Speech to Australian Primary Principals Association ‘Readiness for Learning’ event, Canberra




Simon Birmingham:     To you, to the members of APPA and to my parliamentary colleagues present. Thanks so much for the opportunity to come and say a few brief words on the Estimates dinner break between 6.45 and 7.45pm. Of course you won’t be suffering- well, you might be suffering from insomnia tonight because you’re going to hear from Frank as the guest speaker and Frank is a wonderful Australian who has committed so much of his time, life and works to early childhood education and development. Frank has great insights in that space and so he will leave you buzzing and thinking about those issues. So if I could help you with the insomnia, I can advise that the Senate Environment Estimates Committee where I’ll be answering questions will be running ‘til 11pm tonight and you’re welcome to come and get some sleep inducing [indistinct] there.


In all seriousness, a couple of quick things. I really want to touch on the issue of empowerment tonight. What you do as principals of course is try to create empowerment within the school communities, to empower your teachers and your staff to the best that they can in terms of the education for the children in those schools. To empower the families in the communities that you work with to help create an environment for learning. To empower the children of course in your schools, to achieve and be all that they can possibly be. And empowerment’s important for a whole range of reasons. But I raise it tonight, because if I look at the framework of recommendations contained in the report recently received from David Gonski – and I acknowledge that we had a number of different educators who contributed to that – what that report really comes together under a theme of is how we empower you [inaudible] work with across the educational field to achieve more, to do more, to create a circumstance where you have the best resources, the best curriculum, the best tools at your disposal to be able to get the best from your staff and from your students. And that of course is all that really we should hope to aspire to do in terms of school education; to create the framework in the environment where you and everybody you are working with in our schools are empowered to achieve the best possible outcomes.


I’ve been very pleased by the reaction to the report. To APPA, I thank you for the statements that you have made and indeed many across the profession have made recognising that the report is not revolution, it’s continued evolution. It’s using technology and opportunities that are available to us now, that weren’t available to us just a few short years ago, to do more, to get better results and hopefully to create an environment and with teachers and those working in schools feel empowered to get those outcomes because they’re able to use their time more efficiently because they have better tools at their disposal.


I do invite you as we work now with the states and territories to engage about the detail of how we ought implement those recommendations. Whether it’s the recommendations about how we define learning progress and ensure that progress develops first and foremost the foundational skills that you as primary principals play such a critical role in ensuring are established in our youngest Australians. The rich knowledge or ultimately the competencies that are necessary to succeed for further study, training, or the workplace. Your advice in that area, your advice is to look at an assessment tool that will be owned and used by the profession in a way to truly chart progress, in a way to track the actual skillset of children and to ensure that it provides real feedback, useful feedback to teachers in schools, that allows teachers to most effectively target their teaching and schools to most effectively target [inaudible] to extend each child to that year’s worth of progress for a year’s worth of study. To ensure that we don’t have cruisers or coasters in our schools that everybody is given the maximum, the best opportunity to perform to the full extent of their capabilities. To help us think about how we then take the richness of data and information that comes from that type of tool, that type of knowledge to then inform continuous research and building of evidence, again owned by the profession supported by principals and teachers to make sure that it informs best practice outcomes. How we work with the states and territories to give you the autonomy, the empowerment and the union to be effective leaders of learning pedagogy in your schools.


They’re all important recommendations. We’ve had some great feedback to date from so many of you. I do want to make sure that these recommendations turn into a framework for reform that is lasting, but also gives common direction for us, a common direction across qualities in the profession, a common direction across the political divide. And I do acknowledge that the Opposition has equally been positive in terms of their response to the Gonski report. The common direction across federal and state governments where we can share direction rather than bicker with one another, which I know will be warmly welcomed by so many people across school education.


There’s a great opportunity here and I’ve been enthused by the reaction so far. It won’t end all debates of all areas of contest, but hopefully if we can build from this framework a solid period of reform that is helpful, that is empowering in the way that it’s done, well we can ultimately get to a situation where we lift regard for the education system, performance across the system, esteem in the system, attractiveness of being a teacher,  attractiveness of being a principal, they are of course the end goals, the ultimate end goal being the best possible achievement for our youngest Australians in terms of their education.


Thank you again as always for the incredible work that you do, not just as principals in your schools, but also taking the time out of your schools, but in addition to the extensive workload you have to be leaders of our school education system, to provide the advocacy, the policy input that you do when you come together as members of APPA, as leaders of the constituent bodies. I really value it. I find engagement with principals to be some of the most rewarding things that I have, aside from of course when I actually get to get out and visit your schools and get engaged with your wonderful young children who are doing such wonderful things across the classroom.


So thanks again for the chance to be with you tonight. My apologies that I can’t stay and listen to Frank but I certainly of course am catching up with Frank again in the near future, but also to continue to work with all of you. Thank you very much.