Press conference, Melbourne
Turnbull Government’s Quality Schools, Quality Outcomes reforms; Future schools funding arrangements; Politics in classrooms; Reforms to higher education admissions transparency

Simon Birmingham:     The Education Council has met today, and I welcome the fact that states and territories have all agreed to undertake work with us on the prospects for a new school arrangement, for school reform arrangement and agreement commencing from next year. This is an important commitment, to have a deep look at the types of quality reforms the Turnbull Government has proposed – reforms which we believe can address the slide in numeracy and literacy standards in Australia, reforms that we believe can lift the quality of the teaching profession, and back and reward our most capable and competent teachers. 

There’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure that we do get, ultimately, new arrangements and a new agreement in place that does see all levels of schooling in Australia, across all states and territories, committed to the implementation of reforms to improve standards, quality and outcomes. But the message has been clear from all of the datasets, that we do have real problems in terms of performance of Australian schools, and that we must act to get better bang for our buck, better utilisation of our record-growing levels of school funding, and that requires a focus on evidence-based reforms. And today, we’ve taken a step in the right direction to achieve that.

Journalist:                    Isn’t it true that the states voted against the measures you were proposing?

Simon Birmingham:     No, the measures that we were proposing in terms of the reforms, the proposals the Turnbull Government took to the last election and the paper that I presented today was one that we discussed. And indeed, agreement was reached that officials would undertake work in terms of the potential for a new school agreement based on those reforms, and that that would be brought back to the Education Council in the new year. So I look forward to seeing that evidence-based work being undertaken by officials in the states and territories, with our Commonwealth officials, and I’m confident that from that we can reach agreement next year. 

Question:                     Will that include funding?

Simon Birmingham:     Well we already have a commitment to record-growing levels of funding, and of course next year, as we’ve been saying for a long time, we expect that COAG will settle the distribution terms around that funding.

Question:                     Can I ask on some other issues?
Simon Birmingham:     Sure.

Question:                     Sorry, about the teachers who have made children write letters of protest about children in refugee camps, what do you think about teachers doing that, and do you support the investigation underway?

Simon Birmingham:     Classrooms are for learning. They’re for delivery of the national curriculum; they’re not areas for teachers to prosecute their own personal political agendas. That’s completely unacceptable, and if we have instances, as appears to be the case, of teachers who have been abusing their place in the classroom, abusing the trust placed in them, then I expect that relevant school authorities will implement appropriate sanctions against those teachers.

Question:                                 And what sanctions do you think that should be?

Simon Birmingham:     Well that’s a matter in terms of the different codes and practices of the different states and territories, but I think any parent would find it unacceptable for teachers to use their classroom and the children in their classroom as political tools to propagate that teacher’s own personal political views.

Question:                                 Would you like to see teachers face the sack?

Simon Birmingham:     Well, I think that of course depends on the track record of the teacher and a whole range of factors that need to be considered. But there must be, there must be strong rules in place, and enforcement of those rules to ensure that we don’t see teachers using the classroom and children in their classroom as political playthings for their own personal political ambitions or agendas.

Question:                     Can I also ask about universities, and you’re wanting them to be open about their ATAR scores?

Simon Birmingham:     Today we have released the Australian Government response to the report of the Higher Education Standards Panel in relation to admissions practices and transparency of those university admissions practices. And at this time of year, when many students are receiving their ATAR scores, it’s timely to know that we’re taking action to make sure that universities in future are applying consistent admissions practices across the country, consistent approaches to what the use of ATARs or other admissions practices mean, and making sure in future they are clear and transparent about doing so. I don’t want to see any more stories in future that suggest universities have been fudging numbers or cooking the books to make their course look more exclusive than they otherwise are. Students and their families and teachers and schools deserve to know what it is it takes to get into a university course, and the public deserve universities to be held to high standards of accountability through appropriate transparency measures.

Thanks guys, cheers.