Doorstop interview, Adelaide   
Topics: Education Council; NAPLAN; Budget




Simon Birmingham:     Thanks very much for coming along today, and it’s been wonderful to have education ministers from across Australia back here in Adelaide today, joined by David Gonski to talk about his landmark report in relation to school education and how we ensure that we do much, much better by our children and students in the future, to ensure that they leave school with the knowledge, skills and capabilities required to succeed in the future. We had a very good discussion today. David came in and took ministers from around the country through his report and its recommendations and the ambition behind it. Ministers acknowledged that this had been a report with which there was widespread consultation and engagement, including with the states and territories. There was a shared sense at what the ambition should be and an agreement that we would work through the recommendations in this report and consider how we can embed them as part of a new future national school reform agreement.


We’ll come back in a fairly tight timeline over the next couple of months to assess the progress that officials have made in relation to each of those recommendations, as we really seek to put detail around their implementation and how we can ensure that each of those changes, whether it be updates to the national curriculum, empowerment of teachers in terms of the assessment tools at their disposal, development of new professional development and training standards around teachers, engagement of parents, all of them very important directions and recommendations of the Gonski report, and we are committed to working through them sensibly, and I thank my state and territory colleagues for the constructive and cooperative way in which they addressed the issues today and committed to moving forward.


We also heard from the authors of a report in relation to early childhood education, and particularly preschool education. Again, there is a shared recognition of the importance of preparedness for school, the importance of preschool, and we’ll work through the findings of that report as well. All up, it was a positive, engaging and constructive meeting, and a demonstration that we can truly put state-federal politics aside, Labor-Liberal politics aside, and work to get the best outcome for Australian schoolchildren.


Journalist:                    Minister, you mentioned a few just before, but were there one or two of the Gonski recommendations from the latest report that really generated the most discussion today, and what were they?


Simon Birmingham:     Look, there was discussion across a range of levels. Clearly, the theme in the report around how we ensure each Australian child progresses to their maximum capability, reaches different achievement milestones and keeps progressing onto the next achievement milestone, is a central theme in the report and therefore a central theme to discussions about how that has given effect to in changes to the curriculum and how we deliver it in terms of empowering teachers and schools with tools and practices to be able to assess that progress, maximise that progress, ensure that children are learning to read and write at the earliest stages possible in their school life, develop a rich base of knowledge, and leave school with the skills required to succeed.


Journalist:                    The New South Wales Education Minister today asked for a significant review, at the very least, of NAPLAN and the way it’s currently operating. What was discussed today and can you, I suppose, reassure your state and territory counterparts that some kind of review will be taken?


Simon Birmingham:     We’d already agreed at a previous meeting that later this year we would consider terms of reference for a possible review of NAPLAN, and especially how the data is reported, and we’ll do that in a constructive way later this year. I do want to stress, though, that NAPLAN is something that I know many Australian parents find incredibly valuable in giving them a clear, transparent update on the literacy and numeracy skills of their child; of understanding how that relates and compares to other children across Australia and are they meeting minimum standards in terms of literacy and numeracy skills to succeed. We have to make sure that degree of transparency is still available in the future to Australian parents. That’s why NAPLAN won’t be going away any time soon because it is an important deliverable in terms of giving Australian parents information about how their child is tracking. That’s why the Australian Parents Council, the Association of State School Organisations, the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association have all endorsed and strongly argued for the continuance of NAPLAN, and if we’re going to move on from NAPLAN, it has to be because we’ve got something even better in terms of benchmarking the skills, reading, writing skills of children and in giving that information in a clear and understandable way back to parents.


Journalist:                    Bill Shorten has left the door open today if a Labor government is elected to changing or getting rid of NAPLAN altogether. What’s your response?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, the Labor Party ought to give a firm commitment, like we are, that we will stand by the principle that parents deserve clear, benchmarked information about how their child is progressing. Australian parents deserve to know if their children are effectively learning to read, learning to write, developing basic numeracy. We’ll stand by that. Of course, we’ll be open to any improvements to NAPLAN, and ultimately, if the recommendations in the Gonski report lead to something even better in terms of assessment and progress and transparency to parents; well, we’ll work through that at that stage too.


