Adam Shand: Right, let’s talk about NAPLAN. The results are in, and there’s a plateauing of performance of students in the NAPLAN according to the results. The only one to buck the trend is Western Australia. When NAPLAN was on, okay, we had a number of calls from parents in Western Australia who said our school has advised our child not to attend on that day or do something else, and the suggestion was there are individual schools trying to improve their performance overall by taking some of the less capable students out of the mix. I’m not sure this is statistically significant, but I’d love to hear from people today who were told that and whether this has any bearing on our results on NAPLAN. 92211882. The Education Minister Simon Birmingham joins me now. Good afternoon, minister.

Simon Birmingham: Good afternoon Adam, and good afternoon to your listeners.

Adam Shand:
Yeah, disappointing. Our reading scores have increased by 0.4 per cent since 2013. Our writing scores declined by 0.2 per cent, and numeracy scores risen by just 1.26 per cent. And yet, federal school funding has increased by 23 per cent at the same time. What’s going on?

Simon Birmingham:
That’s right, Adam. So we’ve- we’re at a position of having record levels of federal funding going into Australian schools, and that will continue to grow into the future. But obviously we’re not seeing the type of improved performance you would hope to acquaint with those types of growth – that type of growth in school funding. So we really have to have a look at what’s working around the school system, what isn’t working, and what we can do better in the future. And the Turnbull Government went to the last election with some very clear plans to try to ensure that we do have improved performance across our schools that aren’t just about how much money is spent, but ensure that it is spent effectively in the future as well.

Adam Shand: Now, in defence of the system, these funding increases have only been recent, and can we really expect anything to turn around, snap our fingers, and get great results within a couple of years? I don’t think we can.
Simon Birmingham: We wouldn’t necessarily expect things to be instantaneous, but we should expect to see some improved performance along the lines of the improved investment, and I would think that based on some good, strong performance in NAPLAN results over the early years of NAPLAN testing that it is disappointing to see a plateauing in recent years, and particularly disappointing for that plateauing to coincide, as it has done with increased levels of investment.

Adam Shand: The other criticism of this whole NAPLAN system is that we’re turning education into simply a quantitative argument that’s all about the results, and clearly education has much broader aims than simply having numerical results. Do you think we need a more qualitative measure of our progress in schools?

Simon Birmingham:
NAPLAN is just one measure of student performance, and of course school systems, individual schools, individual teachers use a whole range of different ways to assess how students are performing and hopefully to give that feedback back to those students and to their parents. So we shouldn’t put too much stock in that plan, but it is really an important tool.

It is a tool that gives us a national sense of how a whole school system is performing as a country, relative to different jurisdictions, relative to different schools, and it puts a focus on the basics of literacy and numeracy, of reading and writing skills. The types of things that I think there are concerns from universities, TAFEs, and from employers about whether our school system has dropped the ball in some ways in some of those skills, which is why we need to make sure that we do get really strong outcomes in the future. And I welcome the fact that Western Australia is a good-performing state, has seen improvement, that’s better than some of the other states of the nation and has led the way in putting in place things like minimum numeracy standards to really set a higher benchmark for school leavers.

Adam Shand:
So you look at that and you can see the reasons why? I mean, that’s, I think it’s one of the criticisms as well. We can see how they’re going, but not necessarily why. Can you pull out Western Australia and give us a broader picture?

Simon Birmingham:
Look, there are some- a number of things that Western Australia’s done over a few years in terms of the Independent Public Schools initiative that WA’s led the nation on and has really provided, from a number of the schools I’ve visited in Perth, real opportunities for principals to lead in their school community and to set in place strategies that work in those local schools.

As I mentioned before, the minimum numeracy standards that are being applied to school leavers in Western Australia in future, which of course increases the ambition and the expectation in all of those earlier years that teachers and schools know that they have to get their students to a particular minimum standard for them to qualify for that school leaving certificate. So a number of measures that I think have worked in the WA system, and particularly that minimum standard application is something that we picked up on for the policy that we took to the election and hope to see other jurisdictions follow, and New South Wales in the last few weeks indicated that they were intending to do so.

Adam Shand: Yeah. You probably heard my intro where I said that we had these calls at the time of the testing that some schools – I guess [indistinct] more competitive than others – were suggesting some children stay away, here in Western Australia, rather than drag the overall score of the school down. Have you heard any stories like that?

Simon Birmingham: I hear the odd anecdotal story. I don’t think there’s a systemic problem in that regard, and there is a degree of monitoring that occurs in terms of school absences relative to NAPLAN tests that are taken. Of course, you can see the number of test results that come back from a school compared with the enrolment of that school and get a sense as to whether there’s an abnormal level of absences from a school on a given day. Obviously I’d be very concerned and would encourage parents who have faced or heard about such circumstance to speak with their principal or speak with the State Education Minister if need be, and make sure that those types of thing are stamped out.

NAPLAN is not meant to form any type of judgment in relation to the performance of a school. It is meant to provide information that enables principals, teachers, and policymakers to address problems, to identify best practice that can be replicated elsewhere, and to ensure that we give all children, regardless of their school, the best chance to succeed in these key basic areas of skills.

Adam Shand: Okay. Thanks so much for your time, minister.

Simon Birmingham: A pleasure, Adam. Thank you.

Adam Shand: That is Education Minister, Federal one, Simon Birmingham there on the rather disappointing results on NAPLAN.