The Age Schools Summit – Address, Melbourne Convention Centre, Melbourne
It is wonderful to be with you and great to see:
- The Hon James Merlino, Deputy Premier of Victoria and Minister for Education;
- Ms Jenny Atta PSM, Secretary, Department of Education and Training Victoria;
- Mr Mark Grant PSM, CEO of Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership;
- Mr David de Carvalho, ACARA’s Chief Executive Officer;
- Mr Adam Carey, Education Editor for The Age,
and all guests here today including principals, teachers, education administrators and sector leaders.
To begin, I want to acknowledge everyone in the education sector for your extraordinary efforts, particularly over the last two years with the pandemic and I want to make special note of those parents, teachers and educators who are facing challenges right now with the recent floods in Queensland and Northern NSW.
The floods have taken a particularly heavy toll with more than 200 schools impacted across NSW and Queensland. Five schools remain closed and both state and commonwealth are working together to ensure those children get back into the classroom. Whether that is at the local uni in Lismore—Southern Cross University—or tying up with other schools.
Two schools in Lismore, have literally been wiped off the face off the earth and will have to be rebuilt and the Commonwealth will be there to support them.
Many teachers are still dealing with their own homes, with their own sense of tragedy while supporting their families – and supporting the children of their schools. Governments of all persuasions are stepping in to assist as you would expect.
Here in Victoria the great challenge over the last two years has been the pandemic which saw significant disruptions to face-to-face learning. Educators here in Victoria stepped up to support students and showed extraordinary agility in shifting classes to digital platforms.
Today, more than 4 million school students have been welcomed back to the classroom for the 2022 school year.
The return to normal face-to-face learning is essential for students’ learning and wellbeing and I, as the Education Minister and the Morrison Government only want to see schools closed in extreme circumstances.
In January, National Cabinet agreed to the National Framework that promotes a consistent approach to delivering high-quality education for all students. It maximises opportunities for face-to-face learning, while minimising transmission in classrooms.
By all accounts, the feedback I am getting across Australia is all states and territories preparation and rollout have achieved the desired effect: kids are back in classrooms and are staying there.
The successful return to school in Term 1 is a credit to the commitment of our school leaders, communities, parents and students.
You’ve been a calm, steady support for our children and their parents in uncertain times.
So thank you to all educators, teachers, parents, administrators across the country for all your efforts over the last few years.
The Morrison Government is not taking a business-as-usual approach to education. We have already answered the call on funding through the current funding agreement; we’ve recognised the issues at hand and we will respond with policies on how we get the best outcomes for our children whilst we support educators and teachers.
Today, I want to talk about where we are as a nation on education.
I want to outline the immediate challenges we all face and our approach to reversing declining standards and how we can set a higher trajectory for student outcomes over the coming decade.
Firstly the immediate challenge.
Once among the top nations in education around the world, Australia currently sits in the middle of the pack.
The data does not lie. In PISA, the authoritative international school assessments, Australia has dropped down the rankings over the last 20 years for literacy from 4th to 16th, science from 8th to 17th and mathematics from 11th to 29th.
Since 2000, Australia’s performance in reading has declined by 26 points or the equivalence of nine months of schooling.
In Maths we have fallen 33 points since 2003 or by 14 months of schooling.
In Science we have fallen 24 points since 2006 or by 11 months in schooling.
We are being significantly outperformed in our region. Australia is now three years behind Singapore students on maths. And it is not just the Asian tigers that have moved ahead of us. The UK, Canada and New Zealand, countries we use to outperform, are now ahead of us.
This decline is despite a 60 per cent increase in real per student funding over the same period.
For decades, we have heard that substantial funding increases are the surest way to lift student performance.
But it is very clear from the data: simply increasing funding does not alone guarantee results.
The Government is providing record school funding for Australian schools in all sectors totalling some $315.2 billion between 2018 and 2029 under the Quality Schools package that the Coalition Government put in place.
We expect funding to grow by 87 per cent from 2018 to 2029: a growth rate of 100 per cent for government schools, and 78 per cent for non-government schools.
The Commonwealth has taken the lead when it comes to delivering consistent funding increases for all schools.
Here in Victoria, for example, the latest Report on Government Services shows that between 2013 and 2020, the Commonwealth has increased school funding by 76 per cent. Over the same period, the State Government lifted funding by 49 per cent. Over this same 7-year period Commonwealth contributions to Victorian government schools increased by 94 per cent whilst the Victorian Government’s contribution to their own government schools increased by 51 per cent.
There is no question that the Commonwealth is meeting our responsibility when it comes to funding and we will continue to do so. We will meet, as planned, our School Resourcing Standard targets by 2023. Increases are locked in over the next decade that will see our school funding grow by more than $1 billion on average every year.
The challenge for all governments is to ensure that funding is spent in ways that help improve education outcomes for all students and return us to the leading group of education nations in the world.
The debate is no longer about funding.
Secondly – the Commonwealth’s plan to reverse declining school standards
With school funding in REAL terms increasing by 60 per cent whilst our International rankings have moved us significantly below the OECD average, we all need to respond.
