Radio Interview with Paul Turton – ABC Newcastle – Wednesday 13 December 2023


SUBJECTS: University of Newcastle teacher graduation; Report into the next National School Reform Agreement; A better and fairer education system; International education; ATAR results; Be That Teacher campaign  

PAUL TURTON: The Education Minister is Jason Clare; he is visiting Newcastle today. Let’s find out why. Minister, good afternoon to you.  


TURTON: What brings you to Newcastle?  

CLARE: It’s Graduation Day here at the University of Newcastle. I’ve been given the privilege to speak to some of the students who are graduating today to become schoolteachers, and don’t we need a lot more of them?  

TURTON: Providing words of advice?  

CLARE: I made a special request of the Vice‑Chancellor. I said, “Look, I’d love to come and speak to the graduating students but on one condition. I want you to tell the students to invite a teacher who inspired them. Maybe someone that they remember from primary school or from high school, someone that influenced them, shaped them into the person that they became”.   

I wanted those teachers, some of them are now former teachers, to see these young people up on stage and see what they’ve become.  

TURTON: And so who did you meet?  

CLARE: I’ve just got here to be honest. I’ve just arrived.  

TURTON: Oh right, so it’s ahead of you.  

CLARE: This is all about to happen. Once I get off the radio I’m going to meet the graduates, going to meet the teachers that they’ve invited and then the graduation ceremony kicks off at 6 o’clock.  

TURTON: Well that’s a wonderful thing that’s ahead of you for this afternoon. Thank you for agreeing to have a chat this afternoon just before that kicks off.  

Let’s talk about of course the big issue, which is a huge job ahead of you and Ministers around the State when it comes to signing on to a new 10-year national school reform agreement.  

CLARE: Yeah.  

TURTON: Of course just in the last day or so we’ve seen this expert panel deliver their report on what needs to change. My understanding is this is what the New South Wales Teachers Union have put out, saying there’s a funding shortfall for New South Wales public schools amounting to $1.9 billion. Can you plug that gap?  

CLARE: There is a funding shortfall, not just in New South Wales, right across the country. Except for in the ACT, no public school right across the country is funded at the level that David Gonski said they should be over 10 years ago.  

Now non‑Government schools are, or they’re on a pathway to be at 100 per cent of the level that David said they should be at. But public schools aren’t. We need to fill that gap. We need to fix that gap. That’s what I’m determined to do working with the New South Wales Government, but with every State and Territory Government across the country next year as part of that agreement.  

But not just that, Paul, you know, we’ve got to make sure that we tie the money to the sort of things that we need in our schools. In particular, the sort of things that are going to help kids when they’re little, when they’re seven or eight at primary school if they fall behind to help them catch up, because if you fall behind then you don’t catch up, you’re most likely not to finish school.  

We live in a world today where you’ve got to finish school and then go on to TAFE or to uni, like Newcastle Uni where I am today, because most of the jobs that have been created require you to go to TAFE or uni.  

TURTON: Just to understand what that agreement is in terms of how you’re going to hash it out with the other Education Ministers across the States, what is that to-and-fro, what are you actually debating or negotiating when you try to strike that agreement?  

CLARE: It’s two things. It’s money, it’s the amount of money that the Commonwealth will put in and the amount of money each State Government will put in, and it’s what we spend the money on.  

So next year we’ll do two things. We’ll strike a National School Reform Agreement that all States and Territories sign up to that sets out the targets we want to meet over the next 10 years and the reforms we’re going to put in place, and the funding that we’ll put in place to support it.  

But I’ll also have to strike an agreement with the New South Wales Government and with every State and Territory on individual targets and reforms for each State and each Territory. The States and Territories run the schools and they’ll need different amounts of funding targeted at different things based on their own school system.  

TURTON: So there’s this Schooling Resource Standard which is what I was referring to in that shortfall there.  

CLARE: Yes.  

TURTON: As you were talking about private schools, many meet that schooling resource standard however public schools do not.  

CLARE: Correct.  

TURTON: Is it your expectation understand that agreement that you will meet that standard?  

CLARE: That’s what we’ve got to do. We promised before the election that we’d work with States and Territories to make sure that all schools are fully and fairly funded. In other words, to fill that gap.  

But I’m not going to write a blank cheque. I want to make sure that the money we invest to fill that gap is invested in the sort of things that are going to fix the education gaps that exist in our country.  

If you’re a kid from the regions or you’re a kid from a poor family, you’re three times more likely to fall behind at school than other kids. Most of those kids never catch up.  

What this report says is what we should spend the money on. It says that we’ve got to act early to identify children who fall behind with things like literacy screening in first class and numeracy screening in first class. And then if a child is behind the rest of the class, get them out of a class of 30, put them in a class with three or four other children and one teacher, something called catch up tutoring. We know it works because it’s been something that we’ve done since the pandemic to help kids catch up. And programs like that can help a child learn as much in six months as you’d normally learn in a year.  

