Doorstop interview, Adelaide
ATAR scores for teaching courses; National Energy Guarantee




Simon Birmingham:     ATARs are not the be all and end all, but certainly there are alarm bells ringing as a result of the figures that have come out of our universities showing the very low ATAR admissions into some teacher education courses. The Turnbull Government has taken action in terms of ensuring that graduates from universities are in the top 30 per cent of all Australians for literacy and numeracy skills when they’re going into the teaching profession. And we want to make sure that the states and territories are acting on those reforms. They agreed to do so and I’ve written to the states and territories to highlight these figures around minimum ATARs or around the ATARs that universities are accepting students in at and to indicate to the states and territories how important it is that they enforce the reforms we’ve put on the table: reforms to ensure minimum literacy and numeracy standards for graduates from universities, to ensure that there are clear teacher training programs as part of university qualifications that make teachers classroom ready when they leave and when they go into the classrooms. In the end, our kids deserve no less than high quality teachers with high quality skills. That’s what we want to ensure is in place. That’s why we’ve delivered these types of reforms to date and why we will hold the states and territories and universities to account to make sure they are implemented.


Reporter:          Victoria has minimum ATAR scores, but Victoria Uni appears to have some of the lowest ATAR entrance scores. What do you make of that?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, you do have to wonder what the Andrews Government is doing there that they claim to have minimum ATARs in place for teacher entry and yet they’ve got the lowest ATARs in the country. Is the Labor Government in Victoria asleep at the wheel when it comes to teacher training or are they saying one thing while something completely different is happening in relation to the training of teachers in Victoria?


Reporter:          How concerning are those scores for Victorian families?


Simon Birmingham:     Look, the scores that we’ve seen are ringing alarm bells and obviously the lower they are, the bigger the concern in some cases. We want to ensure high quality graduates out of our universities. That’s why as a government we have sought to enforce minimum standards for literacy and numeracy for graduates from unis [sic] in the teaching disciplines and why we want to ensure clear teacher training programs are part of that university pathway.


Reporter:          So you don’t think the states can be trusted?


Simon Birmingham:     Oh well, you’ve got to wonder whether you can trust the word of the Victorian Government when they say they have minimum ATARs but then they’ve got the lowest in the country.


Reporter:          How are students that can’t pass these subjects meant to teach other students in these subjects?


Simon Birmingham:     This is why we have put in place reforms to have minimum standards for graduates coming out of universities because it’s unacceptable to have anybody leaving uni who doesn’t have high quality skills in literacy and numeracy areas if they’re going to go on and become a teacher. Now ultimately universities have to be held to account for the people they admit to university and they have to have confidence that those people will reach the minimum standards the Turnbull Government has set and we want to see the states and territories, through their teacher registration bodies, hold those universities to account and make sure those high standards are being enforced.


Reporter:          Are there plans to remove students where they’re not getting [indistinct]?


Simon Birmingham:     Universities have autonomy around who they choose to enrol, and of course they enrol many people outside of the ATAR or OP system as well. That’s why the most effective reforms are the Turnbull Government’s reforms to put minimum standards in place for graduates coming out of the teaching profession- coming out of university to make sure those graduates have classroom ready skills and high literacy and numeracy skills when they hit the classroom. And we expect state and territory teacher registration bodies to do what the states have agreed to do and to hold universities to account to make sure every uni graduate in teaching is up to scratch in the future.


Reporter:          Does the government need to do more check-ups on teachers throughout their university courses and once they’ve been through university courses?


Simon Birmingham:     Well the reforms we’ve put in place – and we want to make sure the states and territories are fully implementing our reforms – that ensure minimum literacy and numeracy standards for graduates from universities in the teaching profession and clear competency in terms of being classroom ready, in terms of the teacher training they’ve had and the on the job experiences they’ve had. And they’re the essential attributes that we should expect at a minimum level in our teachers, and our state teacher registration bodies around the country should be making sure every single university is held to account for high quality standards in their teaching graduates.


Reporter:          Some of the Queensland scores are equivalent to fails. How does that even happen? How can somebody start a teaching degree when they’ve failed?


Simon Birmingham:     Universities need to defend the decisions they’ve made in terms of the students they’re admitting and they must have confidence they can bring those students up to the tough minimum standards the Turnbull Government expects of graduates, because if they’re not getting those students to those minimum standards then they’re wasting the time of those students, money from those students, and funding from the Australian taxpayer.


Reporter:          Just looking here in South Australia, there’s some school graduates getting into teaching with 35, 36, 38. Can parents in your electorate or anywhere in South Australia be assured that their kids are getting a good education at schools here in South Australia?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, parents should be reassured that the Turnbull Government’s put in place minimum standards for graduates coming out of university going into the teaching profession to be in the top 30 per cent of all Australians for their literacy skills, numeracy skills, and to be classroom ready teachers with practical experience in the classroom as part of their teaching degree. But universities need to make sure they’re not only meeting those minimum standards but that every person they admit into a teaching program is capable of reaching the high quality standards that we expect and we are seeking to have the state and territories enforce.


Reporter:          So should parents with school age kids now be concerned that these university graduates are coming through and may have taught their- be teaching their kids now?


Simon Birmingham:     Well these university graduates should not be getting- I’m sorry, these students being admitted into teaching programs should not be graduating and hitting the classroom unless they’re brought up to scratch, meeting the minimum standards in terms of literacy, numeracy and classroom ready skills that we expect of them.


Reporter:          But the bottom line is now there could be teachers at schools in South Australia, anywhere in the country who have got into university with ATAR scores below 30.


Simon Birmingham:     If the states and territories enforce the reforms that we’ve delivered and they agree to act on, if the states and territories through their teacher registration bodies guarantee that every student meets the 30 per cent standard we expect in terms of being in the top of the population for literacy and numeracy skills, being classroom ready teachers, then anybody who doesn’t meet those standards shouldn’t ever get into a classroom.



Reporter:          Talk me through what are going to be the hot topics in the Senate this week?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, Turnbull Government’s going to continue with our plan for a stronger economy, our measures to make sure we bring the budget back to balance, deliver tax relief for Australians, and we’ll start off in the Senate with our plans to ensure that the higher education loan scheme is sustainable and affordable into the future. And of course, we want to keep working through those types of reforms to make sure that we give Australians the services they expect: high quality education services as well as the balanced budget that they that they need and demand.


Reporter:          When it comes to the by-elections, what lessons have been learned, in particular when it comes to company tax cuts?


Simon Birmingham:     Well these by-elections were by-elections where in Braddon we saw basically no swing at all, which is remarkable in terms of Australian political history, and in Longman a swing that was only around or slightly below the normal average for a by-election. Now, of course, the government is always seeking to make sure that our policies are well understood by the public and we’re going to keep working to ensure Australians understand that our plan for a stronger economy is one that is delivering them with tax relief. Tax relief that is also delivering jobs growth – record job numbers across Australia – and is bringing the budget back to balance. All of the things they expect a good Liberal government to do.


Reporter:          How are going to tackle Labor’s ability to sell its message on education? That was really evidenced in the by-election, that they were able to sell that message on education and that they have something better to offer.


Simon Birmingham:     Well look, the Australian people will have to make a decision when we have an election next year whether they can believe Bill Shorten’s promises, whether they trust him with the economy, whether they trust him with essential services, but indeed also whether they are willing to pay $200 billion plus in additional taxes. I don’t think Australians want to pay higher taxes on their wages, their housing, their savings, their investments, but that’s what Bill Shorten will make them do.


Reporter:          And just lastly on the issue of the National Energy Guarantee, would you be open to the suggestion that [indistinct] targets could be revised up?


Simon Birmingham:     Well what we’ve outlined very clearly is a steady approach that provides for five yearly reviews in terms of emissions targets that will then provide long term certainty for industry, for investors, for all aspects of the Australian economy. And it’s the type of certainty from the National Energy Guarantee that we need as well as the lower prices it will deliver. The National Energy Guarantee is mod- the National Energy Guarantee modelling shows lower prices in the order of $500 plus per household. That is well worth fighting for. We’re going to work hard to make sure that the NEG is implemented because it will lower prices for households, for businesses, as well as ensure that we have reliable energy and meet those emissions reduction targets.