Lisa Wilkinson: Well the Turnbull Government will head to the election promising a $1.2 billion boost to school funding from 2018, but the back to basics approach isn't without a catch. Schools will only gain access to the new money providing they commit to a long list of conditions, including literacy and numeracy checks for children as young as five. For more it is good morning now to Education Minister Simon Birmingham in Canberra. Good morning.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning Lisa. Great to be with you.
Lisa Wilkinson: Minister, in the last election the Coalition promised to match Labor dollar for dollar on education, then cut funding by $30 billion once you achieved Government. Putting back $1.2 billion is hardly making our sharply falling education standards a priority.
Simon Birmingham: Well that's not entirely accurate. We did deliver when we came to Government at the exact funding which was in the budget for every year of the budget cycle starting from election in 2013, including an additional $1.2 billion that Labor had taken out for Queensland, The Northern Territory and Western Australia because they’d not signed on to the Gonski model. So we actually put extra money in, delivered every sent of it, and what we’re now saying, coming up to the next election, is to again be very clear about what it is that we’re doing and that is that in 2016 the Turnbull Government will provide some $16.2 billion of funding to Australian schools and that will grow each and every year into the future and in the final year of the budget projections in 2020 that will have grown to $20.1 billion. So from $16.2 billion to $20.1 billion over the forward years. Growth, we believe that is affordable that will be budgeted and paid for without the need for an increase in the overall tax burden on Australians, but growth importantly, as you say, that will be tied to getting real reforms in Australian schools because it’s not just a question of how much you spend on schooling that matters, it’s how well you spend it to get the best possible results that matters most.
Lisa Wilkinson: Well let's have a look at how you are spending it. You have announced literacy and numeracy tests for children in year one to identify children that are at risk of learning difficulties. What form will these tests take?
Simon Birmingham: So, these will be gentle assessments that are undertaken one-on-one between a teacher or qualified educator and the children in question. They will essentially be a screening check, in essence. And what will happen is that in the year one stage of education, so after the foundation year, prep or kindergarten, depending on which State you’re in, then in year one at some stage, the children will sit down for this assessment, this skills check, which will occur, and it will be about whether or not they’re learning to read effectively. So, the child will read to the educator, to the teacher. They will read words, basic words, basic sounds, certain letter constructions.
This is modelled on something that occurs in the UK already. And it checks their phonetic awareness and understandings of phonics and it’s incredibly important to identify at the earliest possible stage where children are not learning to read effectively, because then you can intervene; then you can fix that problem, and if you don't get that fixed before they reach about the age of eight, then there are enormous challenges to turning that around. So, that's why we think this is important to do right across the nation. Some schools do it well already, but we want to make sure that every child has that check in Australia.
Lisa Wilkinson: So what resources are you giving to teachers once those children with difficulties are identified?
Simon Birmingham: It is very important that every State has an effective intervention program in place for their State School system or the non-Government school system and we will be expecting the States and Territories to identify what those intervention means are. We’ll also be looking to make sure that we work through what is best practice in terms of intervention approaches, and having that best practice intervention shared right across all the different schooling systems.
Lisa Wilkinson: So those resources are already funded for in this $1.2 billion?
Simon Birmingham: Well absolutely. As I said, we’re spending as a Federal Government $16.1 billion this year, which will grow to $20.1 billion by 2020, and of course the States and Territories spend much more on top of that. We have to get, have to get, the best possible results out of the money that we are spending. It is funding that is growing, but is affordable, and we need to make sure that it is targeted in the areas that need it the most, which is why we are also very committed to a needs-based distribution of this funding. So, low SES schools, students with disabilities, they will get extra support under the distribution of this growing funding.
Lisa Wilkinson: Okay, I'm just trying to work out the maths here. Under your plan, if students don't meet the standards, then those schools won't receive funding. Aren't these the very children and the teachers that need support and funding the most?
Simon Birmingham: That's not accurate at all. As I just said, we’ll make sure the neediest schools get the greatest share of the funding that is available. There is some interpretation out there that our desire to ensure most capable teachers are rewarded is somehow going to mean that schools who have poorer performance get less money. That's not the case at all. We want to reward teachers on the basis of their demonstrated capabilities as a teacher. Not the performance in their classrooms, per se, because we know in disadvantaged schools, they won't necessarily perform to the same standard elsewhere. We want to get the States and Territories rewarding most capable teachers to spend more time in disadvantaged schools. So, that would mean more pay for a teacher in a disadvantaged school, more pay for a highly capable teacher to be in a disadvantaged school, as well as the types of loadings that we’re wanting to provide to those disadvantaged schools to bring them up to standard.
Lisa Wilkinson: All right. Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Unfortunately we have run out of time but we thank you for your time this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much Lisa.