Doorstop interview, Adelaide
COAG Education Council; NAPLAN; New child care package




Simon Birmingham:    Thanks for coming along today. The COAG Education Council met today, and I am very pleased that there was substantial progress towards reaching a national school reform agreement to be considered at COAG by the Prime Minister, premiers and first ministers across Australia, later this year. This is about achieving an agreement that will give effect to the vision of David Gonski’s report Through Growth To Achievement which identifies how we can best support students across Australia to be their best, to reach maximum levels of achievement, to ensure they have rich skills and knowledge for the future in terms of their education. I’m very grateful to the states and territories for the cooperation that they and their officials have shown to date in terms of drafting this agreement, in terms of discussing the content of it, and I’m quite optimistic that we will be on track to ensure that first ministers can consider it later this year, and that it can come into effect as planned from next year.


We also received a valuable update in relation to NAPLAN and especially NAPLAN Online. This year, nearly 200,000 Australian students sat NAPLAN via the new online portal and it was a success in around 99.9 per cent of cases. There were very few glitches. They were minor in terms of what they were. This is a great example in terms of the feedback and ministers themselves gave some really positive feedback from their schools, principals, teachers, students, about how NAPLAN Online was a better, positive experience for those students and how this is going to be absolutely the type of methodology we can deploy in the future to ensure that the assessment of students is adaptive, is one that’s engaging, and that gets the best out of them.


I also note today, that up in Queensland the Labor Party has been having a few things to say about the University of the Sunshine Coast. The Labor Party is playing catch-up when it comes to funding and supporting the University of the Sunshine Coast Moreton Bay campus, just as they had to play catch-up in relation to Susan Lamb’s citizenship and paperwork. The Coalition Government, the Turnbull Government, announced funding for the new Moreton Bay campus in the last election campaign. We are already supporting this project, and we are committed to its success.


Journalist:       Would you mind just running us through what has been decided in regards to a review of NAPLAN?


Simon Birmingham:    Well, the ministers have agreed that we will have a review around the data, around the data and the way in which it is presented as it relates to NAPLAN reporting. This is addressing an area that is often raised with me by teachers. Now, some states wanted to engage in a review of NAPLAN that was essentially going to simply do what the unions have demanded, and lead to the dismantling of basic literacy and numeracy assessments across the country. The Turnbull Government won’t tolerate that. We want to make sure that Australian students are learning basic literacy and numeracy skills and that parents and the community have transparent, consistent information about literacy and numeracy skills.


Journalist:       You wanted a review- if there was a review to happen, you wanted it after the online testing was rolled out. So, do you support that it could be happening now, in regards to reporting?


Simon Birmingham:    Well, what’s been agreed is a narrow review as it relates to the publishing of data and information from NAPLAN. It in no way questions – and in fact the terms of the review agree – reinforce the importance of consistent national benchmarking and assessment of students in relation to their literacy and numeracy skills, and that’s what we’re committed to.


Journalist:       Some of the state ministers did want to see a more comprehensive review. Queensland, for example, said it was going to push ahead with its own model. What do you say to that, about the many ministers coming out and saying they wanted it to be more of a thorough review of the NAPLAN system?


Simon Birmingham:    Some states are just completely beholden to the unions. They were doing their bidding today, and the unions simply don’t want that level of transparent, consistent assessment of literacy and numeracy skills in students. The Turnbull Government does. We remain committed to it and that’s why we stood our ground today.


Journalist:       What do you make of the Federal Opposition saying that the stakes are becoming too high with NAPLAN and there are some students who are, you know, becoming anxious and losing sleep over the pressures of the publication, for example, of the results?


Simon Birmingham:    Well Tanya Plibersek, unions and others should stop scaring Australian school students, teachers, parents or others with falsehoods. I heard overnight claims from Ms Plibersek that NAPLAN was determining what happened in a child’s future or their educational opportunities. That’s just not true. NAPLAN is just one assessment undertaken four times during the life of a school child’s studies. It is not something that determines where they go in terms of their educational opportunities. It doesn’t determine what they do when they leave school, it’s just a falsehood that is peddled by people who want to dismantle basic literacy and numeracy skills checks and assessments. Now I don’t understand why anybody would want to undermine what is a fundamental in terms of the way in which students achieve and build their knowledge and skills. We won’t succeed at school without basic literacy and numeracy skills and NAPLAN is certainly a good check to make sure that those skills are being developed.


