ABC NEWS RADIO
FRIDAY, 7 JULY 2023
SUBJECTS: Reforming teacher training, Teacher workforce shortages, National School Reform Agreement
THOMAS ORITI: First this half hour, the Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare, has announced major reforms to the way teachers are trained in Australia. The nation’s universities will now have until 2025 to incorporate core content teaching around basic literacy and numeracy. Stakes are high as well. They could risk their accreditation. And this all comes after a long-running review by Sydney University Vice Chancellor Mark Scott, who found graduates were overwhelmed by the complexities of the classroom, when they began teaching. The changes are aimed at addressing the nation’s teacher shortage as well, but education unions claim the report fails to address things like burnout and low salaries as key reasons for the ongoing staffing crisis. The Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare joins us now. Minister, good morning.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day, Thomas.
ORITI: Thanks for joining us. I just want to ask about a definition first, because I’ve been saying this all morning and covering the story, but core content. When we talk about core content, what is it that you’re rolling out in universities and why do we need these changes now?
CLARE: It’s four big things. The report says there are four fundamental things that need to be in every teaching degree. First, helping to make sure that student teachers understand how children learn, how their brain works, how they retain information. Second, that they get taught the practices that actually work, that help children to learn to read and to learn to do maths. What the evidence shows works. Third, that they get the information they need to manage a classroom, manage classroom behaviour. And then, fourthly, helping to make sure that student teachers have got all the skills that they need to manage students with complex and diverse needs. The report says these are the fundamental things. It’s not everything a teacher needs to learn at university, but they must learn these things and they’ve got to be embedded in the curriculum of every teaching degree.
ORITI: What I’m trying to get my head around is what’s gone wrong over time, what’s led to this situation? Has there been something wrong with the pedagogy so far, where teachers are showing up to a classroom feeling underprepared for being in the classroom? I feel as though it has not been the case in decades past where teachers have shown up to a classroom not knowing what to expect, not being prepared for it.
CLARE: If you ask teachers, I’ve asked teachers this question a lot, they almost always say that they didn’t feel prepared or ready for the classroom on day one. And part of that is that prac, the practical experience they get while they’re a student, wasn’t up to scratch. But also, part of it was that there wasn’t enough time and focus in the degree on the practical things that they need to be able to teach children to read, to write, to do maths, but also to manage classroom behaviour. And what Mark is saying in this report and what ministers have agreed to yesterday is that these are the fundamental things, we need more time and focus on them at university. Mark makes the point that about 50 per cent of university students who start a teaching degree, finish it. It’s pretty low, and about 20 per cent quit in the first three years. He makes the argument that if a teacher is better prepared at university and gets a better practical experience, then they’re more likely to finish the degree, they’re more likely to stay on and teach for years and they’ll be more effective in the classroom from day one.
ORITI: Are they, though? Because we had the Australian Education Union on about half an hour ago, they said, well, hang on, you’re missing here the core reasons why we’re facing a staff shortage. Teachers are overworked and underpaid.
CLARE: That’s one of the reasons. Pay is important. Ask any teachers, they’ll tell you that workload is terribly important. This idea that teachers start at nine and finish at 3 o’clock is rubbish. Our teachers work longer hours than teachers in other parts of the world and spend less time face-to-face in the classroom teaching than in many other countries. And there’s a heck of a lot of work that’s being done by state ministers, and that I’m working with state ministers on, to reduce the admin burden and the workload for teachers as well. There are lots of reasons why we’ve got a teacher shortage crisis at the moment right across the country, but one of them is this, and that is that a lot of teachers don’t feel ready for the classroom when they start and as a result, they leave early.
ORITI: These reforms, as you’ve just flagged there, right, they’re supposed to help graduates feel more prepared day one when they walk into that classroom. But we keep hearing about and you’ve just raised it then yourself, Minister, the issue of staff shortages, how will these reforms actually help to attract more people into those uni courses in the first place? Do you really think the prospective teachers are going to go, well, now these core teachings are part of the curriculum and the pedagogy has changed, I might try teaching?
CLARE: No, I think it’s bigger than that. I think it’s about respect, Thomas. Look at the surveys. About 38 per cent of teachers today think that the Australian community respects the work that they do. If you look across the OECD, it’s about the same. And in all of those countries, they’ve got the same problem we’ve got, which is a shortage of people signing up to become teachers. I want people leaping out of high school wanting to become teachers, not lawyers or bankers. Go to a place like Singapore, same survey’s done, and 70 per cent of teachers say they feel respected by the community and they’ve got a line out the door of university. They have to push people away. So, it’s about respect there. If we are going to encourage…
ORITI: What’s the correlation, sorry to interrupt there, but what’s the correlation between the changes that you’re introducing now and respect for teachers, because I’m trying to get my head around them?
