Interview on Sky News with Samantha Maiden
Topics: NAPLAN; Schools funding; Gonski 2.0; Education Council



Samantha Maiden:       Thanks a lot for your time this morning. Now, there is reports that the New South Wales Government wants to scrap NAPLAN because it has, they claim, created an industry of people simply preying on it. What’s your thoughts?


Simon Birmingham:    Well, good morning, Sam. Look, we believe that NAPLAN is important to give parents transparent information. Just in the last couple of weeks, we’ve had the Parents Council and other parent bodies come out saying very clearly that they want to see NAPLAN continue, that they value NAPLAN, that it gives parents information about the literacy and numeracy skills of their children and how that’s comparing. Now, of course, there are different proposals from some states to look at how some of that information is reported, and if we can do that better in the future, well, we’re open to having a look at it.


Samantha Maiden:       It seems a little confused though, because I thought the whole idea of this new measure in the Gonski report was to stick with NAPLAN, not to replace it, but New South Wales seems to be moving straight to the idea that you should actually replace NAPLAN.


Simon Birmingham:    There may be a point of time a long way down the track where, if you fully implement all of the details in the Gonski report, you’re going to get the type of data and so on in a much richer, better way than perhaps NAPLAN gives us today. But we’ve actually got to implement all of those recommendations first and that won’t happen overnight, and then you’ve got to make sure that it’s working and delivering for teachers in terms of the information they need, but also for parents and families and the community in terms of transparency that gives everybody confidence that children are learning the basic skills of reading, writing, literacy, numeracy – all of those essentials that provide the foundation upon which the rest of learning depends.


Samantha Maiden:       Yeah, I know a lot of teachers don’t like NAPLAN, but I’ve got to say I, as a parent, do like to see how my children are faring compared to other children the same age. Also, on the front page of The Australian today: new calls from the Catholic school sector in New South Wales for a better deal. Will you be outlining the amount of money that you’ll be providing in top ups in the May Budget?


Simon Birmingham:    Well no, Sam, we announced last year, of course, sweeping changes to school funding, putting an additional $25 billion in, and a big part of the Gonski report we were just talking about before is to look at how we can get better returns from record and growing investment in schools. There’s around $3.5 billion in funding growth for Catholic education, but we did hear concerns last year that the data, the methodology around the so-called socioeconomic scores and the capacity to contribute of non-government schools, was of concern to some parts of the non-government sector, and particularly the Catholic education. So, we implemented another of the Gonski panel’s recommendations, which was to have an independent National School Resourcing Board. They’re looking at those issues of the SES methodology and the capacity to contribute formula. They will report to us in the next couple of months and the Government will respond and act on those reports once we’ve got those recommendations, not beforehand. 


Samantha Maiden:       Alright, just in time for the election. I assume, though, that there’ll be some money in Tuesday’s Budget for this. I mean, the Catholic sector is warning that this is electoral poison, and there were reports in The Australian today that two Catholic ministers have urged the Prime Minister to tell you to sort it out.


Simon Birmingham:    Well, we’re not about to, and I’m not about to, reveal what’s in the Budget, let alone what’s in the contingency reserve of the Budget. What I will make very clear though, Sam, is we’ve got a thorough, rigorous process underway to review the issues of concern to Catholic education. That process has been looking at modelling, taking submissions, and I’m very pleased with the way in which many Catholic education authorities around the country have engaged in that process with us, and with the independent School Resourcing Board. We will get those independent recommendations, which will be based on facts and evidence and we will act upon them. I’m confident that Catholic education bodies come to the table in good faith, along with other representatives from the non-government schooling sector, wanting to see a sustainable long-term solution that is fair and viable for them and that’s exactly what we’ll seek to deliver and implement. But we’ll do it based on the evidence and the recommendations of the School Resourcing Board.


Samantha Maiden:       Okay. Just finally, you’ve got this ministers’ meeting. We don’t want to keep you any longer than we already have. You’re obviously discussing NAPLAN and that new tool for teachers to review student progress. What do you expect to come out of today’s meeting?


Simon Birmingham:    Well, we’re going to hear from David Gonski and we’ll be discussing the full suite of recommendations: improvements to the curriculum; changes to the training and professional development that teachers get, development of an assessment tool that will give a better sense of where kids are at and how well they’re progressing in their learning. So, there’s a lot of work to be done to implement some of the Gonski recommendations.


Today, we’ll hear from David. The state ministers will have a chance to give their feedback, but I hope that they have heard the calls from principal bodies around the country, teacher bodies, parent bodies, a whole range of representative organisations across school stakeholder groups who’ve said they want to see action. So hopefully today we can agree to progress these recommendations, to go away and then work together on an implementation plan that ensures the record growing funding going into Australian schools turns around poor performance and gets a better outcome for our kids in the future.


Samantha Maiden:       Simon Birmingham, good luck and thank you for your time today.


Simon Birmingham:    Thanks so much, Sam.