Doorstop Interview – Rockhampton Grammar School – Thursday 2 November 2023





SUBJECTS: Universities Accord Ministerial Reference Group; Regional Scholarships Program; Schools Upgrade Fund; university affordability; student safety

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: First, I just wanted to mention that the who’s who of universities are convening for the Universities Accord Ministerial Reference Group, that’s happening at Central Queensland University in just over an hour’s time. The Universities Accord is the biggest review of our university sector in over 15 years. It’s designed to make sure that our university sector is set up for the next 15 years and the next 15 years after that.

In town today we’ve got representatives of different universities, of different university peak groups, different business groups and unions looking at all of the sorts of things that we need to do to make sure that the university system is fit for purpose.

And one of the things that we know is, in the future more jobs are going to require young people to finish high school and then go on to TAFE or university. And at the moment almost 50 per cent of young people have a university degree – almost 50 per cent of people that are in their 20s or 30s have a university degree. But not in the outer suburbs of our big cities and not in regional Australia. In regional Australia it’s about half that – it’s only about 22 per cent of young people in their 20s and 30s who have a university degree. And here in Rocky it’s even lower than that.

A big part of what’s being discussed today is how do we make sure that we help more young people from the regions to get a crack at going to university. And a big part of that, of course, is making sure that more young people finish high school. Over the course of the last decade we’ve seen a drop in the number of people finishing high school. And in an age where we need more people to finish school and then go on to TAFE or uni, that’s bad sign.

We’ve got to turn that around. That’s what the National School Reform Agreement that we strike next year will be all about that. The scholarships that we’re talking about today are part of that agreement to make sure that young people who don’t live in the big city or don’t live in a big town but live a long, long way away from a school like this get a crack at going to school and finishing school and then being able to go on to TAFE or university. And they’re the Commonwealth Scholarships that I’ll get Anthony to talk about in a moment that are worth up to 10 to $20,000. New scholarships for a hundred young people across the country. That 10 or $20,000 is every year for up to six years and can make the world of difference for young people right across the country, and including Martha and Riley, who will be able to tell us a little bit about what boarding is like and what a scholarship like this might have meant for them if they were in year 7 now rather than about to go into year 12.

Anthony, I’ll get you to say a few words and then get Martha and Riley to add.

ANTHONY CHISHOLM, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thanks, Jason. It’s great to be back at Rockhampton Grammar, and I thank them for their hospitality. It was a few months ago that I was here when we announced that we were establishing the scholarship program, and it’s great to be back today to say that those applications are now open. And it really does fit really nicely with what Minister Clare was saying about the opportunity that we want to provide people across Australia, and that involves getting a good education and then hoping that they get that opportunity to go on to university or further study.

But what we also know is that it’s not always the case that people can get that good education where they live, particularly in very remote and rural locations. So that’s where the scholarship program really comes in, providing that support for a hundred students for the full six years of high school to get that support to attend boarding school. So it’s 50 scholarships at $10,000 a year for those on lower and middle incomes and then $20,000 a year for another 50 scholarships recipients for those on low incomes. And it’s just to provide that additional support for families in those locations to send their children to boarding school to ensure they get that best possible educational opportunity.

So we’re really pleased that the program is now open and people can apply. And it’s great that we’ll be able to have children benefitting from these scholarships starting next year and then for the full six years of high school.

It’s a great outcome and it’s particularly pleasing that I can talk about that while we’ve got Martha and Riley here as well. And particularly with Riley from Springsure, that’s a great example of an area where it isn’t always easy to attend high school locally and boarding school does provide that option. So that’s a great example of how this program can work and benefit people in so many rural and remote locations.

I’m going to hand over to Martha to talk about her boarding school. Thanks Martha. 

MARTHA DINGLE: Thank you. So I’ve been a boarder here since grade 7, and as I’ve gone through – you sort of get to learn and meet new people, and that’s really what I love about boarding school – is that you get so many people from all different places and you get such a diverse experience, to learn to socialise with everyone. And like, the girls that I’ve been with who have been here since grade 7 or all the way through, we’re sort of like – well, they’re like my sisters, you know. You learn, and you grow with them and you get to see where they take all these opportunities that they’re given and you learn more about their life experiences and where they’re from. So, I have friends who did distance ed when they were younger who were from regional areas who were from up north. And it’s just great to see that they get to come together, and we all get this great opportunity to learn and grow.

JOURNALIST: And how did you find that coming from so far away from home and coming into that environment? It would have probably been pretty tricky to start off with?

DINGLE: Yes, it was tricky. Well, I am from three hours or two hours just down south, down at Gladstone and I – well when we first came, we were tossing up between a metropolitan boarding school and this one here. And really the deciding factor was that it was so much closer, and I could still have my family come and things and be with me and stuff like that. And so that’s what was really great about this school, is that it isn’t too far and it’s also such a great opportunity for me to get an excellent range of academic and social experiences.

