Radio Interview with Sarah McDonald – ABC Sydney – Thursday 14 March 2024

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
RADIO INTERVIEW
ABC SYDNEY WITH SARAH MCDONALD
THURSDAY, 14 MARCH 2024

SUBJECTS: NAPLAN; Building a better and fairer education system; Public school funding; Cranbrook; Next National School Reform Agreement; Universities Accord Report; Teacher shortages.

SARAH MACDONALD: NAPLAN is under way. How did you go with Craig’s questions this morning? To talk to us about our education in our schools and universities is Jason Clare, the Federal Education Minister. Hello and welcome.

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day, Sarah.

MACDONALD: NAPLAN. I know you were dux of your school, Canley Vale High, so can I give you a bit of a test this morning? 

CLARE: Crikey.

MACDONALD: It’s the only one I’ve got right when I was listening. It’s about strawberries but I’ve changed it a bit. There are some safe seats up for grabs. Anthony took half of them. Then he took one more. There are five safe seats left. How many seats were there in the first place?

CLARE: 12.

MACDONALD: Well done. Yay, you can do maths.

CLARE: Only under pressure.

MACDONALD: Was it your favourite subject?

CLARE: No, certainly was not. History was my favourite subject.

MACDONALD: You loved history.

CLARE: Yeah, still do.

MACDONALD: Right. I mean NAPLAN has become quite an obsession now for schools, and some parents too, and it does mean sometimes we’re seeing this impact that teachers are teaching to NAPLAN. Why is it still useful?

CLARE: I know it’s not universally loved but it’s important, because it’s a bit of a national snapshot that tells us where we’re doing well, and where we’re not.

To give you an idea, we often focus on the negative, let me give you a positive to kick off with. What NAPLAN tells us is that the average eight‑year‑old today reads at about a year ahead of what the average eight‑year‑old read at 15 years ago. So that’s great.

MACDONALD: Reading, tick.

CLARE: But what it also shows us is that the gap in reading skills of eight‑year‑olds from poor families and eight‑year‑olds from wealthy families is double what it was 15 years ago. So 15 years ago the gap was about a year in learning, now it’s two. And we all know that that gap gets bigger and bigger with every year at school.

So by the time those kids are sitting NAPLAN in Year 9, that gap in reading between a child from a poor family and a child from a wealthy family is about four or five years. That’s what we’ve got to fix.

MACDONALD: So it shows you where the inequality is, right.

CLARE: Yeah.

MACDONALD: And what you’ve got to address.

CLARE: But not just that, it identifies the children that are falling behind.

MACDONALD: That need the help.

CLARE: Now the next step is making sure that we invest funding in the sort of things that are going to help that child to catch up.

MACDONALD: What about in terms of school funding, because you’ve made a big announcement about investment in the Northern Territory yesterday. It will get 100 per cent of the schooling resource standard by 2029, WA has signed up. When will New South Wales get this funding?

CLARE: I want to get every State signed up this year. I want to make sure that we fund all our public schools right across the country properly, and that we tie funding to the sort of things that are going to help children who fall behind to catch up.

To give you an idea about the challenge in the Northern Territory and why yesterday’s announcement is so important. We’re talking about NAPLAN a minute ago, one in 10 children we know will be below that minimum standard for reading and writing and maths. In the Northern Territory it’s one in three. So the challenge is three times as big.

MACDONALD: And I don’t want to take away from the Northern Territory, those kids need that funding. But what about here though, because I know you’ve been having a bit of an argy‑bargy with Prue Car about this, and you’re negotiating, and she’s like, “Come on, we need that fully funded school resource standard that Gonski wanted”. 

CLARE: All State Education Ministers want us to get there, and to be fair to every State Education Minister, they all agree, like you and I do, that the Northern Territory is different to every other part of the country, the challenge is much bigger. Their funding at the moment is less than 80 per cent of what David Gonski said it should be.

