The Age Schools Summit

Speech
  • Minister for Education

I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet today, and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

Every Australian child, no matter where they live, should have access to a world-class education.

The Morrison Government wants every Australian child to reach their potential.

There are many factors that influence a student’s education, today I am going to talk about what I believe are the most important factors where the Federal Government can make a difference.

The first area is funding and our Government is providing real, needs-based funding at record levels to Australian schools.

School funding has increased every year under our Government.

Our Quality Schools package will see a total of $310 billion provided to all schools through to 2029. An increase in funding of 62 per cent per student.

That’s an extra $37 billion.

Total Federal Government recurrent funding will grow by 84.8 per cent over this period.

In Victoria, we will provide $80 billion in recurrent funding to schools.

That’s an extra $9.9 billion.

This funding is guaranteed thanks to our strong economic management.

Through our Quality Schools Package, there will be more Commonwealth Government money for disadvantaged students, including those from remote and regional areas, those with a disability and Indigenous students.

Our Government recognises there are additional costs to educate students attending school in rural, regional and remote areas.

That is why we will provide an estimated $69.7 billion in total Commonwealth funding for schools in regional and remote Australia over 2018 to 2029. This includes extra funding – called a ‘location loading’ – for students going to schools in regional or remote areas – where the more remote a school, the higher its loading.

This money will benefit more than 436,000 primary and 299,000 secondary students attending the 3,357 schools in regional and remote Australia in 2019. In Victoria, 568 regional and remote schools will attract $10 billion over 2018 to 2029 in total Commonwealth recurrent funding.

The Federal Government is putting more money into schools and we are asking the states and territories to also put more into schools.

Our agreement with the Victorian Government will see the Federal Government increase its funding contribution for Victorian government schools to 20 per cent of the School Resource Standard by 2023.

The Victorian Government have committed to increasing their funding contribution for Victorian state government schools to a minimum of 75 per cent of the SRS by 2028.

In 2018, Victorian Government funding for its schools was 67.8 per cent of the SRS, the lowest of any state. Only the Northern Territory was lower.

Under their bilateral agreement, the Victorian Government’s contribution per government school student will increase to an estimated $13,314 by 2023.

This will lift Victoria one rung up the ladder, making it the second lowest state funded of government schools.

The agreements that our Government has reached with every state and territory asks them to make a minimum contribution to fund their schools.

And of course, it is entirely open to Victoria, as the Education State, to increase its funding faster or to provide funding over the 75 per cent minimum contribution.

Which brings me to the second area where the Morrison Government is taking action.

Our Government has linked funding, reforms and outcomes.

This is a true national agreement on a roadmap for reform.

Because the states and territories run the school systems and government schools, the Federal Government has committed to taking the lead on three key reforms:

  • One. Enhancing the Australian Curriculum and supporting teacher assessment of student attainment and growth against clear descriptors. And I will have more to say about this shortly.
  • Two. Creating a national unique student identifier – so student progress can be measured and students better supported no matter where they move in the system across Australia.
  • Three. Establishing a national institute that will build a strong evidence-base to help improve student learning outcomes in schools and early childhood education settings. We are on track to establish the institute next year.

It was our Government that commissioned David Gonski to make recommendations to ensure "Australian students receive a world-class school education, tailored to individual learning needs, and relevant to a fast-changing world".

And it is our Government that is making those reforms a reality because we understand that parents care the most about outcomes and results.

We’re doing this because success in education is about how money is spent, not just about how much money is spent.

As the director of the OECD Directorate for Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher, has observed:

Educational expenditure per student explains less than 20 per cent of the variation in student performance across OECD countries.

For example, students in the Slovak Republic, which spends around US$53,000 per student at 15 years of age, perform at the same level as 15 year old students in the US, which spends over $115,000 per student.

Korea, the highest-performing OECD country in mathematics, spends well below the average per-student expenditure.

So funding can address some of the challenges of our education system, but not all of the challenges.

Earlier this year the Centre for Independent Studies published a report titled ‘Overcoming the Odds: A study of Australia’s top-performing disadvantaged schools’.

The report looked at the 18 top-performing disadvantaged primary schools on the basis of their NAPLAN literacy and numeracy test results.

It identified six practices common to the outstanding schools it analysed.

Crucially none of these high-achieving schools received more funding than other similarly disadvantaged schools.

Top-performing schools taught comprehensive early reading instruction, including Phonemic awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension.

Which brings me to the third area where the Morrison Government is taking action.

