Interview on MIX 104.9 360 with Katie Woolf
Topics: New funding for the Duke of Edinburgh International Award; NAPLAN
Katie Woolf: Now, we know the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is set to head to Alice Springs later today but here in Darwin, we have the federal Education and Training Minister Simon Birmingham and he joins me on the line right now. Good morning, Minister.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Katie.
Katie Woolf: Now, I understand you are set to announce $1.5 million of boost in support for the Duke of Edinburgh Award.
Simon Birmingham: That’s right, Katie. Yeah, just on my way at present to the Clontarf Academy at the Sanderson Middle School to have a chat about the ‘Duke of Ed’ scheme and the fact that we are putting an extra $1.5 million in. It’s a scheme that already supports around 550 Northern Territory students in terms of their engagement in sporting activities, volunteering activities, community engagement; really important values that the ‘Duke of Ed’ scheme helps to underpin. And the funding the Turnbull Government is putting in is going to help around 2500 disadvantaged students from across Australia to participate in the ‘Duke of Ed’ scheme and to get those opportunities as well.
Katie Woolf: Minister, for those out there listening who don’t know a lot about the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, can you tell us a little bit more about it and who’s eligible to apply?
Simon Birmingham: So, it tends to be secondary students who participate and as part of their participation, it’s about the type of activities they do outside of the school or outside of the classroom to further develop themselves and to really engage with their local communities. So often, it can be volunteering with local aged care organisations or other community groups and really providing opportunities for young people to get experience that can help them in terms of deciding what type of career path they want to go down. It can give them good practical work experience-type skills but also really give back in terms of the community and foster that sense of self-engagement and commitment to something bigger than themselves, that’s the community that’s around them.
Katie Woolf: Now, what else is on the agenda for you while you’re in Darwin? Now, are you going to be catching up with the Education Minister here in the Northern Territory as well?
Simon Birmingham: I just had a really, really good meeting with Selina Uibo for the last the last hour or so and it was great to meet with the new Education Minister and speak about some of our shared priorities for Territory education. I’ll also be spending a lot of time today with the new CLP candidate for Solomon at the next federal election, Kathy Ganley, who’s going to accompany me to a number of the schools that I’ll be visiting throughout today to hear from teachers, principals, students about some of their priorities in terms of how we support them to really continue to lift educational outcomes that create the best opportunities for every student – how it is that the Turnbull Government’s record in growing investment in our schools, in our child care services, all of those educational opportunities can be put to use best use across the Northern Territory.
Katie Woolf: From your perspective, what are the major concerns or the biggest issues in the Northern Territory when it comes to education?
Simon Birmingham: It’s critical that we continue to focus on building the basics and the fundamentals around literacy and numeracy skills in the early years because if we establish those fundamentals, that children attend school; learn the basics of reading and writing and numeracy skills; then, of course, we can have high confidence that their engagement and participation will succeed right through their years of schooling and beyond. But without those fundamentals established, we know that the gap often just grows and it becomes so much harder to re-engage students in the later years. So, we’re very focused in some of our reforms at the national level around how we ensure children learn to read successfully by the age of eight; established all of those core skills; and that our teacher training efforts, design of the curriculum, and the tools we provide teachers in the classroom are all focused on those sorts of outcomes.
Katie Woolf: Over the weekend, there was quite a disturbing report I thought on 60 Minutes which spoke about the stress placed on teachers through NAPLAN testing. Were you concerned by the report? And do you feel as though that something that is causing stress to our teachers in the Northern Territory also?
Simon Birmingham: It concerns me when I hear people talk about NAPLAN as creating stress and my message really is that everybody ought to keep NAPLAN in perspective. It provides a useful check for parents in terms of information about how their children are progressing; in terms of developing basic literacy and numeracy skills; and it’s very useful for researchers, policymakers, and indeed many principals in schools tell me they find it useful to see how that progress is developing. But we should keep it in perspective because it is just one check that occurs four times during the life of a child’s schooling. It’s not something that every child does every term or every year – it is just four times during their 12 or 13 years of their school education.
Katie Woolf: Why do you think it is that some teachers do find it such a stressful time with the NAPLAN testing?
Simon Birmingham: People seem to put a little too much public importance on NAPLAN, like it is the most and single most important factor, whereas it is just that one check. It’s useful and many parents tell me that they find it useful and parent organisations around the country have urged state and territory ministers to continue to work on making NAPLAN better and more useful, which we’re doing through a number of reforms including new techniques to get faster NAPLAN results back to teachers; more responsive NAPLAN testing that can give richer information about just how well, or poorly, a student is doing; and what it is that can be done to help them in the future. And so, we’re going to keep working to make NAPLAN better and to make it more useful for people but they really do need to recognise that, of course, in school tests and spot checks and teacher assessment and judgment, which occurs every single day of the school year, is such a critical factor and should not be overshadowed by NAPLAN, which occurs just four times during a child’s schooling life.
Katie Woolf: Minister, according to that report, of course, over the weekend, it stated that the UN shows we’re ranked 39th out of 41 countries. Where are we going wrong?
Simon Birmingham: Look, there’s a lot of different assessments that are calculated and I’m not sure that that is the most accurate reflection. Australia has a high performing education system but we absolutely have had some warning signs over recent years that our best and brightest students aren’t being extended enough and have been slipping behind. And that we have of course a long tail in terms of student performance in too many cases and that’s why I really want to see us focus on the basics, initially, to make sure that every child has got core foundations skills around literacy, numeracy but then in terms of extension as well. And recently, the Turnbull Government commissioned a report – it’s called Through Growth to Achievement – which really looks at reforms we can apply in our schools that will help every single child to be extended as much as possible during school years; to be stretched to their maximum capabilities; and to grow as much as they can. And what that is about is providing curriculum approaches and tools for teachers that allow them to target their teaching to each child so that those high achievers I spoke about before are actually stretched to do even better rather than to just cruise or coast along, as well as, a focus on how we can boost performance at the tail end of that spectrum as well.
Katie Woolf: Minister, we are going to have to get ready to wrap things up but I understand that you are also going to be visiting the MacKillop Catholic College today. Any exciting announcements for the college while you’re out there?
Simon Birmingham: Look, not new announcements as such, Katie, but it’s a great chance to meet with the principals and teachers. The Northern Territory, like all parts of Australia, benefits from the fact that we have a strong public school education system but also that parents are given a choice and that many families choose to educate their children in different non-government schools. They, of course, make a financial contribution to do that and in these cases. We’re going to sit down and have a chat about some of the unique factors in the Territory, where I know that beyond those who are making a financial contribution, a lot of these non-government schools also are working with social venture organisations or indeed of their own volition to help many students to get an educational opportunity they may not otherwise be able to access and that’s, you know, it’s a really important factor too.
Katie Woolf: Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham, thank you so much for your time this morning. Thanks for having a chat with us.
Simon Birmingham: No, thank you, Katie. Thank you.
Katie Woolf: Thank you.