Radio Interview with Sarah MacDonald – ABC Radio Sydney – Tuesday 12 December 2023

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
TELEVISION INTERVIEW
ABC RADIO SYDNEY
TUESDAY, 12 DECEMBER 2023

SUBJECTS: Report into the next National School Reform Agreement; A better and fairer education system; Teacher workforce; International students.

SARAH MACDONALD: Federal and State Ministers did meet yesterday in terms of education to start negotiations about school funding. Jason Clare is the Federal Education Minister. He wants to fix the education gap, and he joins me this morning on ABC Radio Sydney. Good morning.

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Good morning, Sarah, how are you? 

MACDONALD: I’m really well, thank you. Now I know you were dux of a public school, Canley Vale High School in Western Sydney. How much do you think the gap between the private and the public schools have grown since you went to school?

CLARE: This report tells us that we now have one of the most segregated school systems in the OECD, segregated not by the colour of your skin but by the size of your parents’ pack packet, and it’s growing faster than many other countries.

The report tells us that if you’re a child from a poor family, if you are going to a school in a disadvantaged community, like the one that I grew up in at Cabramatta and Canley Vale High, then you’re more likely to fall behind at school and you’re more likely to stay there, and you’re less likely to finish high school, and all of that’s happening at a time where we need more people to finish high school, because most of the jobs being created today require you to finish school, then go on to TAFE or to university.

The fact that that’s dropping, that more people aren’t finishing high school, particularly in public schools, particularly young people from poor backgrounds, particularly in communities like the one that I grew up in, that’s a worry, that’s what we’ve got to fix.

MACDONALD: Yep. So, the kids of today don’t, you feel, have the opportunities that perhaps you have had in life from that education?

CLARE: I still believe that education is the most powerful cause for good, that it’s the vehicle to create change in our country. To help to make sure that we give all young people the opportunities in life that they need to succeed, but there are changes that we need to make.

We need to make sure that all of our public schools are fully and fairly funded, and we need to make sure that we tie that funding to the sort of things that we know work, that are going to help children, like the ones I’m talking about, who fall behind at school, to catch up when they’re young, when they’re at primary school, and then keep up at high school, and finish high school, then go on to TAFE or uni.

MACDONALD: Well, this says 98 per cent of public schools are under‑funded. Now we have had the New South Wales Education Minister, Prue Car on the show a lot, she says she’s very aware of this inequality. So how are you going to help the states improve the funding for public schools?

CLARE: We’ve said before the election, and we’ve said since the election that we’ll work with States and Territories to make sure that all schools are fully and fairly funded. That’s what the National School Reform Agreement that we negotiate and finalise next year is all about. But this is not about blank cheques, we also need to make sure that we tie that funding to the sort of things that we know work, so that we don’t just fix this funding gap, we also fix the education gap; we help young people that fall behind to catch up.

So that’s why this report that we released yesterday talks about investing in things like early identification of children who are falling behind by phonic screening in Year One and numeracy screening. And also early intervention. Things like catch‑up tutoring that we know work in New South Wales because they’ve been deployed in the aftermath of the pandemic, where if a child falls behind, you get them out of a classroom of 30, put them in a classroom with one teacher and three children, or two teachers and six children, and the evidence is now showing that in the space of about six months they can learn as much as you would ordinarily learn in a year, so children catch up, can get put back into the classroom and keep up, and then go on and ultimately finish high school and go to TAFE or uni.

MACDONALD: Yeah, so invest early and save later. What about private school funding though, which comes from the Commonwealth Government, will you reduce that to pay for more help for the public schools, to close this gap a little bit that has become a bit of a chasm in the last decade or so?

CLARE: Just to be clear, private school funding comes from the Commonwealth and from the States as well. The Commonwealth put in 80 per cent of that public funding, the States and Territories put in 20 per cent. The changes that Malcolm Turnbull made around a couple of years ago when he was Prime Minister mean that that private school funding is now on a trajectory down to get to 100 per cent of that Gonski level by 2029.

The real problem, Sarah, is that public school funding is not on a trajectory to get to 100 per cent. In New South Wales, for example, it’s on a path to get to 95 per cent by 2025; in other States it’s 2030, or later, in the Northern Territory it’s never.

The agreement that we work on next year and that we finalise next year needs to be about closing that funding gap, levelling the playing field, making sure that all schools and all kids are properly and fairly funded. But it’s not a blank cheque. We want to make sure that this money works, that we make this money work and that we invest it in the sort of things that are going to help our children in the areas they need it most.