Every parent expects that their child will learn to read, write and count at school.

Our Government expects the same.

We believe that strong literacy and numeracy skills are the non-negotiable foundations for every Australians education.

This starts with the Australian Curriculum.

When the curriculum was reviewed in 2014 we increased its focus on phonics.

When the curriculum is considered again next year, our Government will continue to fight for a stronger focus on literacy and numeracy through the curriculum and for the curriculum to be decluttered.

Recommendation 6 in the Gonski review said prioritise the implementation of learning progressions for literacy and numeracy during the early years of schooling to ensure the core foundations for learning are developed by all children by the age of eight.

In response to this, all Australian Governments are developing online and interactive resources to help teachers identify where students are at in their learning and then tailor their teaching accordingly.

We are also going to make better use of the data we collect to drive improvements in teaching practice, school systems and our policies.

Yet there is a clear gap in the assessment of phonics in current early years’ assessments, and phonics is a critical aspect of learning to read.

That is why our Government will invest $10.8 million to develop a Year 1 phonics health check to help identify those students that need more support in learning to read.

We will also develop resources for teachers and parents to help improve the literacy skills of their children.

South Australia has introduced a compulsory phonics check for its year one students and it’s allowing teachers to identify students that need more support, and crucially, to provide that support.

Our Government will also fund the development of resources for teachers to support the teaching of phonics.

We will also ensure that ‘how to teach phonics’ is included in university teaching courses so that new teachers can teach it effectively in their classrooms.

Our Government will also invest $9.5 million to strengthen the capacity of teachers to teach mathematics and numeracy.

Improving the quality of teaching is the fourth area where the Morrison Government is taking action.

The OECD has identified that improving teacher qualifications, skills and training was a policy priority across 31 of 43 education systems in its member countries between 2008 and 2019.

As its report observes: "High-quality teachers are an essential part of a well-functioning education system and are critical to the success of students in school and later in life".

Haim Ginott, a teacher, child psychologist and psychotherapist, put it somewhat more poetically in his 1972 book ‘Teacher and Child’:

"I have come to a frightening conclusion.

"I am the decisive element in the classroom.

"It is my personal approach that creates the climate.

"It is my daily mood that makes the weather.

"As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.

"I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration."

The best thing that we can do to improve outcomes in education is attract the best possible people to the teaching profession, train them to be the best possible teachers, and support them to teach effectively and to continue to improve.

How we teach our teachers to teach is the first step to equipping them with the skills needed to support student learning.

The Government has invested $16.9 million to implement the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group’s recommendations, including:

  • Quality assurance for teacher education courses;
  • Rigorous selection for entry to teaching degrees; and
  • Better assessment of graduates to ensure classroom readiness.

We are working to attract high quality people to the teaching profession by leading the development of a National Teacher Workforce Strategy.

The strategy will support workforce planning by analysing needs in areas that would benefit from a nationally coordinated response.

It will help build our understanding of how to attract, support and retain high-quality teachers, with the aim of staffing all schools and subjects adequately.

We are implementing reforms to the way teachers are trained to ensure they are best-placed to be high-performing teachers from day one in the classroom.

Every teaching student must now sit a literacy and numeracy test to demonstrate that they are in the top 30 per cent of the adult population, before they are allowed to graduate.

In 2018, 90.4 per cent of teaching students met the literacy standard and 90 per cent of students met the numeracy benchmark.

The test is working as intended by ensuring that graduate teachers have the foundational literacy and numeracy skills required.

Trainee teachers must also now pass an assessment that will judge if they have the professional skills to succeed in the classroom.

We are also working with all higher education providers to include phonics in teaching courses so that new teachers are prepared, from day one in the classroom, to use these critical tools.

Through the High Achieving Teachers Program we will fund around 300 new high-achieving university graduates with the skills, knowledge and commitment to become high-quality teachers to be placed in Australian secondary schools.

Our Government will also invest in the development of a high-quality school leadership pipeline by providing an additional $15 million to Teach for Australia to deliver a future leaders program. Under this program, Teach For Australia will train existing high-achieving teachers to become high-quality school leaders in rural, remote and disadvantaged schools.

The OECD identified the establishment of clearly defined standards as a key reform to improve the quality of teaching.

The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers were adopted in December 2010.

Our Government will help teachers to meet and exceed those standards by giving them access to research, evidence and best-practice to help them improve how they teach.

As I said earlier, the Government is delivering on a key recommendation of David Gonski by leading the creation of an independent national evidence institute.

