Australia’s national education evidence body

Supporting secondary students lacking foundational literacy and numeracy skills: Research summary

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Share via email

This summary presents the key findings from 2 reports on better supporting students who enter secondary school with gaps in their foundational literacy and numeracy skills. The reports highlights findings from:


Nearly 1 in 5 Australian students starts secondary school at or below minimum standards for literacy or numeracy, which puts them at least 3 years behind their peers. Students who struggle with literacy and numeracy are more likely to:

  • disengage from school
  • leave before the end of Year 12
  • have worse health and employment outcomes post-school.

National survey of secondary school staff

In 2022, AERO worked with the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) to conduct a national survey of school teachers and leaders. Just over half of respondents reported their school consistently provides support for struggling students in literacy and/or numeracy. However, more than two in five are not confident that the support they offer is effective.

The survey also showed that support varies considerably between schools, with a wide range of approaches used across the schools that were surveyed.

Schools lack clarity about how to identify students in need of support, with teachers using a mix of assessments and teacher judgement. This can also be a barrier to providing support, with a third of school staff saying they find it difficult to identify students who are struggling.

Evidence review

AERO also worked with Monash University to conduct an evidence review that identified a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) framework as a promising model for supporting secondary school students who are struggling. The MTSS model emphasises:

  • using proven teaching methods for all students
  • regular testing of all students to identify gaps in learning
  • delivering frequent small group or 1:1 interventions with a focus on these learning gaps
  • continuous data-based tracking of student progress to ensure interventions deliver real gains.

This review found strong evidence that students who are struggling benefit from high-quality support provided it’s delivered effectively.


AERO’s research highlights the need for schools to provide effective support to students with foundational literacy and numeracy skills gaps, and the MTSS framework offers a promising approach. By using evidence-based methods to support students, schools can help all students improve their educational outcomes and achieve their potential.

Back to top