Nick Rheinberger: But right now Simon Birmingham the Minister for Education and Training joins us on the morning show. Mr Birmingham good morning.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning Nick, and good morning to your listeners.
Nick Rheinberger: You suggest that the Labor Party is saying they’re putting money first, this headline of Gonski and here’s the figure, before the needs of the students. Can you explain that?
Simon Birmingham: Certainly Nick, and there really are two concerns here; one is the concern of budget policy, and the other is of education policy. The budget policy is a [indistinct] two-for-one that in committing some $37 billion of spending, and the Labor Party really does not have a clear and credible plan of how they would pay for it, and everybody appreciates that the country has been in debt since the Rudd Government and that got worse under the Gillard Government, and we are still grappling with that. And how you can commit to such significant extra spending when facing those budget pressures is a real question.
On the education policy front it’s the Turnbull Government’s view that you should know how you’re going to spend money, and what you’re going to spend it on before you commit to vast sums of spending. And really what they’re- the Labor Party is saying in this school funding space is here’s a whole lot of extra money that we’re going to put into schools without any clarity about how they expect it to be invested to lift student outcomes. And the concern is that historically we can see we’ve spent a lot more money on schools over the last 10-20 years, in fact since 1988 real school funding by state and Federal Governments in Australia has more than doubled. It’s gone up by more than 100 per cent in real terms taking inflation into account. In that time student enrolment numbers have only gone up by 18 per cent, so we’ve seen significant extra spending in schools, and yet over that same time horizon our standing in terms of our performance in both real terms, in relative terms, in literacy, numeracy, science, on a world level has gone backwards. So you’ve got to make sure if you’re going to invest more money that it’s spent in a way that makes a difference to student outcomes, not just repeat the mistakes of the past.
Nick Rheinberger: Well the David Gonski report, you could reasonably say it was the most comprehensive into state and Federal funding and the model we’ve got that Australia has ever undertaken. And this is no Labor Party sympathiser, just someone who looked at the model and says it’s broken here’s the way we can fix it, and if that is the money that it takes to fix it why shouldn’t they promise it?
Simon Birmingham: David’s report is a valuable piece of information, and I’ve met with David on a couple of occasions, and intend to continue speaking with David to inform our thinking about future school funding beyond 2018 because we’re absolutely committed to making sure that school funding is needs based for those students that have the greatest adjustment gap get the greatest support to close that gap. And look we do focus on how it is we direct support in the places where it is needed most. But we’ve got to sit down with the states and territories and be confident that it will be invested wisely; that we won’t see that repeat of the last 20 years or so of experience where more money’s spent for poorer outcomes, where most of it goes into measures like smaller class sizes it seems that we haven’t had a positive demonstrable effect in relation to student performance. And so we need to have a look at what the other things are; what’s in the curriculum, how it’s taught, the quality of our teachers, the engagement of parents in the learning experience. They’re all of the types of things that with specific targeted funding and programs we can try to make a real difference, and that’s the approach that we want to take in working with the states and territories into the future.
Nick Rheinberger: Well the states are the ones that are running the education systems, in some cases like New South Wales one of the biggest in the world, and they’ve got people within the department that have been doing this for a very long time. Why wouldn’t they spend it wisely?
Simon Birmingham: Well what can we see though is that despite all this extra money performance has been going backwards, so there are problems in the states in the past. Now I’ve met with Adrian Piccoli on a number of occasions, we’ve visited schools together and I’ve got no doubt that we will do so again. And I can see places where the system is responding well to some of what’s happening at present, and that’s great to see. And what we need to do is put more effort into identifying those schools who are spending it wisely and making a difference for their students and ensuring that that understanding and those learnings are shared across for the schools. But you can’t get away from the fact that we don’t have a limitless supply of funds to spend, but we do have budget problems as well [indistinct] …
Nick Rheinberger: [Talks over] So when you say…
Simon Birmingham: … government you’ve got to balance all of these factors.
Nick Rheinberger: Okay, well I just … sorry to interrupt you, but when you say we’ll put more effort into those schools that are performing well, you’re saying schools that are performing well get more money?
Simon Birmingham: No, no, what I was saying is we need to put more effort into understanding why those schools are performing well and share the learnings of that experience across other schools. And actually do the analysis, do the hard work to find out why a school in a particular social economic bracket or with a particular student cohort might be performing better than other schools, and then share that knowledge across those other schools so that you lift everybody up. It’s really critical that we don’t just say here’s more money for every school and not consider how it’s spent and how effectively it’s spent. You actually do the detailed analysis, looking at relative NAPLAN scores, so looking at schools of similar student mix, from similar backgrounds, and say this one has gone ahead in recent years, and understand why it’s gone ahead and what it is we can do to replicate that success in other areas.
Nick Rheinberger: So on top of David Gonski’s work we need another work of analysis to look at some of these performing schools that has not been done in the past?
Simon Birmingham: We need to make sure that the systems within the education … the systems within the education systems themselves are in place for that work to occur. It’s something that I’ve spoken with Adrian Piccoli about, that I know there are some processes in New South Wales where they’re trying to have peer review by principals within certain areas to understand what each other are doing and where it seems to be making a difference to student performance.
Nick Rheinberger: Alright, final question. What has happened since Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne stood in front of some television cameras and said we’re on a unity ticket about education, when it comes to- with Labor, we’re on a unity ticket. What’s happened since then?
Simon Birmingham: We have delivered every single dollar that was in Labor’s budget and more, so …
Nick Rheinberger: [Interrupts] The unity ticket meant committing to the agreements that they’d struck with the states, surely? Wouldn’t that be a reasonable thing to assume?
Simon Birmingham: It meant committing to the four year budget cycle that was outlined. That’s what we’ve done, plus $1.2 billion in extra funding, because what we found when we came to office was that Labor had only funded those states that they’d signed agreements with, and noting that for all the talk about the Gonski agreement and deal being a national needs-based policy, what Labor actually did was went and struck disparate deals with different states and the different sectors, the government and non-government sectors, that have quite different arrangements in place for each of them. So David’s work I say is quite valuable, but that is not what the Gillard and Rudd governments actually sought to implement. They did something quite different in the way they pursued it, and they left out funding for Queensland, for the Northern Territory and for Western Australia. So we not only matched what was in the budget when we came to office, we put an extra $1.2 billion in so that those states who hadn’t done a political deal with the Gillard or Rudd governments got funded fairly as well.
Nick Rheinberger: Alright, Simon Birmingham, good to talk to you. Thank you.
Simon Birmingham: A pleasure Nick.
Nick Rheinberger: That is Simon Birmingham, the Federal Minister for Education and Training.
Senator Birmingham’s media contact: James Murphy 0478 333 974
Nick Creevey 0447 644 957
Department Media: firstname.lastname@example.org