Journalist:       So you don’t think that- you’re not considering any change to the publication on the My School website which is something that has raised concerns among the parent groups and some state ministers?


Simon Birmingham:    Well, the Education Council has published the terms of reference which is looking at the way in which data is recorded and presented but we are committed to ensuring that there is a clear, consistent assessment of literacy and numeracy skills across Australian students and that that information is made transparently available to parents.


Journalist:       And you’re still in support of the online model once this review has been undertaken?


Simon Birmingham:    NAPLAN Online has been a roaring success in its first year of widespread application. Nearly 200,000 students sat the test. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and I’m pleased that many states today indicated they expected to undertake widespread expansion of NAPLAN Online next year.


Journalist:       How quickly can the review, I guess, smooth out some of these issues? Surely parents want the future of NAPLAN looking bright as soon as possible?


Simon Birmingham:    Well this is where I would call on the unions and all those running the scare campaigns to take a step back and take a deep breath, because we can take a lot of the heat out of this if we simply stop running the scare campaigns as some do and recognise that NAPLAN is one check, undertaken four times during a child’s 12-13 years at school. It is not something that should be made a big deal of, but it should absolutely be there to help in full the type of development of their literacy and numeracy skills that are so essential to the rest of their learning.


Journalist:       Just on another matter of the Child Care Subsidy. We understand that there are some child care centres that are trying to cash in on this new subsidy by raising fees; are you aware of these concerns?


Simon Birmingham:    The Turnbull Government’s providing more support to more Australian families and we estimate that many families will be around $1300 per child, per annum better off as a result of our reforms. We’re implementing reforms that are based on a thorough Productivity Commission analysis in relation to child care and those reforms make clear that we’re putting in place an efficient pricing mechanism that should keep a lid on future fee growth, precisely as the Productivity Commission recommended.


Journalist:       But we know specifically that there’s one mum who’s paying- she was paying $110 per day for her child in nursery, that’s now gone up to $116.50, so she’ll only be getting $15 a week, saving $15 a week of the subsidy.


Simon Birmingham:    Well without knowing all of the details, but a $15 a week saving for many households is a significant saving. And of course the extent of the saving for each household will vary dependant upon their income level as a family, as well as the fees that are charged by the service. But our analysis shows around one million Australian families are set to benefit and that many families will be around $1300 per child, per annum, better off as a result.


Journalist:       But how do you stop child care centres from raising their fees and, I guess, cashing in on this new subsidy change?


Simon Birmingham:    We’ve put in place the efficient pricing mechanism the Productivity Commission recommended and that is designed to ensure that in the future we don’t see the type of gross fee growth that occurred under the Labor Party, and particularly the last time they undertook a tinkering of child care reforms. Rather than tinkering that saw fee growth that was up to about 16 per cent in cases, we’re undertaking wholesale reforms with a lasting efficient price mechanism that should keep a lid on fee growth in the future.


Journalist:       So we shouldn’t be seeing any price increases from July 2?


Simon Birmingham:    Look, it’s up to individual centres in terms of how they structure their pricing but we are making sure the policy settings we put in place are what the Productivity Commission recommended, providing more support to more Australian families with an efficient price mechanism to keep a restraint on fee growth in the future, unlike what we’ve seen in the past.


Journalist:       Just back on NAPLAN quickly, can you say that the review will be completed by the next round of testing and that the issues will be ironed out?


Simon Birmingham:    Well, the review is a review looking at the publication of data as it relates to NAPLAN. It’s not a review into NAPLAN testing or the way in which assessments are undertaken. It’s a narrowly focused review. Now, it will have to report back to the Education Council, and it’ll be in the hands as much of the states and territories as to precisely when it’s completed, when it’s published and what the changes are. But it is not going to impact in terms of the next round of NAPLAN. The next round of NAPLAN will be undertaken, as per usual, focusing on the basic literacy and numeracy skills of Australian students.


Journalist:       And who will undertake- will it be an independent consultant for example?


Simon Birmingham:    Yes. Thank you.