Joint Doorstop interview, Ermington West Public School
Topics: Release of Gonski 2.0 report; Banking Royal Commission

John Alexander: Welcome everyone to Ermington West Primary School. Welcome Prime Minister, welcome David Gonski, old friend and Simon Birmingham, our Minister and thank you so much Shannan for your welcome here today. Shannan is a great teacher and now a great principal and has a great passion and that’s what we need and I’ll hand over to you now Sir.

Prime Minister: Thanks JA, thank you and Shannan thank you so much.

MS SHANNAN JUDGE, Principal, Ermington West Public School: Pleasure.

Prime Minister: Thank you so much for having us here today.

The passion with which you’ve spoken to us about your vocation of teaching and the changes that you’ve made, improvements that you’ve made here at Ermington West, speak to the values of the report that David has done for us.

David Gonski wrote a very important report, a report, an analysis on schools and school funding some years ago. David argued or proposed that school funding, federal school funding, should be national, consistent and needs-based. A pretty straightforward assessment.

That was not delivered until we delivered it and it is now in place today. And we are spending, as a Federal Government, about $18 billion this year, a very substantial increase in school funding over this year and over the years to come. And it is exactly as David recommended; national, consistent and needs-based.

But we have to recognise that despite increased funding into schools – which is only possible because of the strong economy and the strong revenues that come from the economic leadership that we provided. Which is why we’re seeing more people in work, more people paying tax as a consequence, fewer people on unemployment benefits – all of that economic strength enables us to spend more on schools. But we’ve got to make sure we get the right outcome for our kids. You know, there are thousands and thousands of dedicated, passionate teachers and committed parents who are equally determined to ensure their children do well and young kids who from the earliest stages, who are keen to learn.

But we have to recognise that we have been falling behind other countries. On any measure, whether it is reading, whether its science, whether it’s mathematics, we are falling down relative to other countries. So we have got to do better. We’ve got to do better for our kids.

Now what David’s report sets out are some very important directions for reform. The one that I think will resonate most with all of us is the need to ensure that every child gets a year of growth in their learning for every year they’re at school. So instead of having – dare I say it – a 20th century as opposed to a 21st century approach to education, which wants every class to progress at the same rate and means that some kids are not getting the attention they need and some kids who are doing well, who have got a lot of ability, natural ability, are allowed to coast.

There’s too much coasting and cruising. Every child should advance by a year whether they’re an A grade student, if they’re getting As, they should be moving up to A pluses. You know if they’re a B, they should be moving up to As and so forth. Everyone should be advancing, that’s the critical thing.

This approach, I think, is one that is going to give teachers the tools to fulfil their vocation, their love for the children, their love for education and for changing children’s lives for the better. They’re going to give them the tools that will enable them to do that even better.

So, I’m really delighted that David has undertaken this task again. He’s made an enormous contribution to the way we look at and view education in Australia. He’s called out some – with his panel – some deficiencies in the approach that’s been taken and opened up the opportunity to do even better. So that great teachers like Shannan will be able to do what she is doing, but with better tools to enable her to do more and of course, the values that she has and the approaches she has adopted here at Ermington West will be able to be emulated by others.

This is all about ensuring that the funding that we’re putting into schools – very substantial increase – is able to deliver even better results.

So I’ll ask David to talk some more about this report and then Birmo will sum up and then we’ll be delighted to have some questions. David?

David Gonski AC: Thank you, Prime Minister. Firstly, I should say it’s been an enormous honour and I thank you for it, Prime Minister, to head up this review ‘Through Growth to Achievement’. I also pay respect, if I may, to the other seven who worked very assiduously to bring this review to fruition. I should, for the cynics amongst you, note that the other seven had enormous prowess in all sorts of areas and I think were well chosen. We had people from primary school like Shannan, we had people from secondary school. We had people from regions and we also had people from obviously the capital cities. We had people from government and also from non-government areas.

Our report basically decided and found that basically we have a very good set of people working extremely hard in the various systems of Australia, to give us good education. But over time, we have been slipping and we can do better.

I want to make it absolutely clear, we did not conclude that those working in the system, nor those indeed who have contributed over the time, be they federal or state, have failed.

The fact is we can do better.

What we have said – as the Prime Minister very ably has said – is that our mantra is that we believe that each child in each school in Australia, in each year, should progress in their education. But in addition to that, we’ve made two other things very clear. One, we believe the children should be equipped, every student should be equipped, to be creative, connected and engaged as a learner. And finally, looking at the system as a whole, it should adapt and adopt over time so that we always have as good a system as really we deserve, which is ‘number one’ as we can.