The deal we announced yesterday means that we double Commonwealth funding, and we bring forward the day when we get full funding of public schools in the Northern Territory by more than 20 years. So that’s a big deal.

MACDONALD: But shouldn’t we have full funding for our public schools now?

CLARE: The answer to that is yes, and it would have happened if the Liberals didn’t get elected in 2013 and rip it up. My job now is to make sure that we finish the job.

MACDONALD: You know that enrolments are still rising faster in the private sector than they are in the public, and this is despite a cost‑of‑living issue that a lot of us are facing. So do you want to stem this tide, this is perhaps an indication that people are leaving the public system because of this inequality in funding and, you know, the fact that it needs more resources.

CLARE: I want public education to be parents’ first choice. At the moment we have one of the most segregated education systems in the world, not by the colour of your parents’ skin but by the size of their pay packet. That is just a fact.

We also know this: that we’re now seeing over the last say six or seven years a drop in the percentage of kids finishing high school. Not everywhere, it’s going up in independent schools, it’s about flat in Catholic schools. It’s going down in public schools.

And in particular it’s dropping fastest amongst kids from poor families. Six years ago, 76 per cent of kids from poor families finished high school, now it’s 70 per cent, and Sarah, as you know, as everyone listening knows, this is happening at a time where it’s more important to finish high school than it was when we were at school.

You’ve got to finish high school now. Nine out of 10 jobs require you to finish school and then go to TAFE or to uni, and things are going backwards.

That’s why the deal we strike this year is so important, making sure that we fix this funding gap, but also that we tie the funding to the sort of things that are going to help the kids we’re talking about here today.

MACDONALD: Right.

CLARE: Who fall behind when they’re little in that NAPLAN test when they’re as old as my little fellow at school, to catch up and to keep up and then to finish high school and go on and get those jobs.

MACDONALD: Right. So when will that come through with New South Wales? You said this year.

CLARE: I want to get it done this year, and that requires the Commonwealth Government chipping in more money. It also requires the State Governments chipping in more money.

New South Wales has said in the past they’d fund the whole thing themselves. I said, that’s not necessary, I think this needs to be a team effort.

MACDONALD: Well they’ve got problems now, Jason Clare.

The Federal Education Minister is with me on ABC Radio Sydney, where it’s 14 past 9.

We’re now going to get less of the GST pot, the Premier’s very cross about this and the State Treasurer too, so we’ve got less money for education. And so this is going to make it even tougher for them to cough up more money. And we’ve now got huge discrepancies, as you said, you know, we’ve got sort of castles in private schools in Sydney versus demountables in other, wellness centres versus no sport as they can’t afford the bus to go to school. I could go on about this, but New South Wales got less money to even put in education now.

CLARE: If the Northern Territory can chip in extra money to get us, to make sure that we’re funding our public schools properly, then so can every State and Territory.

And just to put this in perspective, right; so what we announced yesterday is the Commonwealth chipping in an extra 20 per cent and the Northern Territory putting in an extra six per cent, an extra $350 million. That’s a big ask from the Northern Territory, but this is team work, both sides chipping in, and what I’m hoping is that we’ll be able to do the same sort of deal like we’ve done in the Northern Territory, we’ve done in Western Australia, right across the country.

MACDONALD: All right. Well, let’s hope you can. Whenever we mention some of these discrepancies though we get the same texts, and that is why are we funding private schools in Australia that have swimming pools. You know, the Cranbrook Head resigned from his $1 million a year job last week after a Four Corners report on the culture of the school and teacher behaviour that he knew about. That school gets $6.5 million in Federal and State funding, but not the same oversight, it’s a business.

CLARE: The first and most important thing to say here is that this is what the Gonski model sets up. I’m not interested in breaking the Gonski model, I want to finish it.

There is something which is not often understood, which is that the way the Gonski model works is there’s a discount for schools where the parents of the children who go to the schools earn a high income.

