Interview on 2GO Breakfast with Paddy Gerrard and Sarah King
Topics: Delivering real Gonski needs-based funding for schools; Christopher Pyne
Paddy Gerrard: Well the Minister for Education and Training is visiting in the Central Coast today in the wake of Gonski 2.0 getting the green light in Federal Parliament last week. Now, the Minister for Education and Training is Simon Birmingham, and he is in the studio with us this morning. Good morning, Simon.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Paddy and Sarah.
Sarah King: Thanks for joining us, it’s an early start, we know, a little chilly out there, and you’ve got a very busy day. And you’ve had a very busy last couple of months putting all this stuff together, it’s been quite the ride.
Simon Birmingham: It’s been a pretty intense couple of months. Now, ultimately when you’re investing $23 billion of taxpayer money, you want to be busy, you want to be working hard, and you want to be making sure that it goes to those who need it most, and that’s the whole point of the Gonski school funding reforms, to direct the money into the schools who need it most. And here across the Central Coast, that’s seeing a real uplift through a good number of schools.
Paddy Gerrard: Now, we are Facebooking this Live too, if you want to go to 2gofm.com.au Facebook page.
Sarah King: Absolutely, yeah. And you’ll see how we can really tidy up that well.
Sarah King: But some people are still unhappy. You would think that with kind of news that everyone would be yay, but there’s still people who are unhappy, some sectors saying that this isn’t going to be as great as it seems.
Simon Birmingham: There are those who will always ask for more, or want a better deal. What we’re applying is the Gonski needs based formula consistently across the country so that, over the next six years, all schools will receive the steady growth that are needed to provide them with the same type of needs based model of funding. And that means that, across the Central Coast, you’re seeing a lift in support of around $3000 per student, or about $7.4 million per school over that timeframe.
Paddy Gerrard: Now Simon I know here at Terrigal School, $9.7 million they’ll be receiving. Now, is it up to the school what that money goes, or how does that work?
Simon Birmingham: Yeah, indeed. So schools obviously have the challenges of meeting teacher wages and salaries and other costs. They are able, through the distribution of the State Government funding, or Catholic education system or, if they’re an independent school, directly decide whether they’re going to pump it in to extra speech pathologists, or give extra support to other services in the school that can really help students who need it, and you know this is ultimately about getting a better outcome for our kids. And we want to ensure that with all of this extra money flowing into education, we do get the best bang for a record buck, as such, to make sure that we’re lifting student outcomes, because that’s what it’s all about.
Paddy Gerrard: A lot of kids on the Coast go to Catholic schools, what about them?
Simon Birmingham: Yeah, so Catholic education sees strong growth in funding as well. On average across New South Wales that’s around four per cent growth per annum over the next few years per student. So that’s good, strong growth above wages, above inflation [indistinct] extra support.
Paddy Gerrard: It’s still less than what they would have received, though. We’re hearing reports, 4.6 less than what they would have received.
Simon Birmingham: If you do a comparison with the unfunded promises Julia Gillard made back in 2013, yes, you can look in various ways and say that people are getting less than they might have got in a parallel universe somewhere. But this is strong growth, real growth in different schools. So, I’ll be going to Terrigal High this morning. I’ll be meeting with some Catholic education principals and school leaders as well to talk about what the extra funding is, h ouch is likely to flow through to them, and of course most importantly, where they think they can use it most effectively for the best outcomes for our school children.
Paddy Gerrard: Look we believe the school is in the hospitals, it’s the way to go. Ten years, the $23.5 billion which has been promised. Where are they getting the money from?
Simon Birmingham: Well, we have to- indeed. And this is why, of course, you got to work through these budget issues carefully. And now we’re projected to come back to q budget balance and surplus in four years’ time. We’ll make sure that that still remains the case, and it’s a very important element of balancing all of these equations. You don’t want to leave today’s school children cleaning up a bigger debt legacy in the future. You want to make sure they’ve got jobs in the future, there are all of those factors as well, which is why, you can’t go down the huge, unfunded spending promises path, but, equally, why you have to make sure that we’ve got the type of resources in our schools that we need.
Sarah King: What about private schools?
Simon Birmingham: So, private schools are dependent upon their need- and this is about a funding formula developed by David Gonski and his panel some six years ago, it’s never been used properly in the past. Private schools who are wealthier have a greater discount, essentially, applied to the funding they receive. Private schools that are less affluent receive something closer to their funding, but still a small discount applied, relative to the way the funding formula works, than for the local public school.
