Interview on Sky News Live with Kieran Gilbert
Topics: Release of Gonski 2.0 report
07:49 AM

Kieran Gilbert: The Government’s going to present its report on the Gonski 2.0 reforms to the states and territories this Friday. With me is the Education Minister Simon Birmingham to discuss that. Already, even before you’ve met the states, they’re calling for more money, some of them.

Simon Birmingham: Well Kieran, look, I’m not going to pre-empt what’s in this year’s Budget, but let’s be clear, this report was commissioned last year after we announced significant overhauls that are going to see $25 billion additional funding flow in to Australian schools over the next decade. So we won’t be putting more money into schools in this year’s Budget because it’s already budgeted for. Growth of around a billion dollars a year every year, for the next decade…

Kieran Gilbert: Because you’re putting less than Labor. They say you’re cutting the trajectory, you’re not fully committed to the Gonski plan [indistinct] proposed.

Simon Birmingham: Labor can promise whatever it wants and of course they’re also promising a lot of tax hikes on various Australians too. What we’ve done is implement needs-based funding in a model that is more consistent across the nation, more consistent with David Gonski’s recommendations. But the time is now to clearly recognise that we have record amounts of funding in Australian schools already, significant projected growth in that, and as this report makes clear, we’re not getting the results we should be. We’ve seen a decline in standards and outcomes, despite record funding. Now we have to focus on how we use that record funding more and better.

Kieran Gilbert: And part of it is to give- you want to give – and Mr Gonski said this yesterday – that principals need greater autonomy. One of the ideas being put forward by The Centre for Independent Studies is to have clusters of schools or principals who can then decide on pay levels. But you’re never going to get to that sort of idea of promoting ambition within that sector, because of the Teachers’ Union.

Simon Birmingham: I hope the teacher’s unions take a long, hard look at this report and think about how it is they get greater job satisfaction for their members, by ensuring we have better outcomes for students. Ultimately, the teachers I meet want their kids to do well in the classroom. That’s how they derive their job satisfaction, from outcomes from students. And actually, by pursuing these recommendations, by putting in place better professional development structures for teachers, by ensuring that we actually have clear feedback loops for those teachers around how their students are progressing and what achievement levels they’re reaching. All of those types of changes can really help to lift the satisfaction within the profession and the standing of the profession [indistinct] …

Kieran Gilbert: That makes sense, and the continuous individual assessment shows you can see which schools are climbing in capacity- which classes are improving, which classes are coasting, but the problem is – and the Education Union put it yesterday – you can only negotiate through an industrial award for the teachers. Is there enough flexibility to achieve what Mr Gonski wants?

Simon Birmingham: Well, there’s all the flexibility in the world if the teachers’ unions are willing to show it when they come to the table with state and territory governments who run our school systems. They ought to be saying professional development is an important part of what we do, and it ought to be accredited professional development, it ought to be high quality, because that’s going to lift the standing status [indistinct]…

Kieran Gilbert: Do you need more ambition fostered in teachers? Is that what you need to achieve?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I think there’s lots of great ambition among teachers…

Kieran Gilbert: Some. A lot of them, but not all.

Simon Birmingham: … We need the Teachers’ Union- well, indeed. Like any profession. Not everybody is perfect. But we need to make sure the Teachers’ Union reflects that ambition in the way that they adopt this report, which, yes, is going to change the way teaching practices occur, make better use of the record funding that is available, ensure that we can then show the progress…

Kieran Gilbert: So the report, basically, its success depends- it depends on the unions, it depends on the unions and the states being open to some sort of reform. Because in every other sector- it’s not a criticism of teachers because I know from first-hand experience, wonderful teachers. But where’s the incentive? Every other sector, you’re allowed to have incentive for good teachers. They should get rewarded.

Simon Birmingham: And again, this report recommends that the type of certification that we as a government have put in place for highly accomplished and lead teachers to be peer reviewed and assessed and recognised ought to result in higher levels that you shouldn’t just progress up the salary curve based on time served. You should progress up the salary curve based on competency and skill level as a teacher, recognised by being a lead teacher, by being a highly accomplished teacher, and from that we can then…

Kieran Gilbert: Because not everyone wants to be a principal, and the fact is if they become principals, you lose them to the classroom.

Simon Birmingham: That’s right. You want to keep your best and brightest teachers engaged in…

Kieran Gilbert: So how much depends on the unions, then, and the Teachers’ Union? Because at this stage, they say that it all has to be done through the industrial award, and that’s being seen as a stumbling block already.

Simon Birmingham: Well, there’s a big, big message for teachers’ unions here, and they should answer the question too: why is it that with record levels of funding in Australian schools, performance has gone backwards under their watch? In the end, the teachers’ unions have been instrumental to all of these discussions for many, many years. Now, I hope that they will recognise the value of better pay structures that reward ability and capability and skill level. I hope they recognise the value of professional development, I hope they recognise the value of truly tracking student progress against achievement levels so that you actually can see that every student is being extended to their maximum capability.

Kieran Gilbert: One of the concerns raised by- this is from the principal of the Presbyterian Ladies College in Perth. They introduced personalised learning two years ago, and she has argued that that added a cost of about $700,000 a year. So with your idea of personalised, individual-focused learning, isn’t it going to cost more?

Simon Birmingham: Well, there will be costs. Now, of course, doing it as we propose out of this report at a systemic level, applying it across the country, allows you to make the curriculum changes that support that and make it easier and cheaper to build the tool that can be used commonly across schools to track progress, rather than individual schools having to go out and do it, which again means you get much better cost-effectiveness. And ultimately, this is about using existing record levels of investment that continue to grow more effectively to get better bang for our buck.

Kieran Gilbert: Is there an argument that the schools should focus on what we know they can achieve, in things like literacy and numeracy, instead of these other notions of critical thinking, of social skills and that sort of thing? Which some argue- as I had a guest on yesterday from the Centre for Independent Studies, where they say that’s got to be dependent on extracurricular activities to achieve that sort of thing. It’s not necessarily within the classroom that a kid is going to learn that sort of analysis, that sort of critical thinking.

Simon Birmingham: Well, there are really three pillars upon which the education system has to work here. Firstly, develop the foundation skills – literacy, numeracy skills – and this report is very clear to have those established early on, ideally by age eight in terms of those core competencies. Secondly, develop a rich knowledge base, a knowledge base across different subject matter, whether that be the histories, the sciences, et cetera. And then thirdly, develop the skills within the individual to apply that knowledge base, to apply it successfully in further education and training in the workforce elsewhere. That’s where your critical thinking skills come in…

Kieran Gilbert: But isn’t that done outside the classroom?

Simon Birmingham: … you’ve got to have the knowledge base first, and that is essential, and they’re the three steps, really, that you have to go through.

Kieran Gilbert: Minister, thanks for your time. We’re out of time. We’ll talk to you soon.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you Kieran.