Doorstop interview, Hobart 
Future schools funding arrangements; NAPLAN online

Simon Birmingham:     Thanks very much everybody. It’s been a morning of constructive discussions with the Education Council amongst myself and the state and territory ministers, and I appreciated the fact that we’ve tackled some challenging issues around ensuring the success in jurisdictions of matters like NAPLAN Online, ensuring that we have continued integrity in relation to early education and child care systems, and indeed discussing issues that I know are of particular interest to media and to others in terms of future school funding arrangements. 

The Commonwealth has, and the Federal Government has, since 2014, invested significantly in terms of increased funding into Australian schools. In the period between 2014 and 2017, we’ll have seen growth across Australian schools of in excess of 25 per cent, and indeed growth directly into government schools of around 34 per cent in Commonwealth funding. This has been a period of record growth in terms of the Federal Government’s commitment to Australian schools, and the commitment that we have given, as a Turnbull Government, is that future funding will continue to grow off of these record bases. 

So all Australian schools and all systems in all states and territories should be confident in the knowledge that school funding today, in 2017, is at record levels and it will keep growing in the future from those record levels, and that growth in our budget is ahead of inflation, ahead of enrolment forecasts. It’s real growth that will ensure all schools can continue to invest, invest more, and help ensure that Australian students achieve more in the future. 

We have equally been clear that we want to see funding distributed according to need, but also according to more consistent and equitable principles than the 27 different deals that Bill Shorten and the Labor Party did when they were in office. We do not have at present a clear and consistent approach to school funding in Australia, and the Turnbull Government is working on one to ensure that our record and growing levels of funding do see funding distributed in the future according to need, in a fair, consistent, and equitable way, across different states and territories and non-government schooling systems. 

We also want to make sure that funding is used in the most effective way possible because, despite our record investment and despite the record growth in school funding, performance in Australian schools has not improved at a commensurate rate. In fact, we saw last year through NAPLAN results, PISA and TIMSS testing at the international level, that performance in many ways has stagnated, and we remain committed to ensuring that ambitions are attached to future funding arrangements. 

Now, those future funding arrangements will be settled, as we’ve said consistently now for 12 months, through the COAG process in the first half of this year. That remains the case. The First Ministers are scheduled to meet at COAG next month, and what we’ve committed to today is that I will continue bilateral discussions with state and territory ministers, and that state and territory ministers will have a further meeting with me before that meeting of First Ministers at COAG to ensure that we can go through the details of the Commonwealth proposal; to ensure that our record and growing contribution to Australian schools does achieve the type of improvement in student performance and the results that we hope for, not just over the next year or two, but well into the long term.

Journalist:                                We’re looking at a new funding model coming in next year; do you think you’re cutting it a bit fine, given that it’s only about eight or nine months away?

Simon Birmingham:     Well the Gillard Government, in terms of the funding model that we currently have – the 27 different cobbled together, stitched together deals – the Gillard and Rudd governments were still signing deals in August of 2013. So we’ve been through this process before. States and territories have not set their budgets for schools for the future yet. Individual schools, of course, haven’t received that notification from states and territories, and often don’t until quite late in the school year. We’re committed to working through it in a considered way. We’ve said we’d do so with First Ministers, Premiers, Chief Ministers, and the Prime Minister at COAG, and we’re going to do that at the first COAG meeting of this year. Unfortunately, due to the unavailability of a couple of Labor state Premiers, that meeting has been delayed until June, but that is now only one month away, and that’s the timeline we’re working towards. That’s a little bit more than one month.

Journalist:                                In relation to NAPLAN Online testing, is it appropriate for that trial to go ahead in light of Queensland’s withdrawal today?

Simon Birmingham:     We received a detailed briefing from officials in terms of all of the safeguards that are occurring in terms of the trial of NAPLAN Online. The first point to remind everybody of is why are we trialling NAPLAN Online? Why is it important? It’s important because transitioning to NAPLAN Online will enable us to have faster results for Australian schools and much richer results in terms of individual student assessments. So it’ll make NAPLAN a much better tool in the future, for teachers, principals, parents to be able to get quick, detailed information about where students sit, their competencies, and where additional assistance is required, or indeed where extra potential exists in terms of students of high achievement and ability. 

So we want to see the trial succeed. We received a lot of detailed information today, and the jurisdictions who are continuing with that trial have committed to work closely with officials in terms of the technological issues to make sure that any and all issues are resolved to their satisfaction so that the small number of schools participating in the trial can have absolute confidence that it will work and will be successful this year.

