Radio Interview with Steve Austin – ABC Radio Brisbane – Tuesday 12 December 2023

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

SUBJECTS: Report into the next National School Reform Agreement; A better and fairer education system; Paid placements.

STEVE AUSTIN: Well, yesterday the Federal and State Education Ministers met to start negotiations in the next School Reform Agreement, and one of the things they’ve made pretty clear is they intend on finding a way of getting more money into public schools.

Jason Clare is the Federal Minister for Education. Minister, good afternoon, thanks for having ‑ thanks for coming on ABC Radio Brisbane.

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thanks Steve, it’s great to be on the show.

AUSTIN: Well, apparently the Federal and State ministers said that all public schools don’t get enough money per student to meet the School Resourcing Standard. Forgive me for my dumb question, but what is the School Resourcing Standard, and who sets it?

CLARE: No, it’s not a dumb question, it’s an important one. You’ll remember a bloke called David Gonski, and he did some work over a decade ago that set up some rules about how we should fund our schools. How much money each student should be provided with at primary school and at high school to make sure that they’ve got all of the resources that they need. And that’s a base level amount, it’s about $13,000 per student at primary school, and about $16,000 for a student at high school. And then if you’re a child from the bush or if you’re a child with a disability, or from a poor background, there might be an extra bit of money added on to that to make sure that there’s enough resources to help you get through school and finish school and off to TAFE or university.

That’s what the Schooling Resource Standard is. Now, the problem we’ve got is that for the private schools, they’re all funded at or above that 100 per cent of that Schooling Resource Standard today, and by the end of the decade they’ll all be at 100 per cent.

But the public schools, they’re not. They’ll top-out right across the country at about 95 per cent of that Schooling Resource Standard unless we act to sort that out.

AUSTIN: Now let me jump in there, because as I understand it the Commonwealth has been very generous in this area, in other words at your level funding has been offered by the Commonwealth meeting its appropriate agreements, like the Commonwealth Australia Education Act?

CLARE: That’s right.

AUSTIN: And so, the Commonwealth was meeting their agreements, but the States have not been meeting their agreed targets, in fact, Queensland was given until 2032 to reach the legislated standard.

CLARE: This is where it gets a bit complicated. Again, mate, so you understand, or so listeners know how the money gets allocated, the Commonwealth provides 80 per cent of the taxpayer funding to private schools, and the States provide 20 per cent of that. And then for public schools, or State schools, the Commonwealth provides 20 per cent of that funding, and then the States provide the rest.

Now in the case of Queensland, you’re right, Queensland’s expected to get to 75 per cent of that by 2032. So that means by 2032, unless we act here, we’re still going to have a 5 per cent gap.

AUSTIN: In other words Queensland has not been meeting its legislated agreement?

CLARE: Oh, we’re talking about right across the country, not just Queensland ‑‑

AUSTIN: Sure, but I’m just interested in Queensland.

CLARE: I get. I’m interested in the whole country. I want to make sure that every single school and every single child at every school gets access to full and fair funding, and that we make sure that we tie that funding to the sort of things that are going to help children at our schools to finish school.

One of the problems we’ve got to confront here at the moment is that we’re seeing a drop in the number of young people finishing school at the moment, particularly in public schools, and particularly from poor backgrounds, and there’s a direct link between that and kids falling behind when they’re little, when they’re seven or eight at primary school.

We’ve seen over the last few years a growing gap in the learning outcomes of kids from wealthy families and poor families. That’s why I’ve said to Ministers, what we’ve got do here is not just fix this funding gap, but we’ve got to make sure we use the money in a way that’s going to fix this education gap, so that if a child falls behind when they’re little, we identify it early, through things like a phonics screening or phonics check, or a numeracy check, and we intervene early with things like catch‑up tutoring, where you get the child out of the classroom of 30, put them in a classroom with three or four other children, and they can learn as much in half a year as you’d normally learn in a year.

And once a child catches up and keeps up, well, then they’re on their way. They’re more likely to finish school and then go on to TAFE or uni.

AUSTIN: So this is the recommendations to improve the safety in early childhood education and care settings, is that right?

CLARE: No, sorry, that’s a different topic, Steve.

AUSTIN: Okay.

CLARE: Safety in early childhood education is about a very alleged serious offender that was arrested in Queensland a couple of months ago that’s currently before the court.

And I don’t want to talk about that in any detail. You’ll appreciate why.

AUSTIN: Yes.

CLARE: But this is the report of an Expert Panel to help advise us about what we should be putting in the next 10-year National School Reform Agreement that Ministers will negotiate next year.

AUSTIN: My guest is Federal Education Minister Jason Clare. This is ABC Radio Brisbane. So is there any indication as to what decisions will be finalised yet?

CLARE: Ministers all agree, number one, that we need to fully fund our schools. The challenge next year will be as Ministers get around the table who puts in what, and that’s what those negotiations will be about. What contributions the Commonwealth makes, what contribution the State and Territory governments make, and what those funds are tied to.

This report that we released yesterday gives some examples of what we should be doing. I talked about phonics testing; I talked about catch-up tutoring a moment ago. The other thing it says is that we have one of the most segregated school systems in the world today, not by the colour of your skin, but by the size of your parents’ pay packet. And it’s getting worse. More kids from poor families surrounded by other kids from poor families at school, and in an environment like that, it’s even harder to catch-up and to keep up at school.

So the report also recommends that in schools like that, we pay teachers more who are really experienced to go and work there, and we provide extra supports at those schools. Things called full-service schools, where you might have parenting support, an early learning centre, child health nurses, speech therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, breakfast clubs, those sorts of things that are going to help to dislodge that disadvantage.

AUSTIN: So these are remedial moves, aren’t they?

CLARE: Yeah.

AUSTIN: They’re trying to remediate something that’s occurring, what, at the family home or at a very young age?

CLARE: Exactly right. These are some of the invisible things that children bring with them to school that can impede their learning. And if you intervene early, it can make all the world of difference.

What we negotiate next year is not just about money. It’s about what we spend it on, what we invest it in. I’m not interested in writing a blank cheque here. I want to make sure that the money is tied to the sort of things that are going to help our kids to learn and to get through school.

AUSTIN