Television Interview with Natalie Barr – Sunrise – Wednesday 22 February 2023


SUBJECTS: NAPLAN results; Education reforms; Director General of ASIO speech; School attendance rates

NATALIE BARR: Welcome back. New NAPLAN data has revealed a worrying divide in same-sex education, with boys’ schools lagging behind girls’ schools in academic achievement. It’s the first snapshot of the education system since COVID. It also shows an alarming drop in attendance in Victorian high schools. Joining me now is Education Minister Jason Clare. Morning to you.


BARR: Let’s start with this difference. How on earth do you bridge the gap, the academic gap, between boys’ and girls’ schools?

CLARE: The results themselves are better than expected given COVID. Most of the results are pretty stable. But we certainly have seen a drop in literacy and numeracy in Year Nine for boys and for girls. I think the bigger problem this exposes, Nat, is that if you’re a child from a poor family or from the bush, from regional Australia, you’re less likely to go to preschool, you’re more likely to fall behind at primary school, less likely to finish high school, and in turn, less likely to go to university. That’s the problem we’ve got to fix.

BARR: Yeah. So what are you doing about it?

CLARE: The next National Schools Reform Agreement has to zero in on this. I’m not interested in writing a blank cheque here. I want to make sure that we’re tying funding to the sort of things that are going to fix this, that are going to help children who fall behind, whether they’re a boy or a girl, whether they’re from the bush or from the city. But in particular, what the research is telling us is that if you’re from a poor family or from the bush or an Indigenous child, you’re three times more likely to fall behind at school.

So, we’re bringing the NAPLAN tests forward. Instead of being in May, they’ll be next month in March. Simplifying the way in which we provide information to teachers and to parents and making it clear that where children do fall behind, that we classify that as a group of students who need more assistance. Now the key is to make sure that we zero in and provide that assistance to those children.

BARR: Yeah, we’ve also got a huge problem in Victoria, where less than half of secondary kids attended school 90 percent of the time. I also want to talk to you about this lead story this morning, a hive of spies operating in Australia. Can you confirm that – which country is at the centre of it? Because no one except Malcolm Turnbull is talking about the actual country.

CLARE: Breaking news: no, I can’t. But I think that speech that Mike Burgess made is a wakeup call for all of us, it was a pretty blunt and serious speech that made the point that foreign interference and spying in Australia is at an all-time high.

It’s not just foreign interference, though. We’ve been talking over the course of the last few months, Nat, about cyber hacking, Medibank, what happened at Optus, and the Prime Minister will be making a major speech about the sort of military hardware to protect ourselves for the decades to come today.

The big part of that are the meetings that will take place with President Biden as well as Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Kishida, the Quad, that will meet here in Australia in the middle of the year. All of that, whether it’s cracking down on spies, whether it’s making sure that our businesses and our government services are cyber proof, or whether it’s the hardware we need, all of that is what’s needed to make our country safer.

BARR: Right, so the Quad’s meeting here, are they? Because that is important, isn’t it?

CLARE: Big time. It’s really important.

Just one quick thing on attendance. You mentioned that it dropped in Victoria. It dropped right around the country last year. And not just last year. We’ve seen attendance at schools drop over the last ten years amongst boys and girls from five-year-olds to 15-year-olds. Whenever I ask the question to the experts, why are we seeing attendance rates drop, I get crickets. That’s not good enough. That’s why I put that on the agenda for the next Education Ministers’ Meeting next Monday to see what we can do to help boost attendance rates. Because if you’re not at school, you’re not learning.

BARR: Yeah, okay. Good point. Okay. Thank you, Jason. A lot of work to do, isn’t there.