Television Interview with Michael Rowland – ABC News Breakfast – Monday 31 October 2022



MICHAEL ROWLAND: Okay, let’s get more now on our top story, this year’s NAPLAN results and bring in the Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare. He’s in Sydney for us this morning. Minister, good morning.


ROWLAND: Generally speaking, are you happy with the broad outcome of NAPLAN this year?

CLARE: Yes, better than I expected. This is the first NAPLAN since those big lockdowns in Melbourne and Sydney last year and there were some pretty horrific predictions about what that would mean. That hasn’t transpired. I think that’s a tribute to the incredible work that teachers and parents and students did. We’ve seen pretty stable results across most of the categories. There are some examples, particularly in year nine, where we’ve seen a tapering off. That’s obviously of concern. I think part of that is COVID, but NAPLAN tells us what’s happening, it doesn’t tell us why. I think we need to drill deeper to understand what’s happened there.

ROWLAND: OK, you talk about year nine and one of the downsides of this report showing year nine boys, their reading standards have dropped quite a bit. Is it just COVID there?

CLARE: Well, it’s boys and girls. If you have a look at the data, we’re seeing a bit of a tapering off for boys and girls in reading and maths over the course of the last three years or so. Over the course of 14 years, it’s pretty stable. But over the last three years or so, we’ve seen a drop. That’s why I say it may be COVID, but NAPLAN doesn’t give us the answer to that. NAPLAN doesn’t measure everything. It doesn’t measure, for example, the big mental health impacts that COVID has had on young people either. I think the next step for us is to better understand why that’s happened.

The other thing to mention though, Michael, and this is really terrific news, we’ve been doing NAPLAN now for 14 years. What it shows is that, for primary school kids, the reading skills of primary school students today is about a year ahead of the reading skills of primary school students 14 years ago. We’ve seen massive growth in the reading skills of primary school students over that period of time. It’s just not translating into high school. And that’s one of the things I think we need to look at.

ROWLAND: OK, you are the Education Minister, and you speak to people about this every day. What do you think are the reasons why those generally good results in primary school aren’t necessarily quickly translated into secondary school outcomes?

CLARE: I’m not sure. That’s one of the things that I want the Australian Education Research Organisation to drill deeper into. I want to make sure we’ve got the National School Reform Agreement that kicks off next year, the negotiations on what we need to focus on to make sure that we’re getting better results. I’d like them to look at this. But I’d also, Michael, frankly, like them to look at the gap between the results of children from poor backgrounds and wealthier backgrounds. We’re seeing that gap growing. As we’re seeing improvements at primary school, we’re still seeing that gap growing. I don’t want us to be a country where your chances in life depend on who your parents are or where you grow up or the colour of your skin. But that’s where we are today. And that’s where I think the work that I do with Education Ministers over the next twelve months really needs to focus.

ROWLAND: Speaking of the colour of your skin, what more can be done to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous students based on these results?

CLARE: We saw some good results there, but let’s go back to before school, Michael. The readiness of Indigenous children to start school is well below that of the general population. About 55 per cent of four-year-olds are ready to start school. But only about 34 per cent of Indigenous children. And that gap has gotten worse over the last four years. That gap is getting bigger, not smaller.

It’s one of the reasons that in the big childcare legislation that we introduced a couple of weeks ago, I made sure that there were changes to the law there, so there was a guaranteed access to 36 hours a fortnight of early education for Indigenous children. If we’re serious about tackling disadvantage, you can’t start at school, you’ve got to go way back to zero, and that’s for indigenous children and non-Indigenous children. But all of the evidence shows if you get access to good early education from zero to five, it can make the world of difference.

ROWLAND: Hey, before you go, one of our other big stories this morning is Four Corners tonight revealing that up to six nuclear capable USB 52 bombers are coming to Australia to be based in Darwin, as tensions, of course, continue with China. What are we to make of that?

CLARE: Yeah, I haven’t seen the details of that, Michael. I’ve been a little bit focused on school results, but I’ll leave that to the Defence Minister to comment.

ROWLAND: OK, well, another story. Speaking of the Defence Minister, Richard Marles, the News Corp papers this morning are reporting a disturbing security incident involving him last month. He was surrounded, reportedly by 30 people after leaving an event. As a result, his security detail has been ramped up. What can you tell us about that?

CLARE: We’re a country where we’re pretty fortunate that politicians can get out and about and not feel that you’re ever going to be physically threatened. When you have a look at what’s happened to Nancy Pelosi’s husband in the US, it sort of reminds you that we don’t want to be a country like that. I still think that we aren’t, but when you’re the Prime Minister of Australia, or the Deputy Prime Minister, if the security advice is that you need a high level of protection, then that’s appropriate.

ROWLAND: Do you know exactly what went on there?

CLARE:. I don’t. Only what I’ve read in the newspapers. But just to put it in perspective, I’m obviously not the Defence Minister, but as I get out and about talking to people, I never feel like my security is threatened.

ROWLAND: Yes, and long may that continue, generally speaking, in Australian politics, given what’s sadly going on in the US at the moment. Hey, Jason. Clare, thanks to you. Thank you for your time this morning.