Journalist:                    Do you think the online version makes a difference? The online version, the process of examining kids at their own level, does that make a difference?


Simon Birmingham:     The shift to NAPLAN Online is a very significant change, and it’s one that, years ago, was welcomed by the Teachers’ Union as giving faster, better information to teachers; richer information about the skills of different students; and ultimately, a more satisfactory experience for children as well. So the testing and trialling of NAPLAN Online this year is a ground-breaking event in terms of transforming NAPLAN into something that can be better for kids and more useful for teachers.


Journalist:                    How can you improve it, as you say you’d like to, if the terms of reference for a review aren’t until the end of the year, a long way away?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, ministers already agreed at the previous Education Council meeting that, in what’s scheduled to be a June meeting – so it’s not that far away – the ACT Government would bring forward proposed terms of reference. They’re consulting with other states and territories. I look forward to seeing their proposal about how it is we might have a look at the way NAPLAN data or information is reported to ensure that some of those concerns about whether it’s misrepresented or whether it creates additional stresses can be addressed.


Journalist:                    So do you have an in-principle agreement then with the states and territories for the recommendations of the latest Gonski report?


Simon Birmingham:     I’m confident that we have support from state and territories to work through the recommendations of the Gonski report; to give effect to those where we can all reach agreement. Of course, there’s a level of detail to be assessed. In fairness to the states and territories, they’ve had the report for less than a week, so we’re going to be sensible about working with them, assessing what it is that they’re already doing, how we can build upon that, and how ultimately we embed that in a new national school reform agreement that really lifts the status of Australian education and delivers better outcomes for our kids.


Journalist:                    Do you accept criticisms that NAPLAN, as it currently is, somewhat plays into the fears of parents about their child’s performance?


Simon Birmingham:     I think Australian parents – and speaking as one myself – want to know that their children are developing the basic skills, and NAPLAN assesses the basics, to succeed at school.


Journalist:                    [Interrupts] The criticism from New South Wales is that it’s turned into a school ranking system. So is that something we should be addressing with more haste, perhaps?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, there’s absolutely no reason as to why NAPLAN should be treated in that way. NAPLAN is about giving clear, consistent information to parents about whether their children are learning to read, learning to write, developing the numeracy skills required to succeed, and not only does it give that information to parents, but it is an important tool in terms of analysing how we can improve our school education system in the future. Anybody who’s sat down and read David Gonski’s latest report will see that it leans heavily on research and analysis informed by NAPLAN reporting; that the identification of the fact that there are too many schools in which too many kids are just coasting and cruising along rather than being extended and learning to the utmost of their capabilities, is because they’ve been able to analyse that type of consistent data you get from something like NAPLAN.


Journalist:                    Minister, what can the states and territories expect in next week’s budget?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, all Australians can expect that next week’s Budget will show that the Turnbull Government’s plans to deliver strong economic growth, strong economic dividends to Australia in terms of jobs growth, to continue to bring the Budget back into balance, are on track. That we are achieving very well against the targets we set years ago, and our plan is working for a stronger economy, for more jobs, for budget repair, all of which enables us to pay for the critical services Australians want like schools, healthcare and the like.


Journalist:                    So you can give them an assurance there won’t be any unexpected surprises?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, in terms of the school funding issues, if that’s where you’re going, I can assure people that those matters were addressed in last year’s Budget, where we delivered on David Gonski’s first report around school funding to implement true, fair, consistent, needs-based funding, where we put in place funding that equates to a projected $25 billion of extra investment over the next 10 years. That’s significant extra funding. What we’re doing now, and importantly did today, was say: how do we take record funding and get the best bang for our buck and make sure kids are learning as much as they possibly can from our investment in schools. Thanks everybody.