Interview on ABC News Breakfast with Michael Rowland and Virginia Trioli
Topics: Release of Gonski 2.0 report




Michael Rowland:        Let’s go straight back to our top story this morning, those wide-ranging changes to education recommended in the latest Gonski report. For more, let’s speak now to the Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, who joins us now from our Sydney studio.


Minister, good morning. When David Gonski talks about individualised learning, what does that mean to you?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, good morning, Michael. What it means is that you extend each student to the maximum of their capabilities. What the report clearly identifies is that there are too many students in Australian schools who are coasting or cruising along, they’re not being extended in terms of what they’re learning. And so we really need to ensure that teachers have the tools and the capabilities at hand to be able to stretch each student, so that each year they’re in school, they’re learning as much as they possibly can, that ultimately, that will give us not just fewer underachievers in our school system, but more high achievers for our nation as well.


Michael Rowland:        So when David Gonski outlined in his talks about wanting an end to year-level education, and just picking up from what you just said, Minister, so if we have an exceptionally bright – for arguments sake – year 7 student, he or she could be learning year 8, year 9 topics in those subjects?


Simon Birmingham:     Indeed. Now, the report makes clear that you still have to have some absolute benchmarks that are achieved, so it doesn’t do away with year level reporting and it doesn’t do away with indeed the type of A to E reporting that we’re used to. But it does say we should be able to chart how much a student learns through the course of the year as well, and that we should develop the types of tools that make it easy for teachers to see how much their students are each learning over the course of the year, and how that compares with students in similar schools and across the nation.


Michael Rowland:        Would you like to see – and the report certainly leads this way – an end to that A to E, A to F grading system?


Simon Birmingham:     No, and I don’t think the report does necessarily lead that way. It still says there’s a real requirement for absolute achievement, that what people know, what they learn, is critical. But also making sure they’re learning as much as they possibly can. It recognises that some students are going to learn more than others, learn faster than others, and so we want to extend those students as much as we possibly can. We also want to make sure that if students have been left behind, that what is being taught for them brings them up to standard as best you possibly can. It gives clear instructions that we should focus the early years on literacy and numeracy skills. That it’s critical to have them established by the age of eight. And that we should give early priority in the report’s implementation, to make sure the curriculum changes and the development of new tools is targeted towards getting those basics right first.


Michael Rowland:        Minister, if these recommendations were implemented and the Federal Government has given in principles support to all of them, does this mean the end of those controversial NAPLAN tests?


Simon Birmingham:     I think we’re a long way away from not having NAPLAN, because at present it’s a critical determinant in terms of policy positions across the country, in terms of our ability to compare school performance. And the report itself leans very heavily on some of the data that NAPLAN has generated over the last 10 years, to be able to demonstrate where those cruising schools are, where those coasting students are, who aren’t being extended sufficiently. So, we need that type of national level data. But we also need to make sure that what teachers get is real time information and data to be able to help their students progress and learn more, and the type of assessment tool that it proposes being developed and put in the hands of teachers will really put Australian teachers in the driver’s seat to be able to use their time more efficiently and effectively in the classroom, to assess their students, to know how to target their teaching better and to be able to give that maximum progression for each student.


Michael Rowland:        The Gonski panel also, Minister, calls for an urgent review of curriculum in years 11 and 12. What is wrong with the curriculum at the moment?


Simon Birmingham:     At present, we have a national curriculum, but it ends at Year 10 and then we have different approaches across different jurisdictions for years 11 and 12. We’ve seen the Chief Scientist in recent times highlight concerns about the number of students dropping out of higher level maths in year 12, the way in which the ATAR system perhaps skews student selections in those senior years. So, there’s a number of those complex issues that all come together that I think has seen the panel recommend that we take a look precisely at those senior years across the country to make sure they’re fit for purpose in skilling students for further study or training, but also for entry into the workforce with the type of employability skills that so many businesses and employers tell me they’re looking for in graduates.


Michael Rowland:        And also, finally, the other big issues attracting lots of comments from our viewers this morning reflects on teachers. David Gonski says: teachers need to be afforded much greater prestige by other Australians. Doesn’t attracting the best and brightest, Minister, involve paying teachers and principals more money?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, it certainly involves making sure that career progression – the way in which people achieve and get pay rises – is based on recognition of talent. And the report wants us to use some of the reforms we’ve done over the last couple of years around establishing credentials for highly accomplished and lead teachers, and ensure that they are actually rewarded, as part of enterprise bargaining agreements, that those teachers are then encouraged to stay in the profession, in the classroom teaching, because they are our best and brightest, but also to give them more time to mentor new teachers, to build and progress the teacher capabilities of the rest of the profession as well so that there is a better cycle of learning from one another built in to the way teachers go about their day to day businesses.


Michael Rowland:        Shouldn’t the pay within those EBA ranges be increased? I hear what you’re saying about merit-based pay, but in order to encourage excellence in the classroom and attract the best to the classroom, you need to fork out more money. Is that a conversation you want to have with the states and territories?


Simon Birmingham:     Well, we should pay teachers as much as we can afford to, and of course, we’ve got record funds going into the Australian school system as it is. The whole reason that we commissioned this report was, firstly, because the evidence was telling us that Australia was lagging in performance, but secondly, because we were putting so much extra funding into schools, we wanted to make sure that it was used in a way to lift student performance. And so, we will talk to the states and territories about each and every one of the recommendations and how it is we can best implement those to get that ultimate outcome, which is a better education for our kids.


Michael Rowland:        Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham, thanks for joining News Breakfast.


Simon Birmingham:     Thank you, Michael.