So let me explain a little bit so that we’ve got it in perspective. So under the Gonski model the base level funding that should be available for a child in primary school is about $13,000, and for a child in high school it’s about $17,000. And then there’s extra loadings for disadvantage. So the average amount is about $21,000 per child.

For children who go to a private school where the parents earn a high income, there’s a discount in the other direction if they earn a high income.

So say at Cranbrook, for example, the amount per student is $2,800. So that just sets it in perspective.

But the second part of your question was about accountability. I want this money to glow in the dark. The fact is that Commonwealth money invested in schools, whether they’re public or private, doesn’t at the moment, and it needs to. I want parents and I want teachers to know where the money goes, so that we can make sure that we get maximum bang for our buck here, make this money work for us, make sure that the money works to help children who need it the most.

MACDONALD: All right. We’re getting lots of texts about why they think private school enrolments are increasing, and grandparents are often coughing up these private school fees, but there’s big issues, I think, in the perception of public schools and others arguing we shouldn’t be funding private schools at all.

It seems to me you’re going to keep that funding, but you want to know where that money’s going, and that it’s being put to the best use.

CLARE: I want to fund schools properly. I want to tie the funding to the things that are going to help the kids who fall behind to catch up. And I tell you what, the other thing I’ve got to make the point of here is this: the real fight is not with the States. Every State Education Minister wants this to happen. Because they get the power of education to change children’s lives, change the country’s life. The real fight is going to be next year. We’re going to have an election next year. The Coalition have made it pretty clear that if they win they’ll rip this up.

So the deal that I want to do with New South Wales, that I want to do with every State across the country, could be torn down and ripped up if we don’t win the next election, so there’s a lot at stake.

MACDONALD: Okay, election campaign already. Someone’s texting saying, “Jason Clare, do your kids go to public school?”

CLARE: You bet they do.

MACDONALD: Right. Okay. How many do you have?

CLARE: Two.

MACDONALD: Two kids in the public system.

CLARE: Only one goes to a public school at the moment because the other guy’s in childcare, or should I say early education.

MACDONALD: Yeah. So how much say do you have at the moment about where private schools put that money? You said you want it to glow in the dark. Is there like, you know, they’re not allowed to use it say on capital works and swimming pools and wellness centres.

CLARE: That’s exactly right. They can’t, and they can’t use it for profit. So there are rules in the Australian Education Act that enable the Commonwealth Government to act.

For example, with Cranbrook, serious allegations revealed by Four Corners. I’ve asked my Department to investigate. My Department has written to Cranbrook, to the Board of Cranbrook, asking a series of questions to determine whether they meet the requirements of the Act, whether they are indeed a fit and proper person as defined under the Act, or whether there’s evidence of a pattern of immoral or unethical behaviour.

Now if that’s substantiated, and there’s an investigation under way, so I don’t want to pre‑empt that, then there are powers under the Act for the Department to put conditions on their funding or stop that funding altogether.

MACDONALD: And that could happen?

CLARE: It could. Now I’m not pre‑empting the investigation, that’s the way the Act works at the moment.

But the bigger point I want to make is that this year we strike a new agreement with new funding, but I want the funding tied to reforms and I want to make sure that inside that agreement is a power for us to be able to see where the money goes in a way that we don’t at the moment.

MACDONALD: Jason Clare is with me; he is the Federal Minister for Education.

So you’re saying, you know, private schools receive that money because they have children in them, the money goes with children, but it’s about disadvantage. So under the system that’s never going to change, they’ll always get some funding.

CLARE: That’s right. The real challenge here at the moment is non‑government schools are funded at 100 per cent of the level that David said they should be. They’re either at that or above it and going down, or some are below and about to hit that in 2029.

MACDONALD: And the public schools aren’t.

CLARE: The real problem is public schools aren’t. No public school, Sarah, apart from the ACT at the moment, is funded at that level.

