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Interview on SKY News Live with David Speers – Turnbull Government’s plan for student achievement; higher education reform

Ministers:

Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham
Minister for Education and Training

David Speers:  With me now is the Education Minister Simon Birmingham, thank you for joining us this afternoon.

Simon Birmingham:  Good afternoon David.

David Speers:  So, what you’ve announced is less than what Gonski recommended, about $3 billion less. Was the Gonski Panel wrong about that or is it simply that you just can’t afford to do what they recommended?

Simon Birmingham:  Well, it’s certainly less, David, than what the Labor Party’s promising. It’s less than what the 27 different funding deals that they struck when they were in government would actually drive towards and we do need to appreciate there’s a significant difference between what principles David Gonski spoke about and what, in the end, Julia Gillard and Bill Shorten delivered in government because what they delivered were 27 quite different funding agreements that drive costs up far more than the principles of David Gonski would actually have had you end up with.

Now, we will stand by principles of needs-based funding but we must also live within our means and so that’s …

David Speers:  Just on that, on needs-based funding, I mean, he did put forward- the panel put forward a very detailed plan as to how you do needs-based funding and then negotiations were held with the states and most of them signed up. What you’re committing, you say, is needs-based funding but what’s the model? Are you using the same model here or a slightly different model to divvy up this $1 billion?

Simon Birmingham:  Well, we’ll apply the principles from Gonski that we think can work and that certainly is ensuring principles around loadings and support for students who need greater assistance, so students from low socio economic backgrounds, students with disability, Indigenous students, students from regional and remote areas, they all receive …

David Speers:  But not from a student resource standard that he said every kid deserves this amount of money?

Simon Birmingham:  So, the Student Resource Standard is a mathematical equation if you like. Now, we need to make sure we live within our means. The states and territories …

David Speers:  [Interrupts] So, will you meet that, just [indistinct]?

Simon Birmingham:  Well, nor would the Labor Party actually if you look at the detail for their policy. Julia Gillard and Bill Shorten didn’t propose meeting that. They were some way off that mark and, as far as I’m aware, Bill Shorten and Kate Ellis are proposing to be some way off that mark as well. So, ultimately you have to look at the detail of the policies but David, we’re not making any excuses for spending less than the Labor Party. We will spend less, we will tax less, but funding is growing …

David Speers:  No, I appreciate that. I’m just wondering how you’re going to share this money that you’ve announced because it was only a few weeks ago Malcolm Turnbull has flagging the idea of the Commonwealth getting right out of public school funding altogether as an option. So, how much work’s really gone in to what you’ve announced now?

Simon Birmingham:  We’ve been working on this for quite some period of time and Malcolm …

David Speers:  More than three weeks?

Simon Birmingham:  Absolutely. Malcolm had a discussion with the state leaders about whether they wanted to take on increased revenue responsibilities in return for then having the opportunity to spend what they wanted to spend in their school systems or a whole range of other areas, it should…

David Speers:  Right, so how much.

Simon Birmingham:  … be presented that we ever expected less money to go to schools. It was about, of course, whether the states wanted to raise it themselves.

David Speers:  Alright. So of this 1.2 billion, how much goes to public schools, how much goes to independent Catholic schools?

Simon Birmingham:  Well, the 1.2 billion is additional. Ultimately what we’re looking at is a  total sum of allocation that this year is around $16.2 billion growing to $20.1 billion by 2020…

David Speers:  The extra money you’ve announced, how much goes to public schools?

Simon Birmingham:  …now, the exact distribution of that will be a matter for negotiation between the states and territories and the non-government schooling sector.

David Speers:  What’s your starting point, you’re the man with the money, what’s- what are you giving?

Simon Birmingham:  Well the starting point of course is where we’re currently at, but it’s important to have the states and territories at the table, because if you don’t…

David Speers:  So the same division as this...?

Simon Birmingham:  …because we don’t have a neat arrangement in relation to school funding at present, the Commonwealth has always under governments of all persuasions paid more to non-government schools, and the states and territories pay more to their state and territory government schools. So we need to actually do that together…

David Speers:  [Talks over] Okay, [indistinct] how much of this extra money goes to public schools, how much goes to independent schools and stuff, that’s up for negotiation.

Simon Birmingham:  In totality, non-government schools have always received less funding than government schools, and they will continue to receive less funding than government schools in totality, and our needs based approach of course guarantees that we will give more to students in totality from low SES schools than occurs elsewhere.

David Speers:  Now you’re also attaching to this money some requirements. Teacher pay is always a very sensitive issue we know with the education unions, are you trying to link what they earn to how their students perform?

Simon Birmingham:  No, no. So you’re right to highlight the conditions, because this is the central difference between us and the Labor Party when you look at schools. More money from both sides – Labor’s promising to spend a lot more, tax a lot more, but our funding will be conditional upon actually getting real reforms in our schools. One of those is support for our most able, most capable teachers. Now the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership has developed standards to recognise highly capable teachers, lead teachers within schools who provide mentoring.

David Speers:  How do they do that?

Simon Birmingham:  They have a very proper and thorough process, teachers submit essentially a manifesto of their work, their capabilities to have that undertaken by expert assessment of other educators, it is very peer-based.

David Speers:  [Talks over] It’s got nothing to do with the students’ performance?

Simon Birmingham:  Not at all, not at all. And in fact one of the things in our policy platform there is not only then to encourage the rewarding of those highly accomplished teachers in terms of greater pay and recognition, but then to have it reported as to how many of those highly accomplished are in schools and to have the states and territories for schools of disadvantage set targets to get more highly accomplished teachers into those schools. So it really is about trying to lift the rewards for great teachers to stay in the education system, and then to get more of those great teachers in the schools that need them most.

David Speers:  Final one. Higher education: we don’t know the detail yet, we’ll get it tomorrow night, is that right, in the Budget on what you’re going to do with deregulation and student fees and so on?

Simon Birmingham:  I’ve been very clear for a little while now, we’ll get the details before the election and we’ll definitely get them before the election …

David Speers:  [Interrupts] But maybe not tomorrow night in the Budget.

Simon Birmingham:  Well, it will be before the election David, and of course tomorrow night is before the election as well.

David Speers:  Do you still want to deregulate student fees?

Simon Birmingham:  I want to make sure that access to university is equitable, that students don’t have to pay a dollar up front, that we don’t have anybody fearful about going to university and the impacts of that; but I do also want to make sure that we encourage our universities to pursue areas of excellence, to innovate, and to differentiate from one another. And there’ll be details that address all of those different principles when we get to the policy [indistinct] …

David Speers:  [Interrupts] Deregulation with some regulation?

Simon Birmingham:  Well, there’s always plenty of regulation when there’s billions of government dollars flowing into a sector.

David Speers:  Simon Birmingham, thank you very much for joining us this afternoon, appreciate it.

Simon Birmingham:  Pleasure David, great to be with you.

David Speers:  We’ll talk sometime before the election getting into higher education with you as well. Appreciate it.