Radio Interview with Sabra Lane – ABC AM – Wednesday 23 August 2023







SABRA LANE, HOST: The Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare, joined me a short time ago.

Jason Clare, given all the bad headlines about these NAPLAN results, many parents would wonder, is there anything good? What’s going right?

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: This report does demonstrate the need for serious reform. Sabra, we’ve got a good education system in Australia, but it can be a lot better, and it can be a lot fairer. And this report makes that blisteringly clear. It really shows that one in ten children are below what we call the minimum standard that students are expected to meet in literacy and numeracy. But not only that, it shows that one in three children from poor families, from the bush, from Indigenous families, are not meeting that minimum standard. And worse than that, once they get in there, it’s hard to get out. So, a lot of children fall behind, stay behind and then drop out of school.

We’ve seen, over the last six years, a drop in the percentage of children finishing high school from around about 83 per cent of children in public schools finishing high school in 2016, down to 76 per cent last year. That’s happening at a time when it’s more important to finish high school than ever before and then go on to TAFE or university. So, there is a need for reform here, and I think this report shows that.

LANE: All right, let’s break some of that down. Billions more in funding has been funnelled into education during the past decade with the so-called Gonski education reforms that was supposed to boost educational attainment for poor students and those from First Nations families. That hasn’t happened. So, what are we going to do now?

CLARE: You’re right, that’s a big investment in our schools. But not all schools are funded equally. Non-government schools are overwhelmingly funded above the level that David Gonski set and are on track to go down to 100 per cent of that level by the end of this decade. But public schools aren’t. Except for in the ACT, every public school in the country is set to get to about 95 per cent of what David Gonski said they should be funded at over the course of the next decade or so. We’ve got to fix that funding gap, but not just that. We’ve got to make sure that that funding is tied to the sort of things that are going to fix the problems made clear in this report.

LANE: What’s the solution to that? There’s evidence that small group tutoring can help students improve. Is that practical and affordable? And is that something you’re looking at?

CLARE: It is something we’re looking at. Something that was trialled in Victoria and New South Wales. Now I see it in my own neck of the woods in Western Sydney, where at Chullora Public School, you’ve got one teacher with a handful of children, and the results from there indicate that in the course of about 18 weeks, children learn the equivalent of what they’d normally learn in 12 months.

LANE: There is an education review that you’ve commissioned. You’re going to get that within two months. Are you going to wait until then to put changes in place?

CLARE: We get that report, Sabra, at the end of October, and that’s a critical report because next year I have to negotiate with the States and the Territories the next National School Reform Agreement and bilateral funding agreements with every State and Territory. This report is critical here to tell us what we should be funding in this next agreement, what we should be tying this funding to, that are going to help children who are falling behind to catch up, to keep up and to finish high school.

LANE: Labor has shied away from the past in having those discussions. Are you talking about reallocating taxpayer money from private schools that are overfunded now to schools in need?

CLARE: No, they’re on track to get to the level that David Gonski said they should be by the end of the decade. The big problem, Sabra, is that public schools aren’t, and we’ve got to fix that, but we’ve also got to make sure that that funding is tied to the things that are going to fix the problems made clear in this report.

LANE: There’s also more evidence showing some schools are having great results in explicit instruction that involves a high level of student-teacher interaction. Do you think that’s the key to better results for kids?

CLARE: I’m interested in what works. What’s going to help a child who falls behind to catch up and to make sure that they finish school. Phonics is part of that, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. But even with the right practices, there are some children who are going to need extra support. That’s why we spoke earlier about catch-up tutoring, why all of the evidence shows that that’s a key part of helping children who fall behind here to catch up. Those small groups with one teacher and a couple of children and the work that they do over the course of a couple of weeks can have a massive impact on a children’s education.

LANE: The Opposition says the national standards are an embarrassment, teachers aren’t to blame, that universities should be accepting responsibility. Do you agree?

CLARE: I’m not going to blame the previous government for ten years of failure. My job is to fix this and that’s what I’m focused on. Universities are part of this. Ask most teachers and they’ll tell you that when they first started, they didn’t feel prepared for the classroom. That’s why I announced some pretty serious reforms a couple of weeks ago about the fundamentals that students need to be taught at university and measures to improve practical experience, because teachers will also tell you that the prac they got at university wasn’t up to scratch either.

LANE: Jason Clare, thank you for talking to AM this morning.

CLARE: Good on you. Thanks, Sabra.