We have many, many suggestions. We’ve basically given 23 recommendations. These spread from basically looking at the start of school and going through it, to expressing our faith in the teaching profession but believing we should show better esteem towards teachers and we should equip them better and indeed, give them the tools to be able to do what they need to do. Finally we are very strong on building an evidence-based background, so that we believe strongly in having a body that can do that, can bring the research together and indeed bring it all together.

Prime Minister, we commend to your Government and indeed to the states and territory governments, our 23 recommendations. We hope sincerely that, A they’re put together and come together and B, with the excitement of doing it that we can, indeed, make our good system even better.

Prime Minister: Well David, as Birmo’s going to outline – Birmo is going to join us – we accept the recommendations and adopt them all in principle and Birmo, you’re going to speak to the state and territory Education Ministers this week, with David?

Simon Birmingham: Absolutely.

Prime Minister: : And go through that.

But, you’re absolutely right David. David and I, he looks much younger than me, but he’s actually just a year older, but we were in a debating team many years ago together and our lives were changed for the better by great teachers, weren’t they?

David Gonski AC: Absolutely.

Prime Minister: Neither of us would have achieved what we’ve done without dedicated teachers like Shannan. You with your passion, with your huge insight into kids, you and thousands of other teachers, are just changing lives, setting kids on the path to realise their dreams. What David’s panel has produced here is going to, the aim is to enable you to do your brilliant job – you and thousands of other teachers of course – even better.

That’s right. So, this is what it’s all about. We’ve got great teachers, great parents, great kids. But we need some changes to ensure that all of the tools and insights of the 21ST century are brought to bear to enable our children to get the best out of their time at school. But Birmo, you’re the Education Minister.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much PM and thank you David and thank you Shannan for hosting us here today, and JA.

The greatest satisfaction that I receive as Education Minister is from visiting schools across the country and engaging with principals, teachers and parents, children and students.

Last week at Wallace Rockhole Primary School, a remote Indigenous primary school out of Alice Springs with just six children in the classroom, to here at Ermington West, to outstanding secondary colleges and institutions around the country, and the common thread is always principals and teachers who aspire for the best for their students and parents who want the best for their children.

What is critical is that we give all of those individuals, families, schools, teachers, professionals, the tools and the capabilities to be able to achieve the maximum for each and every student.

David, thank you to you and the panel of individuals and educators and experts who have put this report together, which is a transformative blueprint for education in Australia, setting out how we can modernise the way we go about supporting teachers and empowering school leaders to get the best out of their students. So that every student is extended to their maximum capabilities, so that we have fewer underperformers in our schools and more overachievers in our schools, so that we really do ensure that we stretch those capabilities – not by expecting more of teachers, but by giving teachers better capabilities and tools to be able to know how their students are progressing. To assist that against an updated and modernised curriculum that identifies what the steps in student progression are. That clearly mandates that we must, by age 8, develop the necessary literacy and numeracy skills in our children for them to succeed. But equally ensures that by the time they leave school in Year 12, they’re leaving as fully-rounded individuals, capable of further training, further study and successful participation in the workforce and in society.

This report in its proposed reforms to the curriculum, to assessment tools, to the way in which we recognise our best teachers, is an outstanding blueprint for change.

David Gonski and I will be taking it to state and territory Education Ministers on Friday of this week and we look forward to working cooperatively with them to implement this. This is a report that should see all of the partisan lines broken down and an ability for us to work across state and federal boundaries, across Labor and Liberal boundaries and actually deliver the type of reform in our schools that is necessary for students to do their best, to be their best and indeed to give our nation the type of outcomes from schools that would be necessary to underpin continued success in the future.

Prime Minister: Very good, thank you. Shannan, did you want to add anything to that? Alright, okay, very good.

Journalist: Senator Birmingham, one of the proposals is that teacher pay and promotion should be on capability grounds rather than the seniority idea. That will be an extraordinarily radical shift in the teaching system, would it not? Is it doable?

Simon Birmingham: Rob, it’s absolutely doable. The Turnbull Government, the Coalition have already overseen the development of recognition standards for teachers to become certified as highly-accomplished teachers, as leading teachers, within our schools. We’ve already seen some school systems around the country embed that in their EBAs, to give specific reward to the highly accomplished, elite leaders. Why does that matter? David may wish to reflect on this. It matters because what you’re doing is providing the best recognition for the best, brightest teachers, to stay in the classroom, to keep teaching, to be rewarded for being there and doing what they do best, which is imparting knowledge to other students. But also as David’s report outlines, to undertake more mentoring, greater development of their colleagues across the school, to ensure that new teachers as they come in – and Shannan has been speaking to us about that this morning – they get the type of support to develop their classroom practice and skills in a successful way.

