TRANSCRIPT: ABC AM, Wednesday 3 August 2016






SUBJECTS: Release of preliminary NAPLAN results; the Government's cuts to schools


MICHAEL BRISSENDEN, PRESENTER: Tanya Plibersek, thanks for joining us.


BRISSENDEN: How do you explain the plateauing of results here, because after all the first 3 years of the Gonski model had gone ahead as negotiated by the previous Labor Government?

PLIBERSEK: Well the first 3 years of the Gonski school education funding were important, but they were just a fraction of what we intended to do in our schools to lift teacher quality, to invest more in individual students, to make sure that kids who were falling behind in maths or reading were able to catch up, to make sure that kids who were gifted and talented were extended. This is not a reflection of the implementation of the Gonski School Funding arrangement, it’s a reflection of the fact that this Government has failed to fully implement a needs-based funding system. It’s very disappointing to see that Australian schools have plateaued in this way and I think that the Minister likes to say that it’s not all about money; that’s just a cover up for the fact that they’re ripping $29 billion out of our schools. Of course it’s not all about money, it’s about what we do with that money in our schools to lift our standards.

BRISSENDEN: But again, the money that’s been spent so far – the 23% funding increase as the Minister points to – is pretty much what either side of Government had committed to up to this point, isn’t it? And yet, we still see a plateau.

PLIBERSEK: And we know that years 5 and 6 of the Gonski school funding -

BRISSENDEN: Yeah but we haven’t gotten there yet, have we? 

PLIBERSEK: - was due to ramp up very substantially and that’s where we expected to see a take-off in improvements. But there’s a couple of other things that I’d say Michael that are very important here. This Government came in saying that they’d be on a unity ticket with Labor on school funding, and then they did a couple of things that were very importantly different from what we were proposing. First of all, there’s the future funding cuts that we’ve talked about - $29 billion – but they also retreated from the demands that we made of states, about how they would use that extra funding, the transparency and accountability measures that we had. And in fact they gave extra funding to some states with no strings attached that saw some states then decrease their own investment in education at a state level. So, for a party that says this is not all about funding, they’ve been pretty quick to spray around the extra funding without the extra accountability measures that would have driven higher student performance, that we -

BRISSENDEN: So they should be tougher on the states, is that what you’re saying?

PLIBERSEK: No, they should have a cooperative relationship with the states that actually ensures that we invest extra funding in what we know works. We know that it works to invest in teacher quality, to give teachers the supports they need in classrooms to self-evaluate and continue to improve their own teaching. We know what works is investing one-on-one with kids who are falling behind. And that’s happening at a school-level – I can see improvements as I visit schools. I went to a school in my own electorate last week where they’ve invested the early years of their extra Gonski funding into speech pathology and occupational therapy. So kids who are starting school who couldn’t speak a sentence or hold a pencil properly were catching up with their peers. That’s how you launch a kid on a lifelong learning journey. We’ve seen schools across Australia that have invested in more individual attention that are seeing extraordinary, outstanding results in improving, not just their NAPLAN performance – that’s only one measure of performance – but certainly improving their NAPLAN performance, but improving the engagement of kids at school, the attendance of children at school.

BRISSENDEN: Much of what you said there basically, essentially, have been said by the Minister, Simon Birmingham in the previous interview. Because he points to better targeting incentives for teachers, better targeting of spending, early intervention – all those areas where the Government says it’s working hard to improve.

PLIBERSEK:  But they’re doing it at the same time as cutting $29 billion from our schools. You can’t achieve better results while cutting funding. This is the smoke and mirrors trick of Simon Birmingham, he says it’s not all about -

BRISSENDEN: But funding hasn’t been cut though, has it?

PLIBERSEK:  $29 billion will be cut from our schools over coming years, compared with what the Government agreed to do, which was fully implement the Gonski School Funding arrangement, they said they were on a unity ticket with Labor on that. They will in fact cut the guts out of our schools. They’ve also allowed states to cut their school funding, they’ve also abandoned a number of national partnership agreements with our schools. So this is a, you know, distraction technique. It’s a, “look over here!” technique, “it’s not about the extra money” while cutting extra money.

BRISSENDEN: OK. We are talking though about the money that’s been spent to this point and the results that we’ve seen up to this point, aren’t we? I mean we’re not really talking about what’s going to happen in years 5 and 6 of the proposed Gonski model, we’re talking about what’s happened to this point and the Government says funding is increased 23%, it’s spending $16 billion a year now – it’s a lot of money and funding has increased. But yet, we’re still seeing a plateauing.

PLIBERSEK:  And you’re talking about a very short timeframe in the life of a school, even in the life of a child. To see that turnaround in a year or two, you can’t expect to see that in national results. We are at the very beginning of implementing a needs-based funding system that would invest the most in the kids who need the most help. We’ve only just started on that journey – to say that these NAPLAN results are a reflection of a needs-based funding model is just not true. We haven’t even launched the full needs-based funding model yet.

BRISSENDEN: So you’re argument is essentially unless you do substantially increase the money along the lines of the Gonski model, you won’t get an improvement?

PLIBERSEK:  My argument is we have to do better in our schools, we have to invest more in supporting teaching and learning. More individual attention, more tailored support, more extra support for literacy and numeracy for kids who are falling behind, more extension activities, better support for principals to make sure that they can be the most effective school leaders. That’s where we need to invest: making sure that science teachers actually have science qualifications when they’re teaching science – that takes extra funding. It’s not just about tipping extra money in, it’s about what we do with that funding. This Government is not pursuing excellence in schools, because you can’t do it at the same time as cutting funding.

BRISSENDEN: Ok Tanya Plibersek, we’ll leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us.

PLIBERSEK:  Thank you Michael.