Subject: Pilot literacy and numeracy test for teaching graduates


Matthew Abraham: Simon Birmingham is the Education Minister, Minister welcome.

Simon Birmingham: Merry Christmas, Matt and Dave.

Matthew Abraham: No, Simon Birmingham. You don’t …

David Bevan: Nice try.

Simon Birmingham: I don’t get the ham?

Matthew Abraham: You don’t win…

David Bevan: You don’t get the hamster. You don’t get the ham, the hamster or the hamper.

Simon Birmingham: Oh dear well can I suggest that I think superglue is the answer for everything? [Indistinct] for anything else.

David Bevan: You’ve got little girls, correct?

Simon Birmingham: That’s right.

David Bevan: Do you- have you faced the challenge of gluing sequins on to a ballet dress?

Simon Birmingham: I have fortunately avoided the challenge of sequins but I have had to glue a bunch of dolls and other things back together over the last couple of years.

David Bevan: And you’ve used?

Simon Birmingham: Superglue is the magical ingredient for all things I think.

David Bevan: For little dollies? It should work for sequins.

Matthew Abraham: There’s no problem a tube of superglue can’t fix. Now, Minister you’ve put out a release saying nine out of ten teaching students pass literacy and numeracy tests. These are- this is an Australian first pilot test of 5000 teaching students and they volunteered as I understand it to be in a trial that will then become compulsory next year. You could also have put out a release saying one in ten teaching students can’t pass basic literacy and numeracy tests because this is concerning is it not, Minister?

Simon Birmingham: It is concerning and whilst- because I’m a glass half full person, the headline is on the optimistic side. The release does equally highlight the fact that yes that’s reflected across all teaching graduates last year, potentially some 1800 teaching graduates may not have been up to standard and that’s a real concern which is why the Turnbull Government acted to bring in this minimum test to make sure that from 1 July next year every single teaching graduate in Australia should be assessed to be in the top 30 per cent of the population for literacy and numeracy because frankly, parents, principals and every school stakeholder should have complete confidence in the ability of their teachers and new teaching graduates in particular.

Matthew Abraham: In a moment we’ll talk to John Hattie, he’s chair of the Australian institute of Teaching and School Leadership, so he can tell us about this test but Minister, from what you know, was the test particularly hard? Is it the same kind of test that the kids have in primary school or was it set at an adult level?

Simon Birmingham:
It’s set at an adult level and it is designed to ensure as I say that they meet a standard that is equivalent to what’s deemed to be the top 30 per cent of the Australian population for literacy and numeracy.

David Bevan: So that’s tougher than what the kids get at primary school?

Simon Birmingham: That’s tougher than your year three or year five NAPLAN type test and of course it’s not an unreasonable expectation. We’re simply talking about really the top third or so of the population to ensure that teachers when they enter the classroom have this type of high level functionality when it comes to literacy and numeracy because …

Matthew Abraham:
Are you- sorry go on.

Simon Birmingham: No, no, I just- because of course whether they are necessarily teaching English or maths doesn’t really matter in this instant where we would expect that right across the curriculum at high level of standards around literacy and numeracy should be applied across many different subjects.

Matthew Abraham: How much harder is it than the- just to put this in the context, we’re talking people who have graduated from year 12, correct?

Simon Birmingham: Correct.

Matthew Abraham: And gained entry to university?

Simon Birmingham: Correct.

Matthew Abraham: And are studying to be teachers?

Simon Birmingham:

Matthew Abraham: Are they in their first year of teaching- their teaching degree?

Simon Birmingham: Look these students would have been across the spectrum…

Matthew Abraham:
Okay so they may be in their final year?

Simon Birmingham: That’s right; they may be in their final year, so this was an opt-in for the test to apply.

Matthew Abraham: Yes and good on them for doing it.

Simon Birmingham: Those that sat it and passed don’t necessarily need to do it again but it is a concern, I fully admit it but universities are…

Matthew Abraham: But is the- sorry- but is the test, the level of difficulty, was it just a bit more than a year three or year five test or was it the level of literacy and numeracy we would expect as year 12?

Simon Birmingham: Well it’s designed as I say to bring about a test that puts people in the top 30 per cent of the population so with that you would expect it to be more akin to a year 12 type test. Professor John Hattie who I think your speaking to shortly is the chair of the Australia Institute for Teaching and School Leadership will be very well placed to give you the academic side of exactly how the system benchmarks…

David Bevan: Well what are you going to do to help these teachers because you’ve obviously invested- I say you, I mean we the state, has obviously invested a lot in their education because they’ve already gone all the way through high school and then a considerable way through their degree so what are we going to do to make sure that investment is worth it by getting them over the hurdle of literacy and numeracy?

