Press conference at Education Council, Adelaide
Education Council meeting; Future schools funding arrangements; NAPLAN online rollout
23 September 2016
01:45pm AEST

Simon Birmingham: Well I committed to state and territory ministers prior to today’s Education Council meeting that I would come along today and outline to them how it is the Turnbull Government intends to give effect to election commitments in relation to the provision of record levels of school funding and to talk to them about the principles that we want to apply in terms of the distribution of that funding and achieving the type of reform that is necessary to lift educational attainment and student outcomes in Australian schools and that’s exactly what we did today. 

I took them through a presentation that outlined some of the flaws and inadequacies and inconsistencies in the current funding model, as well as outlining to them the types of principles that I think are important for how future funding is distributed. We also talked about the types of reforms that are necessary to make the most of that funding to ensure that the current situation, where ever increasing dollars are not achieving improving student outcomes is brought to an end and that in future our record levels of school funding do absolutely achieve improved student outcomes. 

I am pleased that what we got today was a fairly constructive discussion inside the room. A much more constructive discussion inside the room today than the type of political chest beating we often see in the public comments from the state ministers. Of course states will always ask for more money. States have always asked for more money and state ministers will always ask for more money. But what I explained to them today is that we are providing record levels of funding and, under the Turnbull Government, Federal funding for Australian schools will grow from $16 billion this year to more than $20.1 billion in 2020. 

Strong growth in funding that we are committed to distributing according to need, that we are committed to ensuring is distributed fairly and equitably across the states and territories, and that we want to see leveraged to achieve real reform in our schools. 

I'm hopeful and positive that, out of today's discussions, we will be able to progress to more detailed discussions over the coming months and present a final proposal to first ministers at a COAG meeting in the first half of 2017 that does achieve a school funding model to distribute the Turnbull Government's record growing level of school funding according to need, equitably across the states and in a manner that drives real reform. 

We also had very positive discussions on a range of other very important matters in the Education Council today. Important discussions about how it is we can provide greater safeguards around the operation of family day care providers in the childcare and early education space, how it is we can best support students with disability and how we can improve the quality of Australia's teachers into the future. 

This was a positive meeting from my perspective and one upon which we can build strong positive reforms to lift Australia's educational outcomes into the future.

Question: You spoke about that chest beating, we saw a number of the ministers say they are not happy with this proposed funding model. Under your proposal, which states win and which states lose? Which states are currently being punished by the current funding arrangements?

Simon Birmingham: There is no doubt a state like Western Australia, which is well documented, got a very bad deal from the Gillard and Rudd Governments and that that State but other states as well face a situation where the record funding that they are actually receiving in the school system overall is not flowing fairly into that jurisdiction. 

I took the states and territories through an example in relation to a low socio-economic disadvantaged school of 700 students, high loadings for low socio-economic disadvantage, high numbers of Indigenous students, significant numbers of students with a disability and showed them that, under the current arrangements of different funding approaches across all the states and territories, those students are funded at a different level by the Federal Government in each state and territory and that, in fact, by 2019 if we didn't change things as the Turnbull Government proposes to do, the disparity would actually get worse in that timeline. 

We have demonstrated to them that it's not an equitable arrangement. How do we fix that? Well fortunately we still have a growing pot of funding for the future, growing from $16 billion this year to $20.1 billion by 2020 which means we can work effectively to ensure that states and territories are brought into a more equitable distribution model that genuinely treats students according to need by the Federal Government but without necessarily seeing any state or territory go backwards in that equation thanks to the increase in funding that is available.

Question: But they are going to be worse off than they otherwise would be even under the current funding arrangement which is worse off than they were going to be under the original Gonski funding arrangement?

Simon Birmingham: No Nick, of course there is not as much money as the Labor Party promised in the never-never back in 2013. That was a never-never promise by Labor, beyond the forward estimates, never budgeted for, never paid for. 

We are dealing today in reality, not promises that were made in 2013. The Turnbull Government, Malcolm Turnbull and I, could not have been clearer in the 2016 election about how much money was available for school funding in the future. We put an extra $1.2 billion into schools in the 2016 Budget on top of the growing funding that was already there. That's a demonstration that we're serious about making sure there's adequate funding for Australian schools, that nobody need stop doing any of the worthwhile things they're doing and that there's funding there to leverage reforms around literacy and numeracy skills, around students sticking with maths and science, around keeping our most competent teachers in our school systems. All of those things can be obtained within the record funding that we have available for the future.

Question: Are you seeking to change the distribution of funding between government schools and private and independent schools?

Simon Birmingham: I have invited the states and territories to give us their feedback about the principles we outlined today. Those principles included that we should provide support for every student in Australia. That means we do provide support in the non-government sector but importantly it is discounted at present by a capacity-to-contribute factor. So we assess the economic capacity, capability if you like, of parents and discount against that so that wealthier schools receive less in the non-government sector, less wealthy non-government schools receive a little more but when you look at the total picture of school funding, there is still a significant differential that ensures that students in government schools across Australia receive significantly more, at least 40 per cent more, in government funding than students in a non-government school. I don't imagine that that is likely to change much in the future.

Question: In terms of getting this model in place, you clearly at the moment don't have support from the majority of states, if it goes to COAG next year and the first ministers don't agree on this, what happens? Can you get this through legislatively without the support of all the states?

Simon Birmingham: The Federal Budget is the Federal Budget. It provides for growing levels of funding from $16 billion this year to more than $20 billion in 2020. That is the Budget we will be working within. What I want to see is that we use it as effectively as possible and distribute it as fairly as possible. I hope the states will work with us to achieve that and that the Senate will work with us to achieve that because otherwise we will simply be working within that Budget in an unfair arrangement which is the last thing that I want to see.

Question: But the Senate does have the power to stand in your way there, doesn’t it?

Simon Birmingham: No, not necessarily. The Federal Budget is the Federal Budget. That's the amount of money that's available. We can work within that Budget one way or another but I want it to be a way that best reflects need into the future and best supports students with the assistance they need to succeed at schools. Thanks, everybody.

Question:         Was NAPLAN discussed at all today and if so how comparisons might be made fairly between states that stick with paper tests next year and the year after as opposed to online?

Simon Birmingham:     NAPLAN online was discussed today and we had an effective discussion around the great additional benefits that can be achieved by the shift to NAPLAN online, in terms of richer assessment of individual student capabilities, better reporting of performance back to parents and teachers in a faster way that can enable teachers to make sure that they make the types of changes in the classroom to help kids get the best they possibly can in terms of their literacy and numeracy skills that were assessed by NAPLAN. 

We did have a discussion, as Minister Close and I have had in recent days as well, about ensuring the comparability for those states that move faster, are early movers than other states into NAPLAN online. We have sought assurances that ACARA, the Australian Curriculum Assessment Reporting Authority, will work closely with South Australia and other jurisdictions to ensure that any data is comparable regardless of the manner in which it was undertaken. 

We also had discussions, which I put on the table, about whether or not the writing component for Year 3s would shift to an online format or not and I’m pleased that ministers have agreed to get some expert advice in that regard and information that will inform decisions by December about whether that is an ideal inclusion in the shift to NAPLAN online or something that should continue in a paper and pen format.

Question:         Would that be just for the foreseeable future or a long term pen and paper test?

Simon Birmingham:     They’re matters to determine when we have the proper discussions.