The deal I’ve done in WA will get it there by 2026. The deal in the Northern Territory, we’ll make sure that those schools that are funded at about 74 per cent at the moment will get to that 100 per cent level in the next few years.

I want to do the same deal across the country. It’s the fair and the right thing to do, but I want to make sure that the money is tied to the things that are going to help those kids who are struggling with their NAPLAN exams today to get the extra support they need.

Now what does that mean? Well, it means things like catch‑up tutoring, where you get a child out of a classroom of 30 into a classroom of five and give them extra help and support. The evidence shows if you do that, a child who falls behind can learn as much in six months as you’d normally learn in 12 months, so they catch up, and they’re more likely to be that child that finishes the HSC, that goes on to TAFE, goes on to uni. 

MACDONALD: Yeah, early intervention. A couple of quick questions before you finish.

CLARE: Sure.

MACDONALD: In terms of university students, the indexation applied to HECS is really hurting, it’s going up faster than they can pay it back in some instances. What are you going to do about that?

CLARE: This was mentioned in the Universities Accord report I released a couple of weeks ago.

MACDONALD: Yes. What are you going to do about it? 

CLARE: We’ve setting up higher education for the next two decades, it recommends changes to make HECS, or what’s now called HELP, fairer and simpler.

MACDONALD: Are you doing that in the budget?

CLARE: We’ll respond in the next couple of months, and it’s got recommendations in there about what you’re talking about, about the way in which HECS is indexed, but also there’s recommendations there about repayments. 

So for example, Bruce Chapman, the Professor that set up HECS in the first place, has given a recommendation to the panel they accepted that says that people on lower incomes should make smaller repayments. If you’re on say $75,000, that would mean that you’re repaying about $1,000 less a year.

So there are a bunch of recommendations about HECS, we’re looking at all of those at the moment.

MACDONALD: All right. There’s proposals about paying teachers and nurses, for instance, while they’re studying for the training and the work they have to do in the workplace. I’m sure you get free interns in politics, but what do you want to do about this? Because these are people we really, really need in the system, these young people.

CLARE: If you talk to teachers and nurses, if you talk to teaching and nursing students, they’ll tell you that often you’ve got to travel a fair distance, sometimes move to the regions to do your prac. You’ve got to sometimes give up your part‑time job to do prac. We’re talking 800 hours for nursing students, 600 for a teaching student, 1,000 hours for a social working student, and so they can find themselves in serious poverty.

So this report recommends that there be some form of paid prac where governments are helping to provide financial support for students while they’re doing their teaching degree or their nursing degree or their social work degree.

I’ve said that I think this has a lot of merit, it’s one of the things that we’re looking at as part of our response to the Accord report.

MACDONALD: All right. Kim says, “Your premise about spending more on education is that it improves outcomes. Our continuing slide internationally proves that this is wrong. What about things like improved teaching methods and better teachers?”

CLARE: That’s part of it as well. Let me make this point: you’re never going to hear me bag teachers, unlike the former government, the former ministers ‑‑

MACDONALD: You’ve been advertising and celebrating them.

CLARE: Well, and so we should.

MACDONALD: Yes.

CLARE: The first thing I did when I got this job was go back to Cabramatta Public School and give my old teacher, or my former teacher, Mrs Fry a hug, to send a message to the country about what I think is important, about who I think are important, our teachers. But the fact is we don’t have enough Mrs Frys.

MACDONALD: Yeah, and they’ve got pay rises though, but what more can be done in terms of teaching methods? 

CLARE: Pay’s important, great result last year that’s increased pay for teachers. Workload’s a challenge. Ask a lot of teachers and they’ll make the point this is not a job where you start at 9 and finish at 3. We’ve got to do more as a country to elevate the status of teachers.

Now there’s a reason why in a place like Singapore that there’s a line out the door of university of people wanting to be a teacher, that’s because, it is a profession that is celebrated so much.