That’s why we have been unflinching in our focus on three strategic pillars of our plan to see Australia again ranked among the top OECD nations in educational outcomes by 2030.
Firstly, what students are taught. We must strengthen the national curriculum and lift our expectations for student learning, to match the best school systems around the world.
Second, how students are taught. The quality of teaching is the key determinant of student outcomes, and we are determined to support our teaching workforce to be as effective as possible.
And thirdly, the environment in which students learn. We need to ensure that Australia’s classrooms are supportive, engaging and conducive to learning for all students.
At the core of what students are taught, the first pillar, is the Australian Curriculum.
Australian parents, students and teachers expect and deserve a world-class national curriculum.
Improving curriculum quality is a steadfast commitment from the Morrison Government because it is vital to ensuring every young Australian develops the skills and knowledge they need to thrive in our rapidly changing world.
Since June 2020, ACARA has been reviewing the curriculum with the aim of decluttering, or reducing content, to ensure it is rigorous and reflects students’ needs, with a particular priority given the strengthening literacy and numeracy development.
Parents and the broader community have been engaged in this process because they care deeply about the curriculum and what our children learn at school.
The improved curriculum must communicate clearly what it is students need to know and the standard of achievement they must reach.
A great deal of hard work, expert input, and many robust conversations have gone into the curriculum review – and so they should.
Australia’s Education Ministers considered updates to the Australian Curriculum in February 2022.
I’m encouraged by the progress that’s been made.
ACARA has made significant improvements to refine, realign, and declutter the content of the curriculum, with a focus on reducing content in primary schools and lifting quality.
However, as far as the Morrison Government is concerned, we are not there yet. The McGowan Government in Western Australia also agrees that we aren’t there yet. Given this we asked ACARA to make further improvements in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) and Mathematics.
Our history curriculum must be balanced, properly teach students about the origins of Australia’s liberal democratic institutions and promote a strong understanding and pride in who we are as a nation.
As someone who has served Australia in uniform, it makes me proud when I see Australian students engaged and interested in the Anzac legacy – and this is something I will continue to promote as part of the history curriculum.
All Education Ministers asked for additional work on the mental health aspects of the Health and Physical Education curriculum – I will have more to say on the wellbeing of our students in a moment.
Education Ministers will consider the revised curriculum following revisions to Mathematics and HASS and, if satisfied, it will be ready for jurisdictions to implement from 2023.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all those who contributed to this curriculum update – especially those parents who have made sure their voices are heard about what students learn at school.
I’m proud of what we have achieved together in improving the draft Curriculum over the past year – and these gains would not have been made without our Government fighting for higher standards.
Can I especially thank the CEO of ACARA, Mr David de Carvalho for all of his work. Whilst I’m sure the letter is in the mail, for the record I’ve re-appointed David for a further three years and I look forward to working with him.
The second pillar of our framework to lift school standards is about how students are taught.
I have been upfront and unashamed to say I want high quality teaching in every classroom in Australia – and that I don’t think we are there yet. Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of teachers are doing a great job. But we need to acknowledge the fact there are still some teachers across our education system—both public and independent—who are not delivering the learning gains our kids need.
We’ve been committed to raising the bar on entry to teaching. Since 2017, students in teaching degrees have been required to pass LANTITE to complete their qualification and be employed at a school.
We know that 10 per cent of students in teaching degrees fail LANTITE – which tests whether a person has the foundational literacy and numeracy capabilities required to be an effective teacher.
This hasn’t just started in 2017, 2017 is when the LANTITE gate was introduced.
LANTITE as a barrier test is an important step, and from 2023, students will be able to sit the test before commencing their studies, so they can make informed decisions about their suitability to become a teacher. This is fairer on the student and better for the schooling system.
But we have to ask ourselves some difficult questions. How is it that one in 10 prospective teachers are failing foundational literacy and numeracy tests, and what does it say about our schooling system?
Our objective is to attract the best and brightest to become teachers.
Concerningly only 4 per cent of students with an ATAR above 80 are choosing teaching. Over the last 15 years there has been a 32% drop in the proportion of high achievers choosing teaching degrees – the largest drop in any field.
The Grattan institute estimates that recruiting a higher achieving teaching workforce would boost the average student’s learning by 6-12 months.
Since 2013, our Government has been focused on improving initial teacher education to ensure we select high-quality candidates into teaching degrees and train them to be effective in the classroom from day one.
In 2014, we established the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group – or TEMAG.
On TEMAG’s advice, we introduced the LANTITE tests to ensure new teachers have the essential literacy and numeracy skills themselves to impart this knowledge on their students.
We reformed the accreditation standards for teaching degrees to mandate that every primary education degree must include content on phonics so that teachers are properly equipped to help children learn to read.
We have supported innovative programs such as Teach for Australia to place more than 1000 exceptional new teachers in regional, remote and disadvantaged schools since 2013. Close to half of all Teach for Australia teachers teach STEM subjects.
This investment is particularly important in the context of growing teacher shortages in key subject areas. We know in high school maths, for instance, that one in four students are taught by someone without a maths teaching qualification.
The Commonwealth will continue to push ahead with the next evolution of teacher education reforms.
In February, I released the final report of the Quality Initial Teacher Education Review. The Report highlights three key areas to help new teachers be most effective:
- The first is attracting high-quality candidates into initial teacher education.
- The second is ensuring their preparation is evidence-based and practical.
- And third, inducting new teachers well.
When I released the Review Report, I announced a new quality assessment expert panel to design a performance framework for initial teacher education courses and to investigate the link between performance and funding.
We want everyone who signs up to be a teacher to have the best possible training, but the Review found that the quality of courses varies across the sector.
With an annual investment of around $760 million, it’s critical that the Government and the Australian people have confidence that every higher education provider is delivering quality, evidence-based ITE programs.
A closer link between course quality and funding is not only appropriate, it is a powerful lever to incentivise quality improvement across the sector.
I’ve asked Professor Mark Scott AO to chair this quality assessment panel. He brings unique experience to this role. As Secretary of Education in NSW, Mark was the largest employer of teachers in the Southern Hemisphere. Now, as Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sydney, he oversees teacher education courses.
I have full confidence that Mark will consult broadly and advise Government by the end of the year on the best mechanism for quality assessment and funding in ITE.
We will have more announcements over the coming weeks to address more of the Review’s recommendations and ensure that Australia has quality teaching in every classroom in the country.
It is a hard fact we need to lift initial teacher education standards.
The environment in which students learn
The final pillar of our plan is to support a classroom environment in which students and teachers can perform at their best.
As over 4 million students have returned to face-to-face learning after two years of interrupted learning, school leaders are focused on how to re-engage students in the classroom so they can achieve their best.
It’s essential that classrooms are well-managed, conducive to learning, safe and supportive – for all our students.
We should all be concerned that Australia’s classrooms are becoming more disrupted.
The OECD school disciplinary climate ranks Australia 70 out of 77 countries when measuring the extent to which students miss learning opportunities due to disruptive behaviour in the classroom. Back in 2013, we scored at the international average on this metric.
- 40 per cent of students say that their peers don’t listen to what the teacher says, up from 20 per cent twenty years ago.
- 43 per cent of students say there is noise and disorder in most or all lessons.
- 80 per cent of teachers say they have been subject to harassment in the past year and one in three principals have been exposed to physical violence from students.
This is harrowing stuff.
Building positive learning environments involves recognising the needs of all children, including neuro-diverse students, those with a disability and Indigenous students.
Creating engaged classrooms that help students achieve their best is a national priority, and therefore a key pillar of the Government’s strategy for improving educational outcomes.
And we know our teachers have been doing it tough, and need our support - that’s why the Morrison Government will kick start this today by making an investment of $3.5 million over the next two years to highlight best practice across the country. We’ll have more to say on the next steps in the coming weeks.
We aren’t asking academics and self-appointed experts to advise on what teachers should do – we’re asking teachers to share their expertise, their experiences and their proven methods to make sure our schools are safe and engaging for all.
We are going to support three of our best and brightest to work for two years to develop practical classroom resources. For example, we’ll look to develop a best practice podcast for teachers amongst many other ideas.
This podcast will cover everything from traditional classroom management and disruption practices, to how schools can best support neuro-diverse students, students with disabilities and Indigenous students to feel engaged and perform at their best.
Of course, to perform at their best students need to feel healthy and supported.
We recognise that our young people have been heavily impacted by COVID-19 lockdowns, creating increased levels of stress and anxiety and disrupted school routines – not to mention the loss of social and sporting activities.
Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians remains one of the Government’s highest priorities.
That’s why we have invested $2.3 billion in the 2021-22 Budget for the National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan.
Since March 2020, more than $1 billion in funding has been made available to respond to the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Government also provides funding for several school-based wellbeing programs, such as $61 million annually for the National School Chaplaincy Program.
It assists more than 3,000 schools each year to engage the services of a school chaplain to support the school community by providing pastoral care and agreed school support strategies.
We’ve put in $144 million for the Be You Program which provides teachers and early learning educators with support to teach children skills for good social and emotional development.
We’ve provided $8 million for the Bushfire Response Program which provides support to schools and child care communities. No doubt, we’ll be supporting schools and communities following the recent floods.
The Government also provides a suite of free online resources on the Student Wellbeing Hub for students, parents and educators to create and maintain safe and supportive school environments.
This year, we have seen a successful return to face-to-face learning under the agreed national plan framework after two years of disruptions. Schools and teachers have been extraordinary.
Now we have to face up to the serious issue of declining student outcome standards despite record funding increased in REAL terms over the same period of 60 per cent.
The Morrison Government has a clear plan for what we believe is needed now to lift the trajectory of the school system.
A strong curriculum, quality teaching, orderly classrooms. What students are taught, how they are taught it, and the environment in which they learn.
We have a plan for these three pillars which we are getting on with delivering and the Morrison Gov’t looks forwards to working with you all on these most worthy of endeavours.
Our kids can’t afford a business-as-usual approach.