I would hope that states, territories, the teacher unions, who have all been consulted in the development of this report, will absolutely see the merits of working hard to develop a reward structure to keep the best and brightest in our classrooms.

Journalist: If principals were given more autonomy, which I think is another recommendation – that would be also a radical departure, wouldn’t it? Because it would possibly put state governments in conflict with some principals?

Simon Birmingham: Again, I’d urge everybody across the education landscape to, if they can, take the time to look at the report in its entirety, because the recommendation is that principals have the autonomy and scope to lead learning and practice within the school. That we work hard to try to remove some of the administrative and bureaucratic burdens that perhaps fall upon principals’ shoulders from time to time and ensure that they have the time and the scope to provide the type of leadership in teaching practice and in capability that is necessary to get the best out of their staff. That is critically important.

Some schools, some states, some systems do that very well already. There’s lots of lessons we can learn about how we give teachers that autonomy and with it, of course, comes the responsibility for getting the best outcomes from their staff and for their students.

Journalist: Mr Gonski, how will this work in practice for teachers, if learning progressions are to be achieved – you haven’t endorsed gifted and talented classes – but how would a teacher practically look after all the students in the class, lifting up the bottoms, extending the top? How are they going to manage that wide variation in ability?

David Gonski AC: Well can I first– it’s a good question – can I firstly say, a lot of teachers are already doing it, let me make that quite clear. But what we found talking to teachers and listening to them, is, if they could be given what we called a tool – which the new technologies can allow – they could be, as one teacher put it, “in the driver’s seat”.

So that basically, instead of, as one person put it “bowling down the middle, only looking after the middle of the class – because the bright kids will look after themselves and those who aren’t up to it, well, that’s too difficult” – they could actually do the whole thing. Because by using the tool, they can monitor everyone. If one’s got learning progressions, one can work quietly and satisfactorily with each student to try and progress them.

A lot of the teachers do it and it may be unfair, but I think it’s done here already by Shannan. She can perhaps answer that.

Shannan Judge, Principal, Ermington West Public School: Absolutely. We use learning progressions in our school for every classroom. You can see on the walls that there are success criteria for reading and writing in kindergarten. So our teachers are very skilled at identifying the needs of the cohort, at the bottom of the progression, right up to the top and how do we extend those children. It’s about knowing the kids in your class, knowing who they are as people, how they operate, what gets the best out of them and forming that relationship with the child is what teachers are best at. That allows them to differentiate or personalise the learning for all the students in the class.

Journalist: So how does this work in a school with a more challenged cohort? With lower socio economic, more problems, how does, how do you lift those kids, what do you need to do there?

Simon Birmingham: Firstly I’d highlight, as the Prime Minister did, that last year, we made the types of changes to embed consistent needs-based funding and support, so schools with higher needs, schools with more students coming from backgrounds of low socio-educational advantage, more Indigenous children, students with disability, receive additional support to make sure that they have greater resources to be able to deploy. But ultimately, every classroom will still have a spectrum of students who are at different stages in terms of their capability. What David’s report has outlined, and what we’ve heard from Shannan, is there’s an absolute enthusiasm and desire from teachers, to be able to progress and stretch and extend those students to the maximum capability for each and every one of them.

The question is, how do you best do that? How do you make sure that the teachers have got the tools and the time to be able to do so and with a better structured curriculum and with better nationally consistent tools in place, teachers will be better able and have more time to undertake those types of extension practices for each child, so that we do, as I say, have fewer underachievers but also more who are in the high achievement category.

Because if you look at David’s report, you can see the bell curve of performance for Australian schools has shifted in the wrong direction. So we have not only more students performing at a lower level, but we also have fewer students performing at a very advanced level. We need to shift that bell curve back in the right direction.

Journalist: Mr Gonski, what are the consequences if we get this wrong?

David Gonski AC: Well the first thing I would say, as I said in my first remarks, is we have taken our education system to a good point. What we’re saying here is we can do better. Now, in answer to your question, if we get it wrong, well presumably we stay where we are, which is not good enough and is not, in my opinion, a viable opportunity. But in our opinion – this is the review team’s opinion – if we can get these tools to the teachers, our teachers who are talented and by the way, equipped and we want to equip them even better, both with time and obviously backing, we’ll be able to shoot for the stars.

Prime Minister: There’s a lot riding on this. I said that we’d slipped, Australian students had slipped overall in international rankings.