RILEY SULLIVAN: Riley Sullivan. I think boarding school is a good environment where you learn, like, the background of people from a large variety of different places. Like, I know in Springsure there’s a bunch of people around there and, yeah, like there’s a few bushfires going on based on the dry conditions at the moment and, yeah, they’re tough conditions to be around. And then sorry –

JOURNALIST: I guess boarding school, it gives you a home away from home. I boarded. It’s kind of a family when you can’t be with your family. And I guess that helps when you’re thinking of everyone and what’s happening back home.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. I think, yeah, being so close to home, it just gives you that ability for your parents to come up and just, yeah. Like, I know I play a fair bit of sport and they can come up in the afternoon, watch you play and go home the next morning. And it just gives you lots of opportunities.

JOURNALIST: What options for schooling did you have back home? So, I mean, there are schools there I imagine?

SULLIVAN: In Springsure there’s two schools which go from prep to grade 10 and then after that there’s Emerald, which is another 45 minutes away, which has high school. But the closest boarding school around home is here in Rockhampton.

JOURNALIST: And what does it mean to be at a boarding school where you’re living and, you know, learning and, you know – I suppose what does it mean being able to do all of that in one place?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, it’s pretty special to be able to board here and to have all the opportunities. Like, in Rocky there’s a bunch of universities. Like, there’s university opportunities and also school-based apprenticeship opportunities. So it allows everyone to have that opportunity to – yeah, for their future.

JOURNALIST: Would a scholarship like have been great for you back when you were starting high school?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, it certainly would have assisted to be able to – yeah, get these opportunities and then, yeah to be able to progress.

JOURNALIST: Do you know anyone back home who, and maybe you don’t but do you know anyone back home who would have benefited from a scholarship like this who maybe didn’t have the opportunity to come to a boarding school like this, you know, because they didn’t have a scholarship?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, in Springsure there’s a few, like, lower socioeconomic groups which they would have benefited from a scholarship such as the one being offered hopefully in the future. And, yeah, that would have provided them opportunities which they wouldn’t have got if they stayed in Springsure like they have.

JOURNALIST: And what’s the plan after you graduate?

SULLIVAN: As of now I’m not too sure but I think I’ll go to uni. Yeah.

JOURNALIST: Don’t make the decision too early.

JOURNALIST: And Martha, can I just ask you some questions as well?


JOURNALIST: So back home where you are, what are the education options there for high school?

DINGLE: So we do have a public school in Tannum, and then in in Gladstone, which is about half an hour away, we have a few private schools but I think Rocky is the closest boarding school, yep. And, really, for me, it was the place where I can have the best access to the best academics around and the best boarding opportunities around. Because up in Rocky it’s a much higher level, even though it’s only just a little bit away, for my netball and or if I want to futsal or soccer or anything like that I can give that go because it’s all offered here, which is great.

JOURNALIST: And plans after high school?

DINGLE: I want to go and study law hopefully either in Brisbane or Sydney or even Melbourne – wherever it takes me.

JOURNALIST: Good luck.

DINGLE: Thank you.

JOURNALIST: I might ask about the improvement fund as well, Jason. The Schools Upgrade Fund.

CLARE: This week we announced applications are open for Round 2 of the Schools Upgrade Fund. This is worth $200 million, and this is available to all public schools, primary schools and high schools, right across the country. These are for big upgrades worth more than $250,000 each. It might be getting rid of a demountable and putting in a permanent classroom, upgrading a woodwork room, or an art room, or a music room or a new outdoor learning space, replacing a rundown soccer field with some synthetic soccer field. I know that’s probably what my son would be asking for if he was in charge of this. But it is an opportunity for every public school across the country, to put in an application. Applications are now open and applications will close at the end of February.

JOURNALIST: What’s the criteria and how do you prioritise that funding?

CLARE: All public schools can apply and those applications will be considered by each state department of education across the country. In terms of criteria, it will be needs based. Each State Department of Education knows which schools have the greatest need. Funding will be provided on the basis that if a school has received a big capital works fund within the last two years for more than $250,000, then they won’t get access to this fund, but otherwise they will. It was designed to focus on two things: really need, but also schools where there is a significant level of disadvantage.

JOURNALIST: I think that’s one of the things is, like, the state governments often take a lot of that responsibility and do those Capital Works Programs. Why did the federal government decide to pitch in with this program?

CLARE: This is an election promise. We promised at the election that we would do this, that we would provide this fund worth more than $200 million to improve facilities in classrooms, in schools across the country. The Commonwealth Government normally does this for non-government schools, schools like this, but don’t normally do this for public schools. Visit a public school and more often than not you’ll find a classroom that looks like the classroom when you were in school in and that hasn’t received a big upgrade that needs one. And this fund is designed to help with that.

JOURNALIST: Back to the scholarships, a hundred is probably a drop in the ocean in terms of the number of regional and rural kids who would like to be able to get one?

