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PETER GARRETT: Today’s results from both the maths and science international evaluation, and also for the first time the literacy evaluation, are an absolute warning and sign and wake-up call for us a nation when it comes to education. And today’s results are evidence, if we ever needed it, that now is the time for a National Plan for School Improvement. Today’s results tell us that business as usual is simply not acceptable when it comes to education reform and it is absolutely implausible for anybody now in the country to defend the status quo when it comes to education reform.

Today’s international results also say that now is not the time that state governments should be reducing funding in education. So these international results are saying to us very clearly that is it time for a National Plan for School Improvement, it’s time for a whole of nation effort to lift the results of kids in all our schools.

I want to make a couple of other points about the results of today and then I’m happy to take any questions. The first thing to say is that results highlight a couple of things that I think are really significant and important. One of those is that the gap between our lowest performing and our highest performing students is very large in Australia compared to other countries. The results today tell us that more countries are outperforming Australia in education and that means we have a national task to improve our schools, one that this government is totally committed to.

Remember that these tests were conducted in 2010 and since that time we’ve seen the introduction of a national curriculum under the Federal Labor Government. We’ve seen significant amounts of funding under the Smarter Schools National Partnerships start to be given effect in the classroom setting. We’ve seen national standards for teachers introduced and adopted. We’ve seen the finalisation in the largest investment in school facilities the nation’s ever seen with the Building the Education Revolution.

Finally these tests happened at the same time as the Government initiated the Gonski Review into education funding, recognising that as a nation we needed to do better, and wanting to know clearly how we could do a better job. We’ve accepted the majority of the recommendations of the Gonski Review, we are committed to a new education funding model which focuses on the needs of all students, in all schools. If ever there was a time for us to realise how important that commitment is, that time is today.

We are calling on the states and education authorities to recognise the absolutely crucial stage that we’ve reached in education reform and to join us co-operatively to deliver an education funding model that can meet the needs of students, and that can start to arrest some of the figures that we’ve seen come out in this international testing. Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: Minister, were you surprised at just how badly Australia did in reading in particular?

PETER GARRETT: I think the results in reading are a real cause for concerns and education authorities need to take a very hard look at them. We’ve seen substantial investment under our national partnerships in literacy and numeracy and I’m very pleased to say that since these tests were done we’ve seen some welcome improvement signs across the nation. Particularly around 70 per cent of the schools that were involved in our literacy and numeracy partnerships have seen some improvements in their student body, but there’s clearly more to be done.

And it’s also, by the way, when we look at these reading results, it’s also a message not only to schools, not only to education authorities but it’s also a message to parents. We must make sure as parents that we’re connecting with our kids in primary school, that we’re reading to them, that we’re taking an interest in what they’re doing in school, helping them along the way, knowing what they’re doing for homework.

But finally, and ultimately most importantly, we need a national effort, a national plan for improvement in education. These test results show us that there is an urgent need for state and territories to get on board and address those issues including literacy and numeracy which are so important to the future of our kids.

JOURNALIST: Minister the tests, as you point, out were held in 2010. You seem to be saying that in 2012 we might already be seeing some improvement. Do you have anything to base that on?

PETER GARRETT: I think we can say where we’ve had the Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership that the federal government provided resources for - we’re seeing signs of improvement in a majority of schools that receive that funding. Look, I think the other thing to say is this: we know what makes a difference in the classroom. That’s why we want as National Plan for School Improvement, a plan that provides more autonomy and control for school principals, more support for young teachers coming through for the first time, and for teachers over time, to improve teacher quality. For each school to have its own school plan for improvement. Focusing on the needs of students and making sure that the resources are applied to students, particularly in their primary years.

We can take some small comfort from this report today. What is it? We can say that for our indigenous students we’re seeing some small signs of improvement, including in the primary years in maths. And we can see that in Year 4 maths generally, kids are doing okay. But for the rest of these results what we can say is that Australian students are flat lining, going backwards in some instances, or not going forward as quickly as we need them to do.

We can also say that for the principals in schools, those principals who weren’t experiencing resource shortages were able to see better results in their schools compared to those principals that were experiencing resource problems. So for state governments to be cutting their investment in education, these international results show that this is the last thing that they should be doing. And for all us, it’s a clear sign that we need a National Plan for School Improvement, a plan that this Labor Government is committed to and I do very much want the states and education authorities to cooperate as deliver that plan next year.

JOURNALIST: In terms of the states, NSW had the biggest gap between the best performing students and the worst performing students. Is that a concern, the size of the gap?

PETER GARRETT: The size of the gap between our worst performing students and our best performing students is a matter of real concern for us and it’s one of the things that was specifically identified in the Gonski Review. And it’s one of those elements that would be specifically addressed in the National Plan for School Improvement.

We need an education funding system in Australia that’s based on the needs of all students and that makes sure that every student has the groundings in their education to get a good job in the future. Now that clearly hasn’t happened in the past. This is a massive wake-up call for education authorities and for the community at large, that when it comes to education we need to apply the necessary investment and the policy to get the job done, something that this Labor Government is absolutely committed to.

JOURNALIST: You talk about the funding issue but is there a chance now or is there a need to review the ATAR scores (inaudible).

PETER GARRETT: Well it’s true that one of the findings of this international evaluation is that some of our teachers in the primary school setting are not feeling as comfortable or as confident in teaching maths and science as they would like to be. We certainly are focusing on teacher training and on teacher quality. That will be an important component of a National Plan for School Improvement.

We’ve already begun the process of both providing national standards for teachers and also for drawing from the top 30 per cent of the population in literacy and numeracy for trainee teachers. But I do think there’s more to be done and I certainly expect to discuss that, not only with my federal colleagues but also with the training institutions themselves in the future.

JOURNALIST: Minister, there was a big gap between the states in these results. The ACT did very well and other states did quite poorly. What are those states that are doing well doing right?

PETER GARRETT: I think that one thing that you can take from the difference in performance by states is that generally speaking where you have higher socio-economic communities, where you have parents that are educated, and where there are books in the homes, then kids tend to do better. And in some of our states, especially large proportions of students are not achieving to their capacity and this is something that is absolutely vital to address.

As a nation, in the 21st century, where the economic and political weight will be in Asia, and where the jobs and prospects for our young kids are in this region, we cannot afford to leave behind such a large proportion of kids, particularly in states like the Northern Territory and Tasmania.

Now I think the NSW results are fair when we look at the other states, and the ACT results are pretty good compared to the other states. But that’s because they draw from a parent population from a higher socio-economic background. We need to break this fatal link between socio-economic background and student performance. We can do that with a new funding model and a National Plan for School Improvement. But we have to get on with it, something that I’m totally committed to and I want to take other education ministers with me on that journey.

JOURNALIST: On another matter, Peter Slipper’s been successful today in court in having the case brought against him by James Ashby being thrown out. Does this mean the case that the Federal Government’s been making (inaudible) about it being a smear campaign?

PETER GARRETT: Well the Commonwealth welcomes the decision by the court today in the Peter Slipper matter and the person who now has to answer serious questions is the Shadow Attorney-General Senator Brandis. He was the one that made a call on this case when he shouldn’t have. He’s the one that needs to answer questions now because it’s clearly been an abuse of process and the court has found accordingly.