Address to Catholic Education Western Australia Conference

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, thanks very much Jolie for that introduction, and Tim, thank you. It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to seize the moment, the chance, to have this moment, to be able to come and address all of you today, to spend a little time and to have a little bit engagement with this and Q and A and hearing some of your views as well. It was purely coincidental that Federal Cabinet is sitting in Perth tomorrow and spending a couple of days here, and it happens that you’re having one of your twice-yearly gatherings at the same time. So fate is surely well upon us to convene today.

I want to start by really thanking all of you as school leaders, particularly as principals and leaders of the Catholic education system here in WA for all that you do. One of my most enduring memories as a young child would be my spending good number of years living with my paternal grandmother, who had been a primary school teacher and headmaster, was the trips to the supermarket – trip to the local supermarket with Nan. We would endlessly be stopped by former pupils, parents of former pupils, thanking her, updating her, and that memory that I now sort of take as I work with, meet with, engage in discussion with teachers, principals, and school leaders from around the country, the difference – the fundamental impact – that you make on the lives on the individual students day in, day out.

And much of course has changed in education since the days in which my grandmother, forty years or so ago, was teaching in schools. Some of it remains the same [indistinct] care and wellbeing around children, particularly [indistinct] connections. But challenges we face, the opportunities that are there for the future are enormous. I looked at the program for your discussions here, the Leaders Forum: Our Transformation Journey Are We There Yet? And whilst I don’t pretend to understand the back discussion that has happened about the transformation journey Catholic Ed WA is undergoing, I’ll give you an answer to the concept of transformation and are we there yet, and the answer is never. The answer is absolutely never.

That if we think about the future the students you’re helping today will face, much of it we can’t actually envisage. We don’t necessarily know what jobs they will be seeking and aspiring to in 20, 30, 40 years’ time will be. The change that they will see, given the change that has gone before us over the last 10, 20, 30, 40 years has been phenomenal, and they will see probably greater rates of change. They will need to leave school systems with a range of core skills and attributes in terms of basic foundation learning and knowledge, literacy and numeracy skills. They’ll need of course the newer skills in technologies, technological space, the STEM-type skills that we talk about. Around 75 per cent of the fastest growing jobs in the world are jobs that are reaching STEM skills. Not STEM jobs, not jobs as computer technicians, or scientists, or mathematicians, but indeed a whole range of jobs that we do today that will increasingly demand STEM knowledge, STEM skills in the future.

But of course, then they will also need a whole range of other attributes to succeed in life, in the workforce, skills around collaboration, resilience, the ability to adapt, to change to that uncertain future, to the different jobs, careers they will have. And the pressure on education systems – and therefore on you as principals, school leaders, and your teachers and staff and school communities – to be able to deal with all of that is, I know, enormous. And our challenge as policy-makers at both federal and state level, as well as those such as Tim and the leadership in Catholic education, is to be able and try to do our best to help you have the resources, the facilities, the information to be able to tackle all of those different challenges in the future.

What I hope we can do as a government working in partnership with Catholic education, with all of the other parts of our wonderful education framework in Australia, is to be able to shape and frame the meeting of those challenges in the future. We’ve got some significant work that will now being undertaken over the course of the next year to look at educational excellence in all its forms in Australia, and how it is that we maximise the outcomes from investment that is made by state and federal governments, by parents, by communities in education.

I don’t want to spend a long time today dwelling on funding arguments. I’ll happily take questions, but I do want to emphasise a couple of deep principles that have driven some of our work there. A desire to create a fair and equal playing field across states, which is why federal investment into WA – whether it’s in government schools, non-government schools, independent schools, Catholic systemic schools – grows faster than in most other states or territories because there hasn’t been a fair deal in the past. So fairness in terms of backing quality across the country, fairness in terms of using in consistency a formula of needs-based approach across all of different schooling sectors, in non-government spheres, across our treatment of state governments in our approach.

Importantly, stability. We want to create a model that can be enduring, and hopefully end a perpetual debate about school funding coming up every four or six years, and instead have something that can stand the test of time. Yes, be improved, enhanced, have better data and metrics going into it, but also be predictable for systems and schools in future and – importantly for gatherings such as this one – one that empowers choice. It is critical to us, the Government, that parents, families, have an opportunity to embrace choice and ensure that whether it is for faith-based education, whether it is for other reasons, they are able to make [indistinct] suits them and their circumstances, because it is through that type of choice, through that stability, through fairness in terms of conditional support for those who need it most, that we can create an environment where all children have the opportunity to succeed.

I’m the dad of two young girls. I have confidence in the future that hopefully my wife and I can provide for our kids, but I’m very conscious, as Australia’s Education Minister, my responsibility is to see how best we provide the same types of opportunities for the future for all of the children who may not be as fortunate. And I particularly know that many of you have travelled long distances to be here today, coming from regional areas of WA, dealing with particular challenges in remote communities, Indigenous communities, and of course children who have started school with a whole range of different challenges that they need help to meet, to address to be able to succeed, and that is where our help together can hopefully make a big difference in the future.

So thank you again for what you do. I look forward to this engagement session. I encourage you over the next year, as we look at ways in which to enhance the education systems in Australia, ways in which the governments can provide better information to schools, to help you pick up tools and resources to achieve educational excellence, to engage with those review processes and to make your voices heard, because it’s your expertise on the ground shared, as we’re sharing here in a fora such as this, that can make the best difference for future in terms of all of us learning from each others’ skills and knowledge.

Thanks so very much.