Exclusive: Towards a fairer education system

Exclusive: Towards a fairer education system

Next month, Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, will sit down with his State and Territory counterparts to negotiate a more equitable education system in Australia.

And they’ll have plenty to talk about.

The negotiations will be held off the back of the 2017 Budget, unveiled earlier this month, in which Federal Treasurer, Scott Morrison, vowed $18.6bn in school funding over the next 10 years.

In an interview with The Educator, Senator Birmingham highlighted to the importance of recognising all of the factors that impact on the cost and running of schools, as well as providing equal opportunity to students to succeed.

“My view is that, as a Federal Government, we need to treat the States and Territories in an equitable manner, just as we treat – and ought to treat – the different parts of the non-government school system in a similarly equitable manner to each other,” he said.

Another point of focus for the Federal Government has been improving teaching standards across Australia to lift the quality of teaching being done in classrooms – an area Birmingham says is showing progress. 

“Good progress is being made in terms of the Coalition’s reforms to initial teacher education and training. This is evidenced by the significant take up now of the new literacy and numeracy standards test for university students before they graduate,” he said.

“There is active work underway, led by AITSL in reaccrediting initial teacher education programs across different universities to ensure that they are delivering the type of quality we expect.”

Birmingham said this includes the relevancy of pedagogy and the reforms that require, pointing to the requirement that all future primary education graduates to have undertaken a speciality as part of their studies as an example.

“With those types of reforms underway in initial teacher education, the focus rightly shifts at the next stage to how we work to effectively support the existing teacher workforce in their ongoing skills and professional development,” he said.

Instrumental in this, says Birmingham, is the over-arching role that principals play in driving school improvement and student outcomes.

“The work that AITSL has done to develop standards for principals is important, but we want to – through the Quality Schools Quality Outcomes agenda – take that to the next step of looking at how we can guarantee widespread uptake of principal certification,” he said.

“Ideally, this will be undertaken in a way that is preparatory for people before they step into the role of principal – not something that they try to catch up on after they’ve undertaken that very important role.”

Birmingham said this is a key discussion that the Coalition wants to have with the States to help build the next generation of skilled and effective principals.

“There are certain workforce and generational issues in principal leadership, and we need to make sure that it is seen as a valued and essential part of the education systems across our country,” he said.

Birmingham explained how attending Gawler High School, a public school in South Australia, shaped his views on education.

“Like anybody, it doesn’t matter which school you go to. You have teachers who you remember as having had a significant impact on you. I think that’s probably the most essential factor for most of us out of our schooling experience,” Birmingham said.

“My school was a very diverse one; it had mixtures of first and second generation migrants; people from semi-rural areas as well as the northern suburbs of Adelaide and relatively low through to university.”

Birmingham said this left him with a strong appreciation that schools have to deal with many multiple challenges simultaneously, including students with vastly different aspirations and backgrounds.

“That is a major challenge that our education system faces, and it’s why we need to recognise the different needs of different schools and support them,” he said.

“But also importantly, we need to stick to clear, evidence-based approaches to teaching that give every child the best possible chance at developing the basic skills that enable them to succeed through their later years of schooling.”