Sarah King: Still a strong increase, though? Like, is it going to be…
Simon Birmingham: On average, absolutely, that there is an increase. Not as fast as in public education where we’re seeing, across the country, growth in public education around 6.4 per cent per student per annum. Across the non-Government sectors, about 4.9 per cent per student per annum. So a significant differential there. All of it being targeted towards need, and of course, making sure that we’re investing in schools who need it most.
Paddy Gerrard: Simon, could you stick around? It would be good, like if you’re listening this morning, you might be in the education system, if they want to give us a call would you be open to take a call?
Simon Birmingham: Yeah.
Paddy Gerrard: Yeah. 4324 44 44. You might be a school teacher, or associated with a school, there might be a question you’d like to put to the Education Minister.
Sarah King: We’ve been out at schools a lot in the last little while.
Paddy Gerrard: Yeah, yeah.
Sarah King: [Indistinct] all of our kids, locally, are raising money, Simon, with our charity that we have here five cent pieces, and we do money snakes. So we’re heading out to another school tomorrow, Ourimbah Public, which is one of our awesome schools. But we’ve had so many involved, it’s incredible to see the kids giving when it comes to these kind of things, and the amount of work the teachers do behind the scenes, we’re just overwhelmed. So it would be great if anyone has any questions.
Paddy Gerrard: Yeah. 4324 44 44. We’ll continue our chat with the Minister for Education and Training, Mr Simon Birmingham, that’s coming up next after Jimmy Barnes, Working Class Man. This is 2GO.
Paddy Gerrard: We’re still with the Minister for Education and Training, Mr Simon Birmingham. He’s on the Central Coast today, which is great, heading to Terrigal High but he’s in the studio with us this morning. And we’ve been asking him questions about the 23.5 billion which is going to be injected into our schools over the next ten years.
Sarah King: This sounds really great. Look, and you’re heading– we were just talking about heading out to Terrigal. Surely at some point today, you’re going to be able to be having a lunch somewhere, will the- don’t tell me the kids are going to make lunch at Terrigal?
Simon Birmingham: Well look, that’s usually one of the highlights of …
Simon Birmingham: … Education Minister on a school visit when they take you through the home ec sort of centre or area and you get to eat what the kids have made.. That’s usually – usually – a pretty good experience.
Sarah King: [Talks over] Pretty good experience.
Simon Birmingham: I had a cracking cup of coffee made for me at a high school in Perth yesterday.
Sarah King: Oh really? [Indistinct] won’t they?
Simon Birmingham: Some good future baristas there.
Paddy Gerrard: Simon, with this money, 23.5 bill over 10 years, which is great. As we say, education and hospitals are the two important things. I know in this area, on the Central Coast, two important things. What’s your main goal with the money? What is your main goal? What would you love to see for the schools in Australia and on the Central Coast?
Simon Birmingham: And it’s interesting to hear you tie the two together. Because the last time I was here was with Lucy Wicks announcing the support for the Gosford Medical Centre and the additional sort of funding and resourcing we’re putting in there. And of course, here now with Lucy today going to Terrigal High. And really the vision is about ensuring that we have schools across the country, where wherever the background, whatever the challenges in a home environment or elsewhere that a child may face, they actually have the support in the school to be able to succeed. That they leave, of course, with the basic literacy, numeracy skills necessary to go out into the world with a job but also hopefully with higher level skills to pursue further training, apprenticeships, or go off to university, whatever best suits their capabilities, their dreams and aspirations and circumstances.
Sarah King: Being so busy is it difficult to take in as much info as you can in a day? Like you go to meet people today and it’s going to be look, I don’t think this is a great idea at all. I’ve got issues with the Catholic thing, I’ve got issues with the public school, private school thing. You’re going to, you know obviously, not everyone’s going to be happy. Do you take on board what teachers say? Do you get to absorb, you’re driving home thinking wow that’s a really good point, you know, maybe we should think of that. Is that something that can happen? Or are you just too flat out trying to deliver the message?
Simon Birmingham: You pick up things throughout the day and look, I find absolutely, the time in the schools is really critical. I do have a bit of a mission for later this year, where I just want to embed myself for a day or two in a school with the principal, with the teachers, without necessarily having the cameras roaming around …
Sarah King: [Talks over] Warts and all, warts and all.
Simon Birmingham: … or any of those sorts of things and just get a full appreciation in terms of what they’re saying and how they set priorities. But even on the quick visits, you pick things up from kids, et cetera. Again, Perth yesterday, the school in terms of their mental health and wellbeing programs they’re running there. And they have a school dog, an old greyhound that they’ve rescued, who sort of lives around the library, but is very much there in terms of when they’ve got teenagers who’ve got a whole range of different issues. And they sort of bring in the dog as part of the counselling sessions and sometimes just leave the kids to talk to the dog if they’re not willing to talk to anybody else. So you sort of see different things that different schools apply. Ultimately it’s all about hopefully having successful well-rounded kids who graduate and go on from school ready for the rest of the world.
Paddy Gerrard: Simon, we’d like to know – Christopher Pyne – is he in trouble? Is he in trouble with the party? To other issues [laughs].
Simon Birmingham: Oh look, the media love- there’s nothing more titillating than a secret recording of a speech …
Paddy Gerrard: [Talks over] Of what he said about same sex marriage [laughs].
Simon Birmingham: It’s nothing actually terribly surprising to anybody who knows Christopher’s views on the topic.
Paddy Gerrard: Yeah, yeah.
Simon Birmingham: He’s been pro-change in relation to same sex marriage for a long period of time. That’s what he told an audience at a private dinner on Friday night and it just gets a whole world of excitement going because it was a secret recording.
Sarah King: But could he really be in trouble for saying that?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I think Christopher’s one of our most energetic frontbenchers, very clearly the Leader of the House …
Sarah King: [Talks over] [indistinct].
Paddy Gerrard: [Indistinct] didn’t he?
Simon Birmingham: He’s definitely out there a lot selling the Government’s messages. This is just one of those little storms that comes along.
Paddy Gerrard: So he’s not under pressure?
Simon Birmingham: I don’t imagine – I think everybody’s got more important things to do in the Government, whether it’s me talking about school funding. The Prime Minister was out there talking about rail infrastructure in support in Melbourne particularly yesterday, additional support in relation to dealing with national security and terrorism issues the day before. I doubt he’s terribly distracted by this.
Paddy Gerrard: Now is there another ministry you’d like to hold? Like at the moment with education and training, do you go oh I’d like to do this or I’d like to do that?
Simon Birmingham: Look, I love the education portfolio because politics is full or argy bargy and rubbish and arguments about money rather than outcomes or the arguments of how politics happens and leaked speeches and all of that type of stuff. But at least in the education portfolio, when I get out on the ground, I can go either to a university with a world class research institution or I can go to an early learning centre with cute three- and four-year-olds who are just taking their first steps of learning things in the world, or outstanding schools in between. All of that, of course, actually helps give you the motivation. So no, I love the portfolio I’ve got. In years to come, if we’re lucky enough still to be in government and I’m lucky enough still to be in the ministry, well who knows …
Paddy Gerrard: Prime minister, what about prime minister? [Laughs].
Simon Birmingham: I’m in the Senate; I’m not burdened with such ambitions.
Sarah King: Just quickly, for those who don’t know. Are you a dad?
Simon Birmingham: Yes, yes I have two little girls – a four-year-old and a six-year-old.
Sarah King: And what’s it like at school when you rock up and dad is the Minister? I’m just thinking though, is that something that’s been interesting, or are teachers or principals weirded out by that or is it just normal?
Simon Birmingham: They’ve all been pretty good at taking it in their stride.
Sarah King: Do you do canteen? Do you do canteen?
Simon Birmingham: [Laughs] I haven’t done canteen, I have done excursion trips.
Sarah King: Wow.
Simon Birmingham: So we’ve been to the Botanic Gardens. I’ve been to the Road Safety Centre and put the bike helmet on all the other kids and so on. So try to play normal dad there. They’ve been really good. There was an early kind of discussion that the principal had with my wife one day and said do we need to acknowledge Simon at the assembly?
Simon Birmingham: …my wife said no, no, no, he’s just here as a dad.
Paddy Gerrard: How are the other new senators going? They’re all going alright?
Simon Birmingham: Well look, I had great success with them all last week. So much as I’d rather have more Liberal senators there, my crossbench friends, in their eclectic makeup are all good and decent people …
Paddy Gerrard: [Laughs] Alright.
Simon Birmingham: Even though I don’t agree with them all the time.
Paddy Gerrard: Alright there’s nothing wrong with that.
Sarah King: What a world we live in.
Paddy Gerrard: Yeah. The Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham.
Simon Birmingham: That was my audition for foreign minister.
Sarah King: Really great.
Paddy Gerrard: On the Central Coast, at Terrigal High today. Thank you so much for coming in and answering our questions and having a quick chat.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks guys lovely to talk to you.
Paddy Gerrard: Cheers Simon, bye.
Sarah King: Thank you.