Grant Goldman: Well the NAPLAN results are in and the Government is disappointed with the performance of the education system. Well, they’re not the only ones. The parents are as well and they have been for quite some time. Results show a plateau among students with reading, writing and numeracy not improving as much as was expected.

The Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham does a great job. He calls on schools, families and education experts to focus on evidence-based measures to lift student achievement in the face of flat results from these 2016 NAPLAN tests. 

Simon Birmingham joins us on the line. Good morning Simon. 

Simon Birmingham: Good morning Grant and good morning to your listeners.

Grant Goldman: Good morning. Thanks for doing this. Look, disappointment ay?

Simon Birmingham: Well plateauing results are not good enough and we do want to see continued gains and growth across our school system and so we do need to really focus in on the basics which NAPLAN assesses, reading, writing and numeracy skills and make sure that the types of things that are happening in our schools and in our classrooms really do actually lift student performance in those critical areas.

Grant Goldman: I know it sounds a bit naff, is it time to say let’s just go back to what we talked about in the ‘60s, the three Rs.

Simon Birmingham: Well I think we do need to really focus on the basics and that can’t be at the expense of the type of STEM; science, technology, engineering, subjects that are essential to set students up for the modern workplace. 

Grant Goldman: Maybe we could drop some of the social engineering?

Simon Birmingham: Well Grant I think we have to make sure that there is time in the classroom that is absolutely focused on those basics. So the reading, writing, numeracy as I say which NAPLAN measures, which of course is really the intent of trying to get a clear evidence base around how well our students are performing and the fact that the results this year do indicate a degree of plateauing isn’t good enough, especially in the face of record levels of significantly growing  investment.

Grant Goldman: Mind you there is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, increase in reading scores. Look- because I have seven children and I know a little about the education system from their results and failures, look- and I’ve always been worried about the inability for so many kids to not be able to read properly. Well that’s a good sign in itself though.

Simon Birmingham: Yeah look reading is fundamental and the Turnbull Government went to the last election with a policy proposal where we’d like to see a standard assessment undertaken at Year 1 to identify the phonics and reading skills of students so that we at that very earlier stage are able to identify those students who need intervention and additional help to make sure that they succeed – because if you don’t get the fundamentals of reading right early in a schooling life, of course that then has a really negative impact on basically everything else.

Grant Goldman: Yeah. Look I remember NAPLAN originally was to, well help weed out teachers who didn’t have any ability to teach, but also secondly to basically represent the school and show us that they are putting in and getting results. Is that still the case?

Simon Birmingham: Well NAPLAN provides a- I guess a number of different benefits in an aggregate level which is the type of data we’re mostly talking about today helps policymakers to see whether the things that are being done across the education systems are working, but when you break it down then to individual schools it can help those running school systems at a state level to see particular problems or challenges that may exist in those schools and for principals to know where they have particular challenges in classrooms or year levels that are progressing through. 

We’re going to make some changes over the next few years to NAPLAN as parts of that test will shift to an online format which can provide richer and faster information back to schools, teachers, parents so that it can actually be used in an even more effective way in the future. It’s not the be-all and end-all, NAPLAN is just one assessment process and of course there’s plenty more that schools do to personalise and tailor results for children in those schools. But it’s an important one and it can be used at each of those levels from the higher sort of policy making right down to direct interventions in the school.

Grant Goldman: Good, it sounds like we’re going to make some moves on this and that can’t be a bad thing. Good to talk to you this morning Simon. Thank you.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks Grant, a pleasure.

Grant Goldman: Simon Birmingham, the Minister for Education and Training. Yeah, the preliminary NAPLAN results point to an increase in reading scores across the country since 2013 but a decrease in writing scores and an increase in numeracy of only 1.26 per cent across all year levels. They were hoping for a lot better than that. Over the same period there has been a 23.7 per cent increase in federal school funding. So we’ve not seen the results from a 23 per cent increase in funding.