Now if we invest the money in that sort of thing, employing people to do that sort of work, then not only will we fix the funding problems, but we’ll help to fix this education gap that often exists between poor kids and kids from wealthier families.  

TURTON: I was really struck by the recommendation to take action to improve socio‑economic diversity within and across school systems, so the idea that, you know, not just all the middle-class kids go to one school and all the kids from, you know, tougher backgrounds go to one ‑‑  

CLARE: Yeah.  

TURTON: How do you actually do that? How do you force that mix to be happening in our schools?  

CLARE: You can’t force it, but you can create incentives to encourage parents to want to send their children to schools that at the moment children aren’t going to.  

This report says that we’ve got one of the most segregated school systems in the world. Not by the colour of your skin but by the size of your parents’ pay packet.  In other words, a lot of poor kids surrounded by other kids from poor families and disadvantaged backgrounds in the one school.  

I know this for a fact, this is my story, if you’re a child from a poor family surrounded by a lot of poor kids at school and you fall behind it’s harder to catch up. That’s what the evidence shows.  

You know, one of the things we want to do is to crack that. Now the report says that if you pay experienced teachers more to work in those schools, that will make a difference because experience counts. And if you provide extra supports, not just education supports but health supports, it might be parenting services, it might be occupational therapists, it might be speech therapists, it might be nurses, in a school like that, then that helps as well. If you put an early education centre there it can act as an incentive for parents to want to send their children to a school like that.  

TURTON: Another issue in the education sector this week, the understanding that the Federal Government will move to limit the number of international students we have coming to study at our universities.  

Just to gain an understanding of how that might happen and should the University of Newcastle, for example, be concerned that that’s going to hobble their financial viability?  

CLARE: It’s not about limiting the number, but it’s about making sure that we protect the integrity of the system. This is a great asset for the country. It makes the university money; it makes the region a lot of money having students come from around the world to study here.  

And not just that, you know, it makes us friends. If you study in Australia and you love Australia, a bit of it rubs off on you and when you go home you take that love and affection for Australia back home with you.  

But as students have come back since the pandemic we’ve seen the shonks that gravitate around students comeback as well. People that are encouraging students to quit the uni degree and then take up a VET course at another place and never turn up to that course and just really use the student visa as the back door to work here.  

These reforms that were announced this week, on top of some reforms I announced a couple of months ago, are about trying to make sure that we protect the quality and the integrity of what we offer students here in Newcastle, but all around the country.  

TURTON: Today we’ve learnt about some of the top of the class right across New South Wales.  By our account we’ve had six across Newcastle and the Hunter topping their respective subjects.  

CLARE: That’s awesome.  

TURTON: Which we’re pretty proud of. But tomorrow all of the students will receive their HSC results. We hope that many will be very happy with them. Of course some may not. They may receive results are well below what they wanted, what they expected, what they need to do to pursue whatever career they were hoping for.  

Jason Clare, Minister for Education, what’s your message to those students that get disappointing results tomorrow?  

CLARE: My message to them is it’s not the end of the world. You know, I’m the first person in my family to finish high school, first person to finish Year 10. So I remember doing the HSC and thinking, “If I don’t get the marks I need to get what I want to do then my whole life will be ruined”.  Turns out it wasn’t true. When I got to university, I realised that you could change courses, you can make up your mind to do different things in life.  

There are all of these options at University of Newcastle. For example, they’ve got courses here for people who don’t qualify to get into the degree straight away as a bit of a bridging course or a stepping stone to do the course that they really love.  

I just say to everybody who’s excited about 6 o’clock tomorrow morning and getting their marks, I wish you luck. I hope that you get the opportunity to do the course that you love with the results you get tomorrow. But if you don’t there’s always a second chance, there’s always another way to follow your dreams.  

TURTON: Minister, I appreciate your time today. You’re obviously, as you mentioned at the top, about to meet some pretty inspiring teachers, so you’ll either have to send them our way for a chat or tell us about their stories next time we have a chat on the radio.  

CLARE: I reckon I’d love to do that. We don’t remember much from when we were little but think about when you were five you remember your teachers. And that reminds us how important they are.  

We’re running a $10 million campaign at the moment called “Be That Teacher” and if I can ask people listening to Google “Be That Teacher”.  Look at the TV ads that are being produced. If you don’t cry you’re not human. It reminds us that, you know, what our teachers do is the most important job in the world.  

TURTON: Yeah, that’s fantastic. Education Minister Jason Clare, thank you for your time today.

CLARE: Good on you, thanks mate.