Simon Birmingham: This is a really strong message to the universities that they have to make sure that the students they accept in to teaching program are of a calibre and capable of passing this test and in future they’ll have to support them through to a point where they are sufficiently capable in literacy and numeracy to be able to pass this test.

David Bevan: So you’re saying before they are accepted into the teaching degree course they should have to pass a literacy, numeracy test?

Simon Birmingham: No I’m not saying that, but I’m saying it’s incumbent upon universities when they set their entry criteria to have absolute confidence that the students they are accepting will be capable of passing this test. What we’re interested in is of course the outcome, and the outcome needs to be teaching graduates who are highly literate, highly numerate, highly capable of educating our children.

Matthew Abraham: Phone lines are open, 1300 222 891. You may be a teacher, you … or a parent, you may have a view on this. What do you expect from your teachers? 1300 222 891, 0467 922 891 is the text line.

David Bevan: Simon Birmingham, before we leave you, Federal Education Minister, is there going to be a stick or a carrot involved in this? You say you’re going to require the universities to address this issue – what does that mean? I mean, are you going to say look, if you don’t do it we won’t fund you for your teaching courses, unless we have something in place to address this?

Simon Birmingham:
Well the very clear stick here is that these students will not be able to graduate unless they pass this test. So a university’s reputation will take a terrible hammering if they happen to be taking in large numbers of students who don’t then get to graduate from their program.

David Bevan: But how do you do that? Do you legislate so that all students who … all graduates from Australian universities with teaching qualifications must have passed literacy numeracy tests? I mean, how do you make the universities require that?

Simon Birmingham: So this program has been developed by and agreed by all of the different state and territory education ministers. At the course of the day there is a requirement in relation to teacher registration but yes, we are using the Commonwealth powers in relation to university programs and setting of them to make this mandatory. We’re happy to have the co-operation of universities, but not every dean of education in the country is in love with the program, but the universities are all agreeing to co-operate, make it a requirement before their students are [indistinct]. And that’s very important to give confidence, as I say, that parents, principals and everybody else, that future teaching graduates will be up to scratch.

David Bevan:
We’re talking to Education Minister Simon Birmingham, South Australian Liberal Senator in the Turnbull Government, and in a moment John Hattie, he’s chair of the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership, and we’re talking about this pilot test, have involved 5000 teaching students. These are people who have graduated from year 12 and they’re at varying degrees, or varying parts of their teaching degree, whether it’s at Adelaide Uni, Uni of SA or universities across Australia, it was Australian wide. And this is a template really for what will be a compulsory test by 1 July next year. You will not be able to register as a teacher unless you have passed your literacy and numeracy test.

Simon Birmingham, does this show us what anecdotally you hear from universities, and that is that they are really at – first year university is almost now a completion year for year 12. In other words, universities are being expected to patch up and fix failings in your secondary education system.

Simon Birmingham:
University is far more accessible to people nowadays. We have close to 40 per cent of school leavers going on to university, so we’ve found a far greater number and proportion are going into university, and I guess associated with that is that the benchmark of acceptance in the uni is lowered to some extent.

Matthew Abraham: [Talks over] Yes but so …

Simon Birmingham: I think we should- I think …

Matthew Abraham: So is the first year of university, which you’re paying for as a student now, really doing what the education system should do by year 12? Because you’re racking up a HECS debt now for something that you should be expecting – and getting – in secondary school for free. Well, for your taxes.

Simon Birmingham: Yeah, it certainly demonstrates, Matthew, that there’s a problem. Now, we shouldn’t overstate the problem in that of course it shows that 90 per cent are at the appropriate levels of literacy and numeracy as being measured, but the fact that 10 per cent aren’t is a concern, and of course trying to focus on teacher quality is one of the ways we’re seeking to fix that. From the Federal Government’s perspective, where we don’t actually run schools, we’re trying to use our powers and our influence to make sure teachers are as highly capable as possible. The National Curriculum has a stronger focus on phonics and how it is students learn language, that we to try to get parents more engaged and that we try to give schools greater autonomy to be able to run the programs and set the standards that are required to deal with their unique needs and individual student capabilities. 

So I fully acknowledge there’s a problem, and the whole reason we’ve brought this test in is to try to address part of that problem and ensure that in future, our schools are definitely delivering the type of literacy outcomes because our teachers are capable of delivering it.

Matthew Abraham: Just a quick question, quick question. Carson says just tuning in. I complete a Masters in Teaching in the first semester of 2016, but graduation is in August. Do I need to complete the test?

Simon Birmingham: For a Masters in Teaching, no, that wouldn’t be the case, because this is focused on initial teacher graduates, and so that would be at the bachelor level.

Matthew Abraham: Okay. And in a moment we’ll talk to John Hattie, he’s chair of the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership.

Senator Birmingham’s media contact: James Murphy 0447 644 957
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