Just to put some numbers around that – this is all in David’s report – but over the last 15 years, Australian students have dropped from 4th in the world for reading, to 16th. From 11th in mathematics to 25th and from 8th in science to 14th. Now, that’s not good enough. We should be, our goal should be to be heading in precisely the opposite direction. I think we all agree with that.

So, we’ve got more financial resources than ever, going into education and a number of the countries that have been overtaking us, actually spend quite a bit less per student than we do.

So we need to have more of the type of focused, personalised attention that David talks about and that Shannan practises. That’s what we need to make sure, make sure our kids are coming out of school, competitive. I mean this is a very competitive world. You know, the children here are going into a bigger world than ever, but smaller than ever in the sense that it’s more connected than ever and more competitive than ever. So we’ve got the make sure they got the skills to excel and to compete and be their best.

Journalist: A question for Mr Gonski, in the report you proposed that teacher improvement should be mandated. Could you explain a little bit, why that should be necessary?

David Gonski AC: Yeah. I think by the way, calling it “teacher improvement,” is not the way I’d put it. Most great professions – and teaching is a great profession – have continuous education throughout life. By the way, with my other hat on, as a chancellor of a university, of course I believe in that very strongly.

We’re advocating in this report that teachers should also, all the time, be upgrading their thinking and their ideas. By the way I believe most teachers would agree with us. But the opportunity to do it, for example, how do you fit that into your day and so on? Well, in our report, we’re suggesting let’s take some time to allow teachers to have more time to improve their art. And not to improve it because it’s not good, but to just keep up-to-date with all that’s happening around the world and in their profession.

Journalist: If I may just ask, on the issue of more autonomy for principals, why should that, why is that important to you? Do you think there is a risk of not making principals accountable in the same scope?

David Gonski AC: Yes can I say firstly that I absolutely agree with what the Minister said; it has been said in shorthand this morning, that we have advocated more autonomy. Actually, we’ve been more subtle than that and I think more correct.

There are two types of autonomy, structural and professional. We absolutely believe that principals must have professional autonomy. They must be able to make the decisions in relation to their students and their school, in relation to what’s professionally happening there.

But the structural questions, which are often administrative, can often bog down principals. They have to fill in hundreds of forms for decisions which basically administrators could make. I’m not maligning administrators, I’m just making it clear that the wonderful principals should be given more time for the rest.

So our advocacy is that we look at what is structural autonomy and give them help, either through the system they work in, or indeed through the school, by having chief operating officers or bursars, whatever one likes to call it and in their day-to-day work in the professional side, allow them to get on with their wonderful job.

Journalist: And they can still be held accountable for all their activities?

David Gonski AC: Absolutely, absolutely. By the way, I think principals now are very accountable. They’ve got parents who are obviously keen on where their children are going, carers of the children as well. They’ve also got the whole stakeholders around their school. They’ve got governments and systems watching them. They’re very aware of that.

Journalist: Prime Minister, you talked about our declining performances. There’s a lot of aspirational ideas in Mr Gonski’s report, but how are we going to actually ensure outcomes, practical outcomes, for children? You hear parents, you know of children saying their children can’t recite their times tables, they can’t hold a pen properly. These are the things that we’re hearing out of schools. How will this policy fix those fundamental problems?

Prime Minister: Well the criticisms you make I mean really underline the fact that those children are not progressing in the way they should. What David is talking about and what Shannan practises here at Ermington West, is every child progressing a year, regardless of what their starting point is. That’s really the key insight.

It’s moving from, if you like, an industrial approach to education, where every class moves up at the same pace, that means some children may run the risk of falling behind, but as the panel’s pointed out, you do get a lot of kids who are cruising and are not progressing as much as they should. So the opportunity to provide a more individualised focus – “knowing the students” as Shannan’s described it – is critical. We do have the tools now from a digital point of view, to give teachers a much greater ability to deliver that.

So I think this is about, we’ve got great teachers, this is about ensuring they can be even greater and more effective. We’ve got great kids, this is ensuring that they can realise their potential.

Journalist: Prime Minister can I move on to other issues of the day?

Simon Birmingham: Can I just tackle that one issue as well quickly. Which is the report makes very clear that there should be a strong emphasis on the early years of education and achieving the building blocks of literacy and numeracy skills that are necessary for later success.

So this report, yes, transforms the way in which we think about educational measurement, by saying: “You must meet some absolute benchmarks, but we should also assess progress”. But it also makes it very clear that if you don’t get those foundational skills right, then you’ll continue to see failure in the latter years of education. We must ensure there’s time, focus, priority and assessment of progress in those early years around literacy and numeracy skills.

Prime Minister: Now, you’ve got a question on another matter?

