Interview on ABC AM with Sabra Lane
Topics: Release of Gonski 2.0 report
Sabra Lane: Later this morning, the Federal Government will unveil the second Gonski report which will recommend how to improve student’s results given the extra funding that’s now being promised for schools. The government commissioned this review when it vowed to spend an extra $23 billion over the next decade on education. To discuss it further, we’re joined by the Education Minister, Simon Birmingham.
Good morning, Minister. Welcome to the program.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning Sabra. Great to be with you.
Sabra Lane: One of the review’s main recommendations is that there should be a major overhaul in approach to teach students, according to their progression not their year level. How complex will that be?
Simon Birmingham: Well this is a landmark report, and it does absolutely encourage schools to focus in on how you progress each and every student to their maximum capabilities, so that we shift the entire level of student performance and have more high achievers as well as fewer underachievers. Now, teachers already do a lot of individualised targeted teaching in their classrooms, but importantly, these recommendations will put more tools and resources in the hands of teachers to make that more effective and simpler in terms of changing the national curriculum so that there are clear progression steps around what stages students are at that can be assessed and measured. So, teachers know then how to target the teaching to move them on to the next level. As well as putting a really integrated national tool in the hands of teachers that enables them to be able to identify clearly where their students are progressing, how well they’re progressing, how that compares with the rest of the country and then what steps they should take to move each student to the best of their capabilities over a 12-month period.
Sabra Lane: On that integrated national tool that you just mentioned there, this is an assessment regime to test students in real time and compare their achievements at a regular interval. Will this information be made public?
Simon Birmingham: No. This information is intended first and foremost for schools and teachers to know exactly how they’re tracking and to be able to get detailed information. But of course, you would hope and expect that deidentified data and so on would be available to researchers, to policymakers, to create a cycle of continuous improvement there, that we’re able to have much better information about what’s happening in our schools, what’s working, and feed that back in to help teachers do even better in the future.
Sabra Lane: So will those results then be tied to teacher performance and pay?
Simon Birmingham: We’re not looking at performance pay in that sense, but the report does recommend that we look at how we keep our best teachers in the classroom. We’ve already taken significant steps as a government in developing credentialisation for highly accomplished and lead teachers where they’re recognised by their peers. What we’d like to see is more jurisdictions follow the lead of some others, by better rewarding those highly accomplished and lead teachers to stay in the classroom, and to be there as mentors for new teachers and lifting the standard quality, and therefore regard with which the profession is held.
Sabra Lane: What you’re setting out, the recommendations, will it all be compulsory for all schools? If they don’t sign up to this, do they receive the extra Gonski funding?
Simon Birmingham: This week we’ll sit down with state and territory education ministers. David Gonski will come and brief them personally. We’ve already shared the report with them, and he’s certainly engaged with them in developing its recommendations. I hope that we’ll see a strong level of enthusiasm to work together, across boundaries – federal and state, Labor and Liberal – because ultimately, this is about turning around significant problems in terms of performance in schools over recent years, and getting us on a trajectory where our students are growing, are learning, are meeting clear literacy and numeracy standards in the early years, but are also leaving school with the competencies and capabilities to be successful in further study, training or into the workforce.
Sabra Lane: How soon will all of this start?
Simon Birmingham: Different recommendations, of course, will be able to be applied at different speed, but the report clearly identifies we should be able to target things such as early years literacy and numeracy as a priority, in terms of learning progression steps in the curriculum, development of the assessment tool, so that we can really get quick results in building those foundation blocks of learning for students that are then so essential for the rest of their educational success.
Sabra Lane: On the quick results, how long, then, will it be until parents actually see improvements in what the students are achieving?
Simon Birmingham: I think it’s important for parents to know this is not the only thing that’s been happening. We’ve already taken steps to streamline parts of the curriculum, to invest in better training for new teachers coming into the profession. Of course, we address the issues of needs-based school funding in last year’s Budget, but I would hope that schools and parents will all start to see changes in terms of implementation of these practices over the next couple of years, and it really…
Sabra Lane: But, improvements. When are we going to see…
Simon Birmingham: And really, we should be able to see fairly quick improvements flowing from there.
Sabra Lane: Critics are already warning that this will condemn students to failure, that it’s a dumbing down of Australia’s curriculum. What’s your response to that?
Simon Birmingham: Well, far from it. This is about trying to ensure that every student is stretched and extended to their maximum capabilities. The report identifies we have far too many cruising or coasting students in schools in Australia, where kids go along, aren’t necessarily extended as much as they could be during the course of the year. So it’s about, how do we actually not just lift our tail of performance but also get more high achievers, turn B-grade students into A-grade students, by ensuring you’re focusing very much in on what they know, what they learn, and stretching them to their maximum capabilities over the course of the year through individualised and targeted teaching in the classroom.
Sabra Lane: There’s also going to be a rapid review of Year 11 and 12 to make sure that those students have got the skills to meet the demands that are required once they leave school. When will that be done, and isn’t that really too late?
Simon Birmingham: Look, that’s something we’ll talk to state and territory ministers about this week. I don’t want to pre-empt their ah, their views on some of the recommendations. It’s important this is done cooperatively and collaboratively. But of course, we have a national curriculum that’s in place right up to Year 10. We then have disparate state by state approaches in Year 11 and 12. So we’ll get the feedback from the states and territories, but this should be looked at in the context, for example, of also the recent findings of the chief scientist who was critical about university’s mission requirements, the way in which the ATAR works, the real drop-off in terms of students doing high level maths at Year 12 – all of which shows that there’s some particular focus we’ve got to apply to reforms in those senior secondary years.
Sabra Lane: Alright. Education Minister Simon Birmingham, thank you for joining AM this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you Sabra.