I want to change the way our teachers think the country thinks of them and the way we as a country think of our teachers. Have a look ‑ everyone listening, a quick plug, google ‘Be That Teacher’, have a look at the campaign we kicked off last year.

MACDONALD: I’ve seen it.

CLARE: 50 million people have seen it so far, which is fantastic. Scholarships worth $40,000 a pop to encourage more people to become a teacher a part of that as well.

But it’s not just a drop in the number of people enrolling to become a teacher that’s the challenge for us, and it’s not just a problem of having people leave the profession they love. We’re not having enough people once they’re at uni finish. Only 54 per cent of people who start a teaching degree finish. If we could get that to the university average of 70 per cent, that would help as well.

MACDONALD: You pay the HECS?

CLARE: Well part of it would be fixing the course at university, fixing the curriculum, getting core content in there with the sort of things that teachers say they need to be ready on day one, and improving prac, and that’s why that recommendation we talked about a minute ago about paid prac is so important.

MACDONALD: All right. A final question, Lyn in Plumpton would love to know about your plans for TAFE because the system really has been run down over the years and needs big plans to improve.

CLARE: Fee‑free TAFE, the investment that we’re making there is important. It’s one of the reasons we’ve had so many people take up those spots because they’re free.

One of the things ‑ sorry, this is a little bit of a tangent ‑ but one of the things in the report on universities is about fee‑free university prep courses. The idea that not everybody’s ready for university when they finish high school, but a fee‑free course that might last for six months that helps to get you ready for university can help a lot of people, particularly in my neck of the woods, particularly young people from disadvantaged backgrounds ‑‑

MACDONALD: Are they getting good quality at that TAFE? Does that need to be improved when they go?

CLARE: What the report points out is there’s not enough integration between TAFE and uni, that if we’re going to ‑ and the report says that we’ve got about 60 per cent of the workforce today with a TAFE qualification or a uni degree, and that by 2050 we need 80 per cent, and that if we’re going to do that we need TAFE and uni working more closely together.

There’s a great example of Meadowbank, not far from here, where you’ve got an institute where the TAFE, Macquarie Uni and UTS are working together with Microsoft creating courses that will deliver either certificate or diploma or degree, that more of those sorts of models are important.

We’re funding with the State Government, with all State Governments, the establishment of up to 20 more of those across the country. I think that’s a key part of making sure that we build a workforce with the skills we’re going to need for the future.

MACDONALD: People are appreciating you’re across your portfolio, Jason Clare, and you’ve given us so much time. Jason Clare is the Federal Education Minister.

But can I just clear up, because there’s still great confusion on my text line about the private school funding. You said we publicly fund them because of the students coming through them, right, and it matches that, and it matches the need in the area.

How does $2,000 a child equate to $6.5 million a year for Cranbrook?  It seems more than the 100 per cent level. I mean I’m asking you do more NAPLAN level maths to the end now.

CLARE: Is this a NAPLAN question?

MACDONALD: But does it add up is what people are questioning. So you’re saying it does add up.

CLARE: Yeah.

MACDONALD: It follows the student, it’s about their level of disadvantage.

CLARE: That’s the model.

MACDONALD: That’s the model, and you’re not going to change that model.

CLARE: I’m not trying to break it. I’m trying to finish it.

The real problem here is that what David Gonski and the team set up more than a decade ago hasn’t been fully implemented. I want to make sure that every child gets the funding that they need.

I’m a kid from public education. I talked about Cabramatta Public School; you mentioned Canley Vale High School. I know what disadvantage looks like because I saw it at school, and I know what the power of education can do, because I’ve lived it.

I’m the first person in my family to finish Year 10. It’s education, it’s public education, it’s the teachers in the schools that I went to that changed my life and brought me to this point, in this studio, in front of this microphone now.

I want to be a Minister who helps to make sure that we get there, that we fund all our schools properly and that we tie that sort of funding to the things that are going to change children’s lives in the future.

MACDONALD: Thanks so much for your time today.

ENDS