Television Interview with Natalie Barr – Sunrise – Friday 20 January 2023


SUBJECTS: Productivity Commission report 

NATALIE BARR: Well, the Federal Government has issued a fresh warning to schools over failing academic standards. A new report has revealed 90,000 Australian children are failing basic maths and literacy tests. Schools will have to hit tough new academic and student wellbeing targets or potentially lose billions of dollars in federal funding each year. 

Let’s bring in Education Minister Jason Clare and Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley. Good morning to both of you. Welcome back for the new year. 

Jason, this is serious. 90,000 kids failing basic maths and English. How are you going to fix it? 

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: We’ve got a good education system, but it can be a lot better and a lot fairer. This report makes that blisteringly clear. I don’t want us to be a country where your chances in life depend on who your parents are, or where you live, or the colour of your skin. But we are now, Nat. This report tells us that if you’re a child from a poor family or you live in the bush, or you’re Indigenous, you’re three times less likely to meet those minimum standards. And that’s getting worse. 

This report is pretty damning. It says that the plan the previous Government put into place hasn’t worked. And part of that is because it says they haven’t set the clear targets, concrete targets, that we need to meet or put in place the reforms to make sure we get there. The next Agreement will. 

BARR: Sussan, is it fair to punish schools if they are not living up to the education standards that are set? 

SUSSAN LEY: Well, we have to get this right, Nat, because the education of our children is just so important. And I hope our teachers had a good break over Christmas. They deserve it. It’s going to be another tough, big year ahead. We have come through a global pandemic. It has been a challenge. We do have to get back to basics with literacy and numeracy. We do have to support our teachers, we do have to support our kids, and we do have to recognise that, as Jason said, our education standards matter, both nationally and internationally. 

BARR: So, Sussan, you’re backing this plan? 

LEY: Well, we’re backing what gives our kids and our teachers the best possible opportunity to give the best results. And as I said, we do have to recognise that we’ve come through tough times. Our teachers do an amazing job, and the pandemic was extraordinarily difficult. So, let’s back them in. Let’s support what they do in schools. 

I’m a rural member of Parliament, and I see it every day as I travel across western New South Wales. It’s not easy, and we need to back our teachers in, but we also need to get back to basics. And when you talk to parents, that’s what they say, get back to the basics. Equip our kids with literacy, with numeracy and with an understanding of how to make their way in the world. 

BARR: Jason, how much are you talking to teachers on this? Because I’ve stood out there at their protests. They say they are not paid, they are swamped with paperwork, and there aren’t enough of them. They are leaving the workforce in droves. 

CLARE: We’ve got a massive teacher shortage. It’s a problem that’s been going on now for a long time. It’s bad in the cities, it’s even worse in the bush. That’s why yesterday I was out in regional New South Wales in Menindee, talking about how we’ll scrap your HECS if you go as a teacher and work in some of our remote communities. That’s just one of the things we need to do here. 

This report says our teachers will be more effective if you can reduce their workload and they’ve got more time teaching in the classroom rather than preparing classes. But just a really important point to make here, this report doesn’t say cut funding for schools where they’re not getting results. What it’s saying is get targeted reforms in place to help those schools. It really makes an important point, we’ve got to set targets to reduce the number of children that aren’t meeting those literacy and numeracy standards, but in particular those poor kids and those kids in regional Australia. That’s the key here. And the report says that if you’re a poor kid who goes to a disadvantaged school, it’s harder to catch up. We need to tie the funding to reforms to help those kids. 

BARR: Okay, well, that is an important point. Okay, thank you very much, both of you. Thanks.