Interview on Channel 9 TODAY with Lisa Wilkinson
Programme for International Student Assessment; Turnbull Government’s Quality Schools, Quality Outcomes reforms
07 December 2016

Lisa Wilkinson:           Well Australia’s high school students are up to two years behind the world’s best pupils. That’s according to a new report this morning which says our kids are getting worse at maths, science and reading, lagging behind countries such as New Zealand, Canada and Japan. So here to discuss all of this and more is Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Good morning to you Minister. 

Simon Birmingham:    Good morning Lisa.

Lisa Wilkinson:                       Minister, this report indicates that our education system is in absolute decline. Why are our students falling behind the rest of the world, even countries like Kazakhstan?

Simon Birmingham:    Well Lisa this absolutely is a concern. We should firstly recognise that we are still an above average education system, so we do achieve better than most OECD countries in terms of our performance, and so we have a high performing system, but we are going backwards, and in fact our students are not performing in this 2015 assessment what they were performing in earlier years. So Australian school children today are not achieving the same standards in maths or science or reading skills as they were back in 2003 in terms of some of the earliest benchmarks here. That obviously is a real concern and it’s why we have to look at things like how we intervene in the classroom early to identify problems, how we support our most capable teachers to stay in the classroom and how we better train teachers for the future to ensure these types of problems are addressed and reversed.

Lisa Wilkinson:                       Well the study also shows that the poorest schools in the country are three years behind the richest schools in the country. That is unchanged since the year 2000. Now that’s with 12 years of Coalition government and five years of Labor. So you’re both as bad as each other, what are you going to do about it?

Simon Birmingham:    Far too much of the last 12 years frankly and particularly the last few years has been a focus on how much money is pumped into the system. This study shows us that actually every school sector and every level of performance has gone backwards. So high achieving students aren’t achieving what they used to. Independent schools aren’t achieving what they used to and the same can be said of course for government schools or for students coming from areas of disadvantage. So, everywhere has slipped backwards. We need to shift that debate now from one about how much money is being spent- because we are at record levels of investment, and focus a lot more on how it can best be invested and that’s certainly what I’ve been trying to do over the last 12 months as Education Minister, and we outlined before the election a comprehensive policy with 12 different reform areas looking at teacher quality how we ensure proficiency of teachers when they get in the classroom, how we better reward our most capable teachers to stay in the classroom, the setting of minimum standards for school leavers in literacy and numeracy skills so that we raise the bar of ambition. How we should expect more students to be studying maths and sciences, particularly those looking to go on to university in their final years. A range of topics that I want to put on the table with state and territory ministers to try to get real change in the states and territories to the way we run our school system to reverse these types of poor measures.

Lisa Wilkinson:                       Minister, with respect there’d be a lot of parents who will be listening to you this morning and feeling like they’ve heard all of this before, what is your message to them, at a time when the Prime Minister is pushing innovation as this country’s way forward, those parents quite rightly will be very concerned, if not angry, with these results. What is your message to them?

Simon Birmingham:    Well Lisa I’m a parent of a four-year-old and a five-year-old. I’m just at the start of my children going through Australia’s education system. I share those concerns of parents. What I want to make sure we do is actually work to the evidence. Now the evidence tells us the most important in-school factor in terms of learning is the teacher. We’re already taking action in terms of ensuring that future primary school teachers will have subject specialisation, so that we’ll have more specialists in the earliest years, in maths, in science, in English. We’ve taken action to ensure that all future teaching graduates have minimum personal standards in literacy and numeracy. But we need to do more than even those things we’ve already got in train which is why I’ve put on the table for the states and territories these other reform areas that will see earlier assessment of children, earlier intervention, will ensure we have better standards for the proficiency of new teachers when they get in the classroom and indeed the ongoing professional development of existing teachers in the classroom and those other measures I spoke about before in terms of having higher ambition for school leavers and year 12 students to really then raise expectations right through the system,

Lisa Wilkinson:           Okay, Education Minister Simon Birmingham we will have to leave it there. Thank you for your time this morning.

Simon Birmingham:    Thank you Lisa.