CLARE: What these reforms are about, Tom, is making sure that more people who enrol actually finish the degree and then stay on. There’s another piece of work we need to do to encourage more people to sign up in the first place. The two big things I just wanted to mention there is, one, the scholarships that start next year. $40,000 scholarships to encourage people to become teachers, to help them get through university. And that all starts next year. But state governments and the Federal Government have also agreed to a $10 million national campaign that kicks off later this year to celebrate the incredible work our teachers do. I think we can spend a lot less time bagging teachers and a lot more time celebrating the importance of the work they do. That’s not going to be the solution in and of itself, but it’s part of it. I think as a community, we’ve got to recognise how important our teachers are. And if we do a little bit more of that, then more people, when they’re thinking about what they want to do when they leave school, might just pick teaching.
ORITI: Okay, so part of a suite of measures, as you’re saying. Look, I don’t think controversial to say yes, of course. I think that the role of teachers absolutely needs to be celebrated. No doubt. But while we’re talking about money, the union wants to see all public schools to be fully funded by 2028. And during the election, I know that Labor did promise this pathway to doing that. Given what we’ve seen in Mark Scott’s report, that deadline, is 2028 a reasonable ask?
CLARE: We did commit, as you rightly point out, Tom, to work with the states and with the territories to make sure that we get all schools to that full Gonski funding of 100 per cent. That money is important. It’s critical, but what’s also important is what it’s spent on. At the moment, we’ve got children from poor backgrounds and from the bush three times more likely to fall behind other children in the classroom. We’re seeing the gap in learning growing, of children from poor backgrounds and children from wealthy backgrounds. And in particular, what worries me most, is in public schools over the last five years, we’ve seen a drop in the number of students finishing the HSC. I’ve appointed Dr. Lisa O’Brien and a panel of experts to provide education ministers, including myself, with the advice on what are the practical, real reforms that we need to tie this funding to, so that children who fall behind at primary school catch up, and that more children, or more young people, at high school finish the HSC.
It’s a timely question, Tom, because after I finish this interview, we’ve got a group of about 60 teachers and principals and students and other education experts meeting with the union and myself on what these reforms should be that we tie this funding to. So we don’t just close this funding gap, but we close that education gap as well.
ORITI: Sure. Just to clarify though, 2028 is a reasonable deadline for that funding, though?
CLARE: Well, this is all part of the negotiations I’ll have with the states next year, but before we have the negotiations over the money, I want to have the work done now on what we use that money for.
ORITI: Just a couple more questions in the limited time we’ve got. Minister, if you don’t mind. One other issue that’s being raised, is students with more complex needs, students living with a disability, for example. How does this review help future teachers prepare to work in that scenario?
CLARE: Or autism.
ORITI: Of course, yeah.
CLARE: As we get our schools more inclusive, more integrated, there’s more children with more complex needs at school. Ask most teachers, and they’ll tell you that their school is not an island, that children bring with them to school all of the challenges that they have in their own life. And the report shows that, I think it’s something like almost 50 per cent of students have presented with mental health challenges. So, this is a serious area where a lot of work is needed, where teachers are craving more information and assistance and support. And so, we’re saying that is one of the areas that needs to be part of the core content of any university course.
ORITI: And just finally, you mentioned Gonski a moment ago. Hard to believe that back in 2012, the Gonski review, report, it found Australian student performance was declining compared to those international benchmarks, more than ten years on. Now, are you concerned about how we’re tracking? Why are we still seeing Australian students falling behind?
CLARE: If you go back 15 years and look at how third graders are reading now, there’s some positive news. The average eight-year-old today is reading about one year ahead of what an eight-year-old was reading at 15 years ago. That’s good. But what’s also happened is that the gap in the reading skills of an eight-year-old from a poor background and an eight-year-old from a wealthy background was one year 15 years ago, and now it’s two. So, that gap is growing, and that’s what I’m really worried about here. The changes we’ve made to NAPLAN this year have raised the bar. It’s likely when NAPLAN results come out later this year, that we’ll see more children identified as needing more assistance. Now, there’s always going to be children that need more support. The key thing here is that we provide those children with that support. And so let me double back to what we were talking about a minute ago, Tom. The work that we do in completing the work of David Gonski, filling the funding gap, needs to be tied to the sorts of things that provide children who need additional support with the support that they need.
ORITI: Minister, thanks for joining us. Appreciate your time.
CLARE: Good on you. Thanks Thomas.
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