Journalist: Just moving on to the news about Catherine Brenner today, obviously this has been, this has happened this morning. Is her decision or the timeframe around her stepping down, is that time period, is that too long?

Prime Minister: Well, look she’s made a decision and the board has made a decision at AMP. There’s clearly matters of very great concern there. I just want to make it very, very clear that my commitment and the Government’s commitment is to ensure that the wrongdoing that we’ve seen, does not happen again. That we make sure that it can’t happen again and that those who have done the wrong thing, are held to account.

We have already put in place over the last two years, very substantial reforms in terms of protecting customers and consumers and clients of financial advisors. Very substantial reforms, we’ve given additional powers to ASIC.

So the problems have arisen in one way or another in different institutions, because customers have not been put first. This is the point I made several years ago. That is the cultural shift. We’ve got – all of these institutions, whether they’re financial advisors, wealth managers, banks, insurance companies, have got to put the customer first. We put the reforms in place to ensure that they do in the future. We look forward to more recommendations from the Royal Commission, which obviously also has the ability to consider the reforms we have made and recommend any improvements to them.

Journalist: Prime Minister would you say that Catherine Brenner has made the right decision in resigning?

Prime Minister: Yes.

Journalist: Given that, would you agree that other executives of financial institutions should be stepping down out of these misconduct claims that emerge?

Prime Minister: Well those who have done the wrong thing should be held to account. I’m not going to do a running commentary on particular executives at particular times, but every institution and every board of directors – which is ultimately the body that governs these institutions, the peak of their management structure – they have got to take responsibility for what has gone on and make the appropriate steps. In some cases that has involved people stepping down or retiring or resigning.

Journalist: Do you think it’s a very high bar for someone to reach, considering, especially that the Commissioner found that Catherine Brenner hadn’t actually been involved in the doctoring of the report, the Clayton Utz report –

Prime Minister: Again, you’re asking me to run a commentary on something that is before the Royal Commission and may find it’s way into other, you know, other environments. There may be legal proceedings. You’ve asked me whether I believe she made the right decision to step down. The answer is yes, but I don’t want to get into a detailed commentary on it.

Journalist: Are you concerned the Royal Commission could undermine confidence in the financial sector and possibly impact the Australian dollar?

Prime Minister: The important thing that the government has done is ensure that the law has been changed. Institutions have been reinforced. Accountability is reinforced.

The way we ensure that there is strong confidence in our financial services sector is by ensuring that at all times, institutions, advisors, banks, insurance companies, put the customer first.

Now, that’s what my government has done. We’ve put the customer first by putting in place these very substantial reforms. A one-stop shop to deal with consumer complaints, stronger powers to ASIC and more money, stronger legislative powers and also of course, a new regime to ensure that bank executives who do the wrong thing may find themselves not being able to work in the sector again.

There’s a range of changes that we have made. But the critical thing is that Australians know that we are doing everything we can to ensure that what has gone wrong, will not happen again. That’s our goal. And secondly, that those who’ve done the wrong thing will be brought to account.

Now, I’ll just take one more question.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister can I just ask, the tax cuts we’re expecting, what’s the danger they’ll amount to little more than a hamburger and a milkshake?

Prime Minister: Thank you, I’ll leave the budget, we haven’t got long to wait for the budget, it’s next week, so –

Journalist: [Inaudible]

Prime Minister: No, I’ll just say this to you, let me just make this point to you; we are able to provide substantial additional funding for schools, for hospitals in our new hospitals agreement, substantial resources to every essential service. We’re able to do that at the same time as we bring the budget back into balance and provide tax relief, because of a strong economy.

That is what enables everything. We’ve got record jobs growth. What does that mean? That means fewer people are drawing unemployment benefits. It means more people working, paying tax. It means stronger revenues. Stronger revenues enable us to make sure that great teachers and principals like Shannan have got the additional resources to do their brilliant job even better. It means that our hospitals have got additional funding. It means our defence forces have the capabilities they need.

Right across the board, everything we have done has delivered the jobs and growth we promised at the 2016 election and that’s the big difference.

The big difference between the Government and the Opposition is that we are promising and delivering strong jobs growth, more jobs, higher economic activity, which leads to stronger government revenues and that enables us to reduce taxes where we can afford to do so and still bring the budget back into balance.

The alternative from Bill Shorten is higher taxes on everybody. On companies, big and small, on individuals – going after self-funded retirees for heaven’s sake – taxing property. There is nothing that he is not going to add a burden of tax upon.

I tell you, all that will result in is less economic growth, fewer people in work, less government revenues and less ability to support great teachers like Shannan.

Thank you very much.