million donation from the Bertalli Foundation will fund:

  • The creation of Reading and Writing Clinics at La Trobe’s Bendigo and Bundoora campuses, offering assessment and intervention services to school-aged students who have lower levels of reading or writing. These clinics will also be spaces for preservice teachers in teaching programs to build their practices in reading instruction.
  • The expansion of the Think Forward Educators Network – a network run by educators, for educators, committed to evidence-based reading practice.
  • The creation of the Science of Learning Schools (SoLS), empowering exemplary schools to act as regional hubs, enabling in-practise professional learning, and developing best practice. SoLS will also be research sites from which preservice teachers will examine best practice in the Science of Learning.
  • The establishment of Rural Roads to Reading – a major research platform to gain a detailed understanding of rural and regional classroom practices and instructional approaches employed in the first three years of formal instruction.

La Trobe University researchers have been leading a push to overhaul the way children are taught to read for many years, promoting the science behind reading and language development.

In 2020, Professor Pamela Snow and Associate Professor Tanya Serry launched the Science of Language and Reading (SOLAR) Lab, bringing together teachers and allied health professionals – including speech-language pathologists and psychologists – to ensure new knowledge is incorporated into classroom and intervention practice.

SOLAR Lab launched a series of short courses in late 2020, designed to advance knowledge and skills in word de-coding and language comprehension; more than 7,000 educators, allied health professionals and parents have completed a course so far.

About the Bertalli Foundation

Over the past 40 years, the Bertalli Foundation has facilitated philanthropy in the education, medical, science, arts and cultural sectors and for rural and regional programs.

Image L-R: Professor Joanna Barbousas, Diana and Neville Bertalli.

Media enquiries

Claire Bowers - c.bowers@latrobe.edu.au / 0437 279 903