Kieran Gilbert: The latest data on the performance of our schools has revealed overall student’s literacy and numeracy skills have stalled. The preliminary NAPLAN results being released today show there’s been no significant improvement in these areas over the last year, despite record funding. I spoke to the Education Minister Simon Birmingham a short time ago.

Simon Birmingham: It is disappointing to see essentially a plateauing of NAPLAN performance across reading and writing in particular but also numeracy to an extent, especially over a time when over the last three years we’ve seen more than 23 per cent growth in federal funding into our schools and what that shows is that while money is important and investment in schools is important, how you use that funding is even more important which is why the Turnbull Government went to the last election outlining a range of particular reforms from early intervention to pick up problems for kids at the youngest age through the minimum standards for school leavers and backing our most high performing teachers to ensure they’re rewarded and kept in the system.

Kieran Gilbert: So you talk about evidence based measures, is that what you’re referring to? The early intervention, support for the best teachers? Are they the sorts of things you’re talking about?

Simon Birmingham: That’s right… well we know that high quality teaching is the number one in school factor in terms of student performance so the more we can do to help our teachers in their professional development to recognise our most capable teachers, to keep them in the schooling system, to incentivise them to go and teach in areas of disadvantage, where they can make the biggest difference, that’s critical. We equally know that reading is the foundation stone upon which so much other learning occurs, so the better we can do at identifying whether children at the year one level are understanding phonics, the sound of words and languages and letters put together, and whether they’re getting those basics of reading and provide intervention from that earliest age, these are the types of things that we want to see right across the [indistinct].

Kieran Gilbert: [Talks over] And so how do you do that in terms of that early intervention? For parents and grandparents watching this morning, how… explain to them how this money is being spent in terms of an intervention, say in a first grade classroom, how does that work?

Simon Birmingham: So what we’re wanting to pick up on is a model that’s been developed in the United Kingdom, it’s a standard assessment, not a NAPLAN test as such but an assessment that’s undertaken in the school environment working with a young child to test and assess whether they’re reading properly, developing that phonetic awareness that’s so critical…

Kieran Gilbert: [Talks over] And if they’re not, then they’re moved into a special program or..?

Simon Birmingham: No, if they’re not then the school should be providing the type of additional support in terms of reading assistance to those children. There are a range of different types of programs there but particularly at that early age, that teaching of phonics which is essential to children, them being able to essentially decode words, to look at the letters that are in words…

Kieran Gilbert:
[Talks over] But the idea is basically to raise awareness of the problem so that the school… the school and the community can then deal with it?

Simon Birmingham: And of course many schools are doing this around the country already but we want to make sure that wherever a child is in our education systems across the nation, there is confidence that if they have a problem in the early years, it’s identified quickly and they’re given the type of support they need.

Kieran Gilbert: Okay no and that’s fair enough and your reference to the quality of teachers and so on obviously many great teachers around the country as well, but your predecessor Mr Pyne, this was one of his priorities and yet three years in of the Coalition we’re still seeing these results, why is that?

Simon Birmingham: So Christopher achieved some great reforms, particularly in terms of the training of teachers so in our universities, we now from this year will have minimum standards for trainee teachers of literacy and numeracy that will be applied so that in future, people can have confidence that graduates from universities into the teaching profession have high personal literacy and numeracy standards they take into the classroom. What we’re now looking to do is encourage more teachers in the system to undertake professional development to be accredited, as highly accomplished or lead teachers within the system…

Kieran Gilbert: [Talks over] And does this sort of thing have lag effects, lag impact on the system, is that the argument? Because the Coalition has been in office for three years.

Simon Birmingham: And of course there is always, always a lag impact there in terms of reforming teaching training before you then have those new teachers into a classroom or that professional development of teachers. But we have to keep being really focused on ensuring that what is a record level of investment going into our schools and will keep growing over the next few years under the Turnbull Government is actually being used as effectively as possible. 

Kieran Gilbert: And Minister can you give us a sense of how the different states are going? Which are the stronger states in terms of their education system and which are those that are struggling?

Simon Birmingham: States like Victoria have historically been a high-performing state and continue to do so. Queensland has seen some steadier growth over recent years in their performance, but that is bringing them closer to a national benchmark off of a lower performance. So look, there are individualised stories across the states and territories, but overall what we’re seeing is that some of the gains that were made through the early years of NAPLAN testing seem to have levelled off and that we’ve got this plateauing effect, which is why we need to redouble the efforts on the types of teaching measures and performance in classrooms that can actually change student performance. 

Kieran Gilbert: And I know that the Government says it’s not all about money, but obviously the funding still counts in order to fund the measures that you’re talking about, these evidence-based measures. It’s not just going to happen automatically, the money needs to be there doesn’t it?

Simon Birmingham: Of course funding is important, and it’s grown, as I said at the outset, but more than 23 per cent at a federal level over the last three years and will keep growing from around $16 billion of Federal Funding this year to more than $20 billion by 2020, which will be distributed fairly and according to need across our education system. But what I want to see is spend more time debating the way in which that funding is used to make a difference in the classroom rather than the types of political debates we’ve had over the last few years, which seem to be purely fixated on how much money there is rather than how it can be used most effectively.

Kieran Gilbert: A couple of issues just to finish off on outside of your portfolio area. The banks defying the RBA and really thumbing their nose at the Government in many respects. They passed it on in May in full, three of the major banks passed on the rate cut in full in May; yesterday election’s done, no risk of a royal commission, and they pass on half of it at most.

Simon Birmingham: Well the banks have to justify their position to the Australian people. I think certainly what we would expect is that the banks ought not to profit out of the RBA decision. And of course there are two different means by which they can pass any dividend on to their customers: one is by reducing interest rates for borrowers, the other is by increasing interest rates for those who have deposits with banks. They seem to be doing a mix of both of those. But we would expect the banks to certainly not be profiting, and absolutely to be explaining and justifying the rationale behind the decisions they’re making.

Kieran Gilbert: I have a suspicion that the royal commission idea into the banks might be even more popular today though given the way that they reacted yesterday in terms of mortgage rates.

Simon Birmingham: Well the banks have a responsibility not only to of course support borrowing across our economy but to uphold their balance sheets in accordance with the types of rules we have there. In terms of a royal commission, look we have a standing body in ASIC with the powers of a royal commission that can uncover wrongdoing in our banks, ensure prosecutions occur if that’s the case. And we really should be backing that standing authority, which is what the Turnbull Government’s done.

Kieran Gilbert: And finally, on the Kevin Rudd drama that continues. Eleven out of- 11 versus 10 voted apparently in favour of Kevin Rudd receiving the top job at the UN, is that right? In Cabinet?

Simon Birmingham: Well the Cabinet decision of the Government was not to nominate Kevin Rudd for that position. And that is the …

Kieran Gilbert: [Interrupts] Despite a majority supporting him.

Simon Birmingham: No no, the Cabinet decision was not to nominate Kevin Rudd. The Cabinet agreed on a process for the handling of that, and that decision was taken and really I think that’s the end of the matter and I’m pretty confident that most Australians would rather I was talking about supporting our kids in schools than Kevin Rudd in New York.

Kieran Gilbert: Minister, thanks for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you.