The institute will focus on three areas of work:

  • Generating new evidence;
  • Curating and translating evidence; and
  • Mobilising knowledge.

Our Government is also working to give teachers more time back in their day to focus on teaching students and improving themselves as teachers.

We have tasked the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership to develop a National Strategy to support schools to address the abuse of teachers and school leaders in the classroom.

And we will ask Education Council to review the compliance and regulation burdens imposed on teachers.

We want teachers and school leaders to be free from red tape and feeling safe in their workplace so they have more time and space to focus on teaching their students and improving themselves as educators.

The fifth area where the Morrison Government is taking action is through our support of NAPLAN.

Let me be clear: The Federal Government backs NAPLAN.

NAPLAN provides transparency to parents and feedback for teachers.

Parents should expect to be able to see progress in their child’s education.

The Federal Government wants parents to see results from our record funding.

NAPLAN gives parents a picture of how their child is progressing from a national perspective. It is a snapshot that provides a basis for further discussion with the student’s teacher.

NAPLAN doesn’t get the credit it deserves.

When it comes to NAPLAN, the people most responsible for our school systems, state governments, find a dead cat to drop on the table to divert attention away from the results.

As Boris Johnson once observed about the effectiveness of the dead cat strategy: when you drop a dead cat on the table that is all anyone will be talking about and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.

The people who should be held accountable for NAPLAN performance spend more time blaming the test and not enough time talking about the results.

Last year, the dead cat was "the online tests and written tests weren’t comparable". This year, "we’re having a NAPLAN review and the system should be replaced".

It’s a classic dead cat strategy and it has the desired effect.

When this year’s NAPLAN results were published in August, The Age’s page one report led with the review:

"Victorian Education Minister James Merlino will push for an overhaul of NAPLAN, including linking the test for year 9 students to future job applications."

You had to turn to page six to find a mention of the Victorian results.

The Age’s Victorian competition, led with this: "Poor participation rates and stagnating results for year 9 students in NAPLAN have pushed the Victorian Government towards a major overhaul of the annual test."

Here’s how the ABC led its coverage of the 2019 NAPLAN results:

"Victoria is leading a push for an overhaul of the NAPLAN school testing system, proposing a job certificate to help engage students and a change to the ages of test-takers, to combat flagging results in high schools."

You can be sure that Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland wouldn’t be pushing for a full review of NAPLAN if their school systems were returning outstanding results and Australia led the world in student literacy and numeracy.

The states and the unions may want us to talk about "a dead cat", but let’s talk about results.

Every state and territory education minister has agreed to the transition of NAPLAN online, this will give parents, students and our educators more timely, and more refined results.

The Morrison Government is open to considering a review of NAPLAN to ensure it is fit for purpose for the next decade once it has fully and successfully transitioned to online.

But let me repeat: the Federal Government supports NAPLAN.

At the start of this speech I said there are many factors that influence a student’s education.

And I have spoken about areas where the Morrison Government is taking action to have a more positive effect on student’s education:

  • By providing record funding;
  • By driving the Gonski reforms;
  • By insisting that literacy and numeracy skills must remain the essential elements of a high-quality education and backing that belief with action; 
  • By supporting quality teaching and school leadership; and
  • By increasing transparency for parents and data for schools through NAPLAN.

I would like to conclude by making some observations about some factors that are beyond the power of the Federal Government.

If I was the Victorian Education Minister just for one day, the first thing I would do would be to provide greater autonomy to parents, teachers and principals.

Empower the parents to be active in the governance and direction of their school through a school board with real power to influence change.

Empower the teachers to improve the quality and instruction of their day-to-day teaching.

Empower the principal to employ the best teachers and to reward the high-performing teachers.

I’ve been to many government, Independent and Catholic schools around Australia, and the schools that encourage this sort of independence are showing clear results. Visit Doveton here in Victoria if you want proof.

The Federal Government will deliver on its commitments. We need the states and territories to deliver on their commitments.

We have three years to deliver on election promises and to continue our reform agenda that will deliver improved educational outcomes.

But as David Gonski has observed about the nature of reforms they are part of an integrated package, not discrete ideas to be adopted in isolation.

For the sake of our young people, we cannot let Federal v State rivalries stand in the way of reform, we cannot let our federated model of government become a chokepoint for change. All of us must influence the factors that we control to make a positive impact on a student’s education.

We need to support teachers and principals to continue delivering the highest quality education.

Our students deserve nothing less.

Because every Australian child, no matter where they live, should have access to a world-class education.

Thank you.

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