Interview on 3AW Mornings with Neil Mitchell
Topics: Release of Gonski 2.0 report
Neil Mitchell: On the line is the Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham, good morning.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Neil.
Neil Mitchell: Do you think teachers being social engineers has harmed their standing?
Simon Birmingham: I think some of the instances where we’ve seen that – and I can recall in your state there the stories of teachers wearing the refugee t-shirts into the classroom and so on – don’t do much to help the profession. I know many, many teachers who despair when those sorts of things happen because they recognise that it is a reflection upon all of them, when of course there are still many great, hard-working teachers out there who toil day-in day-out to try to get the best out of their students.
Neil Mitchell: Okay, but the message is perhaps less social engineering, more teaching?
Simon Birmingham: Well indeed, and the message from this report is clear that we have to focus on how we extend each student to their maximum capabilities and make sure that, by the age of eight, they’ve got the basic literacy and numeracy in place as the foundation for future learning.
Neil Mitchell: But does that mean that you’re assessing the student on their personal progress rather than some sort of benchmark, academic benchmark?
Simon Birmingham: Well the report’s clear that you should do both. that of course you need to have clear benchmark standards that you would expect to be met as a minimum standard or a proficient standard at certain age level, but also that you need to make sure that you’re extending students and progressing everyone in the class as far as they can possibly be progressed. The report calls out the fact that there are too many kids in Australian schools who are just coasting along, who start a year level as an A student or a B student and basically do the minimum required to still be an A student or a B student at the end of that year, when if you had better targeted teaching practices in the classroom, you’d be able to extend those students further and we’d end up having not just fewer underachievers but also more high achievers.
Neil Mitchell: So how do you fix it and how quickly? I mean, is it like turning around the Titanic? We’re sinking, let’s say we can re-float it, but how long does it take to turn the damn thing around?
Simon Birmingham: There aren’t silver bullets and I don’t pretend that this will happen overnight. Of course, we have to get the states and territories on board for changes. They’re the ones who run our school systems in Australia. We have to make sure that those changes are implemented in classrooms, but this report gives a real blueprint for change. It identifies how we make changes to the curriculum to give clearer steps around the progression in learning that students should have. It proposes new tools to enable teachers to be able to better assess their students, get real-time data and feedback about how much those students are learning and how they compare with the rest of the country, and related to that, build into that tool the types of suggestions, programs, steps that teachers should be apply across the classroom to extend those different students further than they’re currently being pushed.
Neil Mitchell: So how do you fiddle the curriculum? Do you take out some of the stuff around the edges, you know the Safe Schools, those sort of things? So you go back to core curriculum which some would say is a move back to the right, but is that what you do?
Simon Birmingham: You absolutely make sure that the early years have a very, very strong emphasis on getting basic literacy and numeracy skills right first and foremost, because without that kids clearly struggle to ever catch up again. If they don’t have those skills by age eight, they’re in a whole world of trouble in terms of their ability, their capabilities thereafter. And of course, in the later years of schooling, we need to build richer, more complex skills in students so that they’re able to succeed at further study or training, as well as within the workforce. But in terms of the extra areas of teaching that are sometimes seen as being used to be the role of parents, there’s also a big call out there that if we as a society keep expecting schools to do other things other than teach through knowledge and content, well then of course there’s less time to teach that knowledge.
Neil Mitchell: So if you start re-floating the ship now, when is it seaworthy?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I hope that we can see some of these reforms really starting to hit the road in the next couple of years but that will take time. They’re not the only things we’ve done since we’ve been in government. We’ve had big reforms to the way teachers are trained as well so that we hope that we’ll have better graduates coming out of our universities over the next few years to enter the classroom. It’s about getting all of those things right.
Neil Mitchell: Thank you very much for your time. The Education Minister Simon Birmingham.