CLARE: It’s not going to help everybody. And Riley, you made the point that the school in the local area that you grew up, you could only go to Year 10. And if you wanted to go to the school in Emerald, it’s 45 minutes away. This is one thing that we can do that can help young people who otherwise can’t afford it to get an opportunity to board. But there’s more that we have to do here than just that. And what we have to do is make sure that we fund our schools properly and with that funding, fund the sort of things that are going to help them whether they live in a big city or whether they live in a remote community, in a place, you know, 45 minutes out Emerald. That’s what next year’s going to be all about.

Next year we’re going to strike a new National Schools Reform Agreement that’s intended to make sure that all for all schools they’re being fairly funded. That the funding is tied to things that will really help, so let me give you an example. The NAPLAN results that came out a couple of months ago show that one in ten kids are below the minimum standard that you’re expected to meet when they’re eight-years-old. But that’s not the case if you live in regional Australia. It’s about one in three young people who are below that minimum standard. And all of the information we’ve got tells us that if you’re below that minimum standard when you’re little, you’re more than likely to still be below that minimum standard when you’re in high school – that you don’t catch up.

What we’re looking at at the moment is not just how we fund our schools properly but how we use that funding to help young people who fall behind when they’re little to catch up and then keep up at high school so that more young people finish high school. Because going back to what I was talking about before, the ultimate aim here is to make sure that more people finish high school and then have a crack at TAFE or university because it’s in TAFE and university that you’re going to get the skills you need for the jobs that are being created right now.

JOURNALIST: Uni is quite expensive. Has the government got any plans to, you know, make it easier for people to go to uni?

CLARE: There are a couple of things here – the cost of the degree, the cost of living while you’re at university and the cost to kids missing out on going to university at all. And the Universities Accord Ministerial Reference Group that’s meeting today is looking at all three of those things.

HECS is a scheme that helps everybody to go to university because you don’t pay upfront – you pay later. And that helps. But the review team is looking at the way HECS works at the moment and whether there’s ways to improve it.

And then there’s the cost while you’re at university. If you’re renting it can be really hard. If you’re doing a teaching degree or nursing degree or a social work degree and you have to do a lot of prac, and that means that you can’t do a part-time job, then how do you pay the rent?

There are a lot of young people who told me that they got themselves into a state of poverty, sleeping in a car or, you know, worse, because of the way it’s set up at the moment. So, we’re looking at the cost of degrees, we’re looking at the cost of living while you’re getting a degree, but we’ve got to look at the cost to individuals and the cost for our whole country of young people, whether they live in Emerald or Rocky or anywhere else, of not getting to university at all.

I don’t want us to be a country where your chances in life depend on who your mum and dad are or where you live. And so what we’re looking at today is what can we do to help more young people, particularly in regional Australia, to get a crack at going to university.

JOURNALIST: I think every parent would want their kids to have the best opportunity at school, you know, there’d be people who say that private school might be better than public, public might be better than private. What’s the selection criteria? How will the funds of the scholarship be allocated?

CHISHOLM: There’s two funds available. One is a $10,000 a year for six years of high school, and that’s based on lower and middle income, so that’s available through the Education Department website and that has to be done by people who are overseeing the program. Then the second fund is for those on lower incomes, and that’s $20,000 a year for the full six years as well. So there’s two funds available – 50 scholarships of $10,000 a year and 50 scholarships of $20,000 a year and it’s based on the income.

JOURNALIST: What about – I know that, so it’s aimed at people living in rural and regional areas. How far does that stretch?

CHISHOLM: It stretches to every corner of the country. It is their only option, for many people. And that’s what this program is really designed to support is those hundred people for the full six years. But this is a pilot program so it is something that we’ll be able to look at in time and judge how successful it is and given the challenges that we face in education, we’re really hopeful that this will provide that opportunity for those hundred people. But we’ll assess that and if it is something that can rolled out more widely, I’m sure that is something that we’ll consider along with a range of other education reforms.

JOURNALIST: Yeah, the story of a seven-year-old boy who had to go through surgery after a school fight, what’s your response to that? And, I guess, what is being done to keep kids safe in school grounds?

CLARE: Every child should be safe at school. Over the last 24 hours or so we’ve seen evidence that that’s not always the case. A young boy who died in a school in Sydney yesterday, that’s being investigated by NESA, and now this school here as well. Whether you’re at school or whether you’re in childcare or university, you should be safe.

I don’t want to speak about the case specifically because it’s before the courts, but we have a big piece of work going on at the moment about safety in childcare centres. And likewise at university. I think there’s been a mountain of evidence that young people, particularly young women, aren’t always safe at university. There is a big piece of work at the moment going on about what we need to do about that.

The same is true in schools. And not specifically about this case, which I expect that the Victorian Department of Education will have more to say about, but because of what’s happening in the Middle East, young people from Jewish background going to Jewish schools and young Muslim Australian kids going to Islamic schools don’t feel safe at the moment. That’s why we’ve allocated extra money to those schools for security guards and extra investment in mental health. It goes back to what I said before, whether you’re in childcare, whether you’re in primary school, high school, TAFE or university, you should be safe and you should feel safe.