Interview on FIVEaa Will Goodings and David Penberthy
Topics: NAPLAN and Civics/Citizenship test results
Presenter: Hey, we mentioned right at the top to start us off this morning that NAPLAN results came out today. We’ve got the Education Minister federally, Senator Simon Birmingham on the line to discuss how South Australia fared.
Senator, good morning to you
Simon Birmingham: Yeah, good morning guys. Good to be with you.
Presenter: Now, obviously the figures have just come out but at first blush you look and see South Australia it appears to be at the bottom or near the bottom of – again – just about every single rankings category. How do you interpret the results through a South Australian lens?
Simon Birmingham: Indeed. Look, there are some concerning areas in terms of South Australia that would see a big decline of 5 per cent in terms of Year 3 writing skills; a similar decline in terms of Year 5 of around 2.5 per cent in their writing skills again in particular; some modest improvements around the Year 7 mark but at very small levels; and then a bit of a mixed bag across to Year 9. So, it is a worry and it comes on top of the results just recently of the international study looking at reading and literacy skills that showed South Australia the equally worst performing state of the nation. It really demonstrates that there needs to be some shakeup in relation to the way our education system is performing in SA.
Presenter: Okay. So, to what do we owe those results then? Because historically the State Government have said: we have a disproportionately high number of people in those sort of low socio-economic income brackets. And that’s the root cause of our overall ranking being lower than they might otherwise like. Is that fair? And if that’s the case what can you do in education to fix that?
Simon Birmingham: Well, even if you accept that, there are of course then the trends in the change in performance. And that change in performance shows that in a number of areas things are getting worse. So, the State Government really does need to look at what’s been happening interstate, where we’ve seen state governments like those in WA and New South Wales really put in place new minimum standards for literacy performance at the school leaver level that’s driven change down and through their education system. So, I need to have a look because I know there are earlier skills check around phonics skills and learning to read skills in the first couple of years so that there are earlier interventions. But it really is an indictment that after a government that’s been in SA for 16 years we’re talking about these types of problems.
Presenter: Hey, Minister – and this is a story that well, on the face of it is unrelated but to my mind sounds like it feeds potentially in to the NAPLAN results as well – this latest Civics and Citizenship report that’s going to be released today by ACARA, the peak curriculum body, showing that Australian school kids today are more socially aware than ever. They’re more passionate about human rights, about ethical shopping, about protecting the environment but almost two-thirds of them know nothing about democracy or politics or the sort of landmark moments in history. Is there a bit of a sense that more broadly – beyond the NAPLAN results – that we’ve become a little bit too faddish in the curriculum?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I think there’s a concern that I certainly hold and by- these results are frankly woeful that less than 40 per cent of Year 9 students across the country have been shown to be proficient or even at the minimum standard in terms of their knowledge of basic citizenship and civics, the way government works, the way the courts work. And, of course, how on earth can you expect to be a truly proper engaging functioning member of a democratic society, if you don’t even have the basics of how the system works? And it does say that not enough time has been spent in schools coming to understand and learn those basics rather than, of course, perhaps exploration of other issues. It might engage passion, which is important, but you’ve then got to know how to actually exercise and act upon that passion and that appears to be what’s sorely lacking.
Presenter: Minister, we’ve got a GST in place federally, so you can largely lob in any city or any state around the country and expect the same sort of standard of performance. If, in South Australia, education’s always lagging, is that a sign that there needs to be a change to the manner in which it’s funded in South Australia to try and afford equal opportunity to students that they get in other states?
Simon Birmingham: Look, we have record and growing levels of funding in Australian schools and that’s as true in South Australia as it is across virtually every other state. And certainly at a national level funding has gone up dramatically in recent years and there’s another $25 billion nationwide being put in. It’s not about how much money we’re spending now, it’s about making sure we spend it well. Now, we’ve taken steps nationally to change the way teachers are trained at universities, to refocus the national curriculum for more time in relation to the basics of the early years. But there’s more to be done, we want to see states and territories look at earlier skills checks to make sure there can be early intervention. And we’re asking David Gonski to lead – as he is at present – a panel of educators to really look at how the record and growing funding can better be used in schools so teachers have an evidence based toolkit to turn to of practices they can apply in the classroom that will make a real evidence.
Presenter: Education Minister Simon Birmingham, thanks very much for joining us so early this morning.
Simon Birmingham: Thank you guys. Cheers.