Ian Henschke: We’re going to talk to Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia and also Federal Education Minister, about the issue that $20 billion has been spent on education, and it has- many critics are saying without significant improvements. Simon Birmingham joins us now.

Simon Birmingham: We’ve seen significant growth in funding to Australian schools over the last few years, some 23 per cent growth over the last three years, and yet we’re seeing a plateauing of performance in terms of the NAPLAN assessment against reading, writing, and numeracy, and obviously for increased investment we want to be seeing increased outcomes for Australian students.

Ian Henschke: So what is the answer?

Simon Birmingham: Well, pre-election in announcing the school funding approach the Turnbull Government would take which will see continued growth of investment in our schools, we also outlined a range of reforms that we want to see and want to see the states and territories implement which involve everything from the very earliest years – where we want to see states and territories undertake early assessment of Year One students for their phonetic awareness, their reading skills, so that early interventions can happen with children who aren’t learning to read effectively – right through to putting in place minimum standards of literacy and numeracy for school leavers, as well as better rewarding for our most capable teachers to keep them in the teaching system and to incentivise them to get into some of our most challenging schools to help the students who need it most.

Ian Henschke: One of the things that was being proposed under the Gonski reforms was targeting the schools of need. Is that still part of your plan?

Simon Birmingham: Absolutely. The direction of funding under the Turnbull Government will be needs-based. We’ll grow funding from around $16 billion of federal funding for schools this year to more than $20 billion by 2020, and the types of formulas for distribution we’ll apply will be needs-based, which will see additional funding going to students in schools with low socio-economic backgrounds, additional support for students with disability, additional funding for schools that are small rural and regional schools that higher cost overheads. So we’re really focused on making sure those needs-based formulas are applied.

Ian Henschke: You can spend a lot of money in a school, but if the parents aren’t literate, that’s a problem, isn’t it?

Simon Birmingham: We do recognise socioeconomic background of school communities, so essentially of the parents or the families attending a school, as a factor for loadings of funding going into that school. So essentially, a poorer community will get additional funding. That is a mix of factors, not just the income level in those circumstances, but also data in terms of the educational attainment within those communities. Because research does tell us that there is a correlation between educational attainment of parents, particularly mothers, and potential outcomes of children. So we need to recognise that and give extra support to those kids to try to give them the best possible chance of success in the future.

Ian Henschke: I’m talking to Simon Birmingham, Senator for South Australia and Education Minister, and Simon Birmingham, you say that you’ll be targeting that. Is that going to be one of your plans, then? When you see a child that’s not doing very well, you want to go and look at the parents and talk to them. Is that going to be targeted funding to parents to ensure that they have the literacy levels that are needed?

Simon Birmingham: One of the things we announced in the election campaign was an increase in funding or a delivery of funding to The Smith Family, and that is about a program that tries to really target parents and families where children might be struggling, but particularly where the families are struggling to provide the level of support for those children necessary for their educational success, and The Smith Family provides essentially a mentoring arrangement. They get the families to sign a contract in terms of the commitments those families will give, those parents will give to support the children. They work with the parents and the school in terms of improving the engagement between the two, and provide a very practical support, which they’ve done without Government funding for a number of years and we’re now going – because of the success of that program – to get them to provide thousands of additional places in the future in top of what they already do out of their charitable resources, because we can see that type of assistance to parents and families, kids and teachers is working in those very difficult situations.

Ian Henschke: We’ve actually spoken to Graham Jaeschke on this program about The Smith Family’s results, and he says he’s got evidence-based research that shows that his system is working. So you agree with him

Simon Birmingham: We do. So Graham and Lisa O’Brien, the National Chief Executive of The Smith Family, met with us a number of times over the period leading up to the election, demonstrated the success they were having with the program they’d been applying with their own income out of charitable donations, and we think we can build on that. Not by trying to do it as a Government, but by supporting The Smith Family to actually do more of it, helping more families and more children in the future, which is a program that will see about 24,000 children additionally supported by The Smith Family over the next few years.

Ian Henschke: Well, thank you very much for your time this afternoon. Simon Birmingham, Senator for South Australia, Minister for Education, thank you.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Ian. A pleasure.