Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of press conference: Melbourne: 7 December 2016: philanthropy in higher education; Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results

Download PDFDownload PDF

SENATOR THE HON SIMON BIRMINGHAM Minister for Education and Training Senator for South Australia


E&OE TRANSCRIPT Press conference, Melbourne Topics: Philanthropy in higher education; Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results 07/12/2016 10:35AM

Simon Birmingham: Thanks very much for coming along today to the University of Melbourne. I’m delighted to be here at a symposium convened by Universities Australia in conjunction with the University of Melbourne looking at philanthropy in Australian universities, releasing a report of a working group that has undertaken really considered and detailed analysis of what it is that can be done to boost the spirit and culture of giving into Australian universities, to assist more students to learn, to boost our research effort, to derive benefits that will help universities, students, researchers and all Australians in the future through maximising these philanthropic donations. And certainly the Turnbull Government with our record and growing level of support into universities is absolutely committed to working with universities to make sure that they maximise all of the other types of income streams that they can access in the future for their benefit and for the benefit of all Australians.

I also want to pass a couple of comments on the international PISA results that are out today, a very important benchmark in terms of Australia’s schooling system and our performance both as a nation and compared with the rest of the world. These PISA results show that Australia continues to be a high performing education nation, that our schools are performing above OECD averages, but they also have a very stark message for us and that is that our performance is going backwards. We see that across reading, maths and science, Australian students today are not performing as well as they did in the past; that the performance of an ordinary Australian student in year 9 is not what it was today that it was a number of years ago. The performance of and advance to academically gifted student is not what it was a few years ago or that the performance of students who are struggling is not what they were a few years ago. Across the board our results have gone backwards and that is just not good enough.

It comes at a time when governments have spent more than ever in terms of investment in schools and support for Australian students to achieve their best and that is incredibly disappointing to think that we’re spending more but getting poorer results. Since 2003 investment in Australian schools by the Federal Government has gone up by 50 per cent in real terms, yet our results have gone backwards in reading, in science, in maths. It’s unacceptable and we need to change the debate away from one focused entirely on how much is spent to one that is focused much more on the reforms that need to be achieved to reverse these declines.

The Turnbull Government is already delivering. We’re delivering changes in teacher education that ensure all new graduates are tested against their personal literacy and numeracy skills so they have high competencies and capabilities entering the classroom; that we have more specialist teachers going into our schools in the future including in primary schools in maths, science and English fields. We’ve delivered and promising an outline to the states and territories around 12 different areas of reform that we want those states and territories to come on board and support implementation on. From intervention and assessment of the earliest years, higher ambition for maths and sciences in the final years of schooling and more support to keep our most capable teachers in the classroom.

I hope that the states and territories will work constructively with us and put politicking aside, but I’m disappointed today to see that Tanya Plibersek and the Federal Opposition continue to make it a debate purely about money when ideally we have a debate that is focused far more on how it is we best spend and invest that money. And I’m very disappointed that Tanya Plibersek today has misinterpreted what current

school funding arrangements mean. She’s pretended that there is a nirvana that exists in 2019 if all of Labor’s different school funding arrangements were left in place when the reality is that the 27 different funding models leave states and territories at very different levels in terms of the funding that they will reach by 2019 and in fact would take 150 years for some schools to transition into a consistent and coherent funding arrangement in the future. Today’s debate ought not be about money, it ought to be about how we best use that money to reverse what are disappointing declines in our school standards.

Journalist: Senator, the Victorian Government says that Victorian students are actually doing better. What’s your response to that - according to this report?

Simon Birmingham: Well compared to other states, Victoria has managed to broadly speaking, maintain its standard. But as a nation we see across the board all sectors of schooling going backwards and schools across different sociodemographic levels also going backwards in their performance. So we know that there are real problems that need to be addressed right across the nation. Now hopefully we can learn from the states and territories that are doing better than others: Western Australia and the ACT remain the best performers in the nation. But even there we’ve seen some backward slippage and we need to work on why it is that right across the Australian education system we’ve seen a decline over a period of time.

Question: Senator, Australia was significantly outperformed by nine other countries in the PISA report, what exactly has gone wrong in schools?

Simon Birmingham: Firstly, I acknowledge that Australia continues to perform above OECD averages. We have a good school and education system in Australia and I don’t want to see us talking it down. But we also have to be honest that the trend line is going in the wrong direction and that is a factor- or caused by many different factors. Some of those factors will be home influences, some of them may be technological, but some of them have to be issues that we can better address in the classroom. The most important factor in terms of student performance in schools are teachers which is why we have put real focus on how we better train our teachers in the future, get greater subject specialists in our schools and that will remain a priority for the Turnbull Government. We also want to better reward our most competent and capable teachers, as recognised by their peers, by the teaching profession to make sure that we keep more of them in the profession, in the classroom providing teaching and leadership within schools in the future. And investing properly in terms of our teachers, not just in time served, but in those who have real skills we want to keep there and use to influence future generations of teachers is a really critical factor for the future.

Question: How do the children of migrants do in this assessment?

Simon Birmingham: We see across all categories that there are high performers and there are students who are struggling. The concern we have as a Government is that really across every category we’ve seen some slippage in relation to performance and that means we need to look at the system and comprehensive way as to how we lift that. But there are certainly wonderful examples of migrants whose families and children are doing brilliantly in the Australian school system, but elsewhere there are challenges that we ought to seriously address and make sure that they, like all children, are actually on an upwards trajectory, not a downwards trajectory.

Question: If there are some pockets of students that are doing well, we must be doing something right.

Simon Birmingham: And this is absolutely part of the work that we have to do, is looking at those schools in those instances where performance is growing, where our NAPLAN results at a domestic level are showing improvement and analysing what it is that can best be replicated across those schools elsewhere. Now we’ve done some of that work in terms of the policies the Turnbull Government’s proposed which we believe are based on clear evidence that earlier assessment and earlier intervention for students who are not learning to read appropriately can provide lasting benefits through their education. That support for our most competent teachers through better salary arrangements that reward those who are highly capable, who are recognised by the profession, rather than just on time served is a way to lift the calibre of the overall teaching profession and keep our best and brightest in our schools teaching. That if we actually lift the level of ambition by putting in place minimum benchmarks for literacy and numeracy for school leavers and minimum requirements for engagement in maths and science and English for those going on to university, then we actually can have a pressure that flows right through the system for higher levels of attainment in those critical capabilities. So we’ve put a range of policies on the table that we hope the states and territories will work with us to deliver. They ultimately are the managers of our school system, the administrators of our schooling system, but we want to provide and are providing national leadership in terms of the types of reforms that make a difference.

Question: Senator, you made note of one of the things to possibly address is acquiring specialist teachers. Are you looking at or hiring overseas qualified maths and science teachers to recruit them here?

Simon Birmingham: We’ve already indicated that in terms of foreign language teachers we would be open to having a look at if there needs to be a greater flexibility through the visa system. And if the states and territories believe that the hiring of maths or science teachers from overseas is a benefit to them, then we’ll certainly engage in those discussions. But what we’ve done is implement reforms that will ensure in the future there is a stronger pipeline of specialist teachers coming through, particularly in the primary school years, especially in maths, science and English, so that there are more capable specialised teachers able to share knowledge and experience with each other in those school settings which will make a big difference to the future in terms of the establishment of core skills in the early years, that can help with advanced skills in the later years of schooling.

Minister Birmingham’s media contact: James Murphy 0478 333 974 Nick Creevey 0447 664 957

Department Media: