Interview on 6PR Drive with Oliver Peterson
Topics: Release of Gonski 2.0 report

Oliver Peterson: The Education Minister Simon Birmingham has been doing the rounds today as the Gonski report calls for massive changes to our school curriculum. According to OECD statistics, Australian reading standards have dropped from fourth in the world to sixteenth; maths 11 to 25; and science from eighth in the world to fourteenth. So, what are we not teaching? Or what are we doing wrong in the classroom? Do we need to improve our education standards? Is there something we could do a little better? You might have children at school or you might- they might have just graduated. Let me know some of your experiences today where you think our education system could be improved.

The Education Minister as I said has been doing the rounds. He’s landed here on your radio on 6PR right now. Simon Birmingham, good afternoon.

Simon Birmingham: G’day Ollie, great to be with you.

Oliver Peterson: What’s wrong with the school education system?

Simon Birmingham: Well it’s very important that we move on from business as usual because business as usual has been failing our children. It’s very clear in this landmark report released today that performance of Australian schoolchildren has been declining compared to the rest of the world; declining compared with just a generation or two ago. Now that’s not good enough. And obviously we need to lift skills in English, in math, in sciences. And this report lays out a framework to do just that.

Oliver Peterson: Okay, why is it? Why are we failing to meet those benchmarks, Minister? What is it about the school system at the moment or the curriculum that is holding Australian students back?

Simon Birmingham: There are many factors that weigh on schools. The way in which additional things have been loaded onto the curriculum over time, the impact of cultural changes in family structures, in technology, a whole bunch of different things. It’s hard to pinpoint. but what this report seeks to do is say that there are new ways, more modern ways that we can look at how we support teachers to be able to progress the learning of each and every child in a school, how we can ensure how those children are tracked in terms of what they learning, the pace at which they’re learning and that we really guarantee that there is an arrangement in the curriculum and in terms of the assessment of students to give the scope for each child to progress to their maximum capability each and every year they are at school.

Oliver Peterson: Of course, every single child is different. Every single child has different attributes or strengths or weaknesses. So, do we need a tailored or individual approach to each child at school? Or how do we fix it?

Simon Birmingham: It is that sort of tailoring and individual learning plan that really is envisaged from this report. Now some of your listeners will say well how on earth are the teachers going to do that? We’re very cognisant that teachers have a big workload with lots of different children in their classroom. That’s why the report recommends that we should really lay out different steps in learning called learning progressions in the curriculum so it’s clear where children are up, so that we can use technology to rollout more streamlined testing arrangements and assessment arrangements in classrooms that can give teachers rapid feedback and data about where their students are at, how they’re learning themselves, how far they progressed themselves and how they compare with other students around the country, but then also provide teachers with advice about what the next steps for those students should be.

So it’s really about making sure that if you apply all of these recommendations, you get something that is more targeted and individualised but does it in the way that it teaches the resources to do so effectively through better use of their time.

Oliver Peterson: Of course, lots of questions come up from parents when we talk about education reform and when we look at changing the structure around school and classrooms and the like. So, at the moment as we all know we have pre-primary, we might have Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 8, Year 9, Year 10, will that continue to be the same Minister? Or if somebody say in Year 7 is at a greater level in one particular subject, whether let that be science or in mathematics, can they progress a little further, a little earlier rather than being held back into that year by year structure?

Simon Birmingham: Well this report is absolutely proposing, not that students be taken away from their age cohort in terms of who they sit in the classroom with or who they’re socialising with, but that we make sure that that progression is there. So if you’ve got an A-grade student who finishes Year 4 and starts Year 5 for example and may well know most of the content that’s already going to be taught in Year 5, well then it’s evident that student is already up to that standard and that they get this type of additional assessment support and additional teaching practice to extend them further. The whole ambition is not just to have fewer underachievers you have school system but also to make sure we have more high achievers as a result of better targeted, tailored teaching.

Oliver Peterson: All right how does this- where does it go now? How do you achieve the objectives, Minister? Obviously, you have to meet with the state education ministers later this week but we now have this report made public. We’re talking to you this afternoon, what’s the next step?

Simon Birmingham: So, David Gonski and I will sit down with state education ministers on Friday this week. We’ve done this piece of work partly because we could see the data saying there were problems in terms of school performance in Australia, but also to make sure that the record and growing funds being invested in schools across the country, including in WA, by both federal and state governments gets a good return for that investment. That’s what taxpayers want. It’s what mums and dads want. It’s what teachers and principals want. So, I’m pleased that to date we seem to have heard fairly considered responses by state and territory governments, by the teachers’ union and others, and I hope that means they will work constructively with us where we can put politics aside and work, state and federal, Liberal and Labor, to get the type of outcomes that our kids need.

Oliver Peterson: Alright. Will NAPLAN survive?

Simon Birmingham: Oh look, NAPLAN is absolutely there certainly for the foreseeable future. It’s an important tool that allows us to get comparisons of results across the nation and of course it gives parents the level of transparency and information they really value. The type of tools proposed to be developed here maybe one day would be even better and more useful for teachers, parents and policymakers than NAPLAN, but we’re a long way off that.

Oliver Peterson: Alright Minister Simon Birmingham, thank you very much for your time on Perth Live.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks so much. My pleasure.

Oliver Peterson: The Education Minister there, Simon Birmingham responding to the Gonski recommendations today that we require changes in our school curriculum.