MACDONALD: Jason Clare is the Federal Education Minister with me on ABC Radio Sydney. So private schools will continue to get their funding, and then you’re going to provide more for public schools with that, as you said, that early intervention, and make sure that it’s evidence‑based, you’re not going to take from the private to give to the public, because you’ve got a bit of an issue here that people are abandoning the public school system and going into the private, so they’ll be upset if they get less funding.

CLARE: I want public education to be parents’ first choice. I want parents to think about sending their children to local public schools. Choice is important. A lot of parents feel like they don’t have a choice at the moment. I want to change that. I want people to think about their local public school, and part of that is making sure that they’re fully and fairly funded.

That’s what the agreement next year is all about. But not just that, that it’s funding is directed to the sort of things that parents care about, that children need. They’re the sort of things I’m talking about today, early identification of children who are falling behind when they’re little, and early intervention to help children who are falling behind to catch up.

The report also talks about other things. In those disadvantaged communities like the one I grew up in, providing financial incentive to teachers who are very experienced to go and work in those schools to use their expertise to help those children who are falling behind to catch up.

MACDONALD: Well, we’re also getting teachers taken out of the public system towards the private and the Catholic system though, aren’t we, because they can get more money there.

CLARE: We’ve got a bigger problem than that, and that is just an overall shortage of school teachers. Over the last 10 years we’ve seen a drop of about 12 per cent in the number of people enrolling in teaching courses at uni. We’re now seeing the first signs of an increase in enrolments. That’s a good sign. To help, we’re offering scholarships worth up to $40,000 a pop to encourage people coming out of school to want to be a teacher rather than a lawyer or a banker.

But we’ve also got the problem that only one in two people who start a teaching degree finish it. And to fix that, we’re improving the course at university to make sure that people are taught the fundamentals at university to teach children to read and write and improve the practical experience that students get in schools while they’re still at uni.

One of the things this report talks about as well is the challenges that teachers face in their first one, two or three years in the classroom. 20 per cent of teachers ‑‑

MACDONALD: Yeah, we hear a lot about behaviour in this case. Lots about this, lots and lots of teachers say this to us, that behaviour has gone down.

CLARE: Big issue. Part of it’s mobile phones, part of it, particularly in high school, is vaping, but one of the things that we’re doing in the university course is making sure that we’re helping teaching students get the skills that they need to manage disruptive classrooms. If students aren’t focused on the teacher, they’re not learning, and if the teacher is managing disruption, they’re not teaching. So everyone misses out.

MACDONALD: What of the role of parents here, ’cause each teacher that texts in on this, and cue, they’re going to start coming in right now, talks about parents’ behaviour too and helping their children have more respect for schools and education and teachers.

CLARE: “Respect” is the right word. There is not a more important job than being a teacher. Pay is important, workload is important. They’re all reasons why we’ve got challenges with the number of teachers in our schools at the moment, but so is respect. And if you survey teachers, you’ll find that most teachers don’t feel like they’re respected by their local community.

We need to change that. We need to change the way our country thinks about our teachers, and we need to change the way our teachers think our country thinks about them, which is part of the reason why the Prime Minister launched a $10 million campaign a couple of weeks ago called “Be That Teacher”, to encourage more young people bursting out of school at the moment, to think about becoming a teacher.

MACDONALD: All right. Well, I have one myself here. Jason Clare’s with us, Federal Education Minister. Do you need to consider free HECS for those who are going to study teaching and education?

CLARE: An even more powerful incentive is providing a $40,000 scholarship upfront. If you can provide a bit of money upfront when you’re at university to pay the rent, to pay the bills, to pay to put food on the table, to pay to catch the train or catch the bus to university, that can be a big incentive, and that’s why we’ve gone down the path of these $40,000 scholarships.

MACDONALD: Right. Well, the HSC results are out this week. Many will want to go to uni. I know there’s changes to English tests for overseas students coming in as announced yesterday. But should overseas students be capped if they’re starting to affect the experience of university for our students?

CLARE: That’s not something that we’ve adopted in the reforms we announced yesterday. The focus really is on getting the shonks out of international education. As the borders were opened after the pandemic, we’ve seen international students come back, that’s a good thing, you know, this was a sector that was basically knee‑capped by the pandemic, cut in half.

Students are now back, but so are the shonks, the people that circle students, see them at railway stations, encourage them to switch from a uni degree to a VET course and then they never end up turning up to the VET course and are really just working in the economy. That’s not good for them, it’s not good for our country. So, there are loopholes we need to fix that we’re fixing here, and we’ll see what the impact of those reforms are before we consider anything like a cap.

MACDONALD: Thanks so much for your time today. Look forward to getting you into the studio next year perhaps on Mornings.

CLARE: Love to, thanks, Sarah.

MACDONALD: That’s Jason Clare, the Federal Education Minister.

ENDS