Journalist:                                So you haven’t received any concerns from the remaining states? I think WA, SA, and Victoria, is it, that are involved in the trial? They haven’t voiced any concerns with you?

Simon Birmingham:     I’m very grateful to the states who have indicated that they will participate in the trial, because they are absolutely leading the way in setting in place a much better regime for NAPLAN in the future. They are going to work, as they have been, very closely and intimately in terms of testing the NAPLAN Online platform with officials at Education Services Australia involved in the technological delivery of it. And I believe that they’ve indicated that to date they have been very pleased with the progress in developing all of those technological issues, and that they’ll keep working through them right up to the point of application. But I’m confident that any and all concerns can adequately be addressed to ensure that this is a smooth process for students and schools who are involved in it.

Journalist:                                Queensland have said they won’t be on board. What do you think about that?

Simon Birmingham:     Look, I respect each jurisdiction’s decision in relation to these matters, but I’m very grateful to those jurisdictions who are applying themselves to make sure that we can make this progress and that we can work towards the 2019 ambition for a more universal application of NAPLAN Online.

Journalist:                                Will some schools lose funding under a Gonski deal for the next two years?

Simon Birmingham:     Funding is at record levels and it keeps growing, as I said, above inflation, above enrolments. And so systems, states, territories, should absolutely be able to expect to keep doing the great things they’re doing and to be able to do more with our record growth funding into the future. 

Journalist:                                Tasmania has quite a unique set of education issues here, we’ve got quite low attainment rates compared to the rest of Australia. Are you confident that a new funding deal will benefit Tasmanian students?

Simon Birmingham:     We’re really committed to ensuring the Gonski principles of distributing funding according to need are adhered to, and in fact are better reflected in many ways, in a more equitable and consistent approach to funding than the 27 different hodgepodge deals that we inherited. And that’s important for a jurisdiction like Tasmania because those principles ensure additional support for students from lower socio-economic settings, for students in smaller regional or remote settings, for students of Indigenous backgrounds, for students with disability. These are the types of needs-based principles that we want to see funding distribution applied to and that we’re committed to seeing occurring under a more consistent setting that can only be to the ultimate long-term benefit of states like Tasmania.

Journalist:                                Will Tasmania be securing the $100 million funding that they were told they were getting post-2017?

Simon Birmingham:     Well Tasmania is going to continue to see funding grow from record levels. It’s already grown over the last four years by around 24 per cent in Tasmania. In 2017, funding is a new record baseline for funding in Tasmania, and in every other state and territory, and it’s upon that record level of baseline funding that future growth will occur. 

Journalist:                                Can you give us an amount, and will it be in this year’s Budget?

Simon Birmingham:     We’re absolutely settling all of these matters, as I said, in the lead up to COAG in June, and that means all those details will be available as we proceed towards that COAG meeting.

Journalist:                                As you said, that COAG meeting is in June. Do you feel like this meeting here has brought you a step closer to finalising a funding deal?

Simon Birmingham:     The Turnbull Government’s been working very hard in terms of the reforms that we think are necessary to lift school improvement and achievement, and in terms of how it is that we transition away from a hotchpotch of different funding deals towards a more consistent approach in the future. And each day we get a step closer to that, and today’s another day st- another day, another step closer.

Journalist:                                What do you mean by more a consistent approach?

Simon Birmingham:     Right now, schools of identical need, of identical socio-demographic circumstances, can have very different levels of Commonwealth funding across the country. Thousands of dollars more going to a school that, in terms of their composition and mix of their students and those student backgrounds, is identical to one in another state or territory, receives significant different Commonwealth funding because of different deals that were done at the time. Commonwealth Government should absolutely treat states and territories in a fair and consistent manner. 

Now, it should reflect need, and need means ensuring that a state or territory like Tasmania, with some additional particular issues in lower socio-economic circumstances and challenges, should receive additional funding because of that. But schools that have exactly the same challenges, whether they’re in Tasmania or Queensland or WA, should be receiving the same type of support from their Federal Government. And I think all Australians would expect that that’s the approach the national government should take.

Journalist:                                What was today’s mood of- how was the meeting? How was the mood inside the room?

Simon Birmingham:     Oh, there’s lots of politics played in front of the cameras when it comes to school funding from different states, different political parties, unions, et cetera. But ultimately, I find my colleagues constructive to work with, and I’m certainly committed to working with them as constructively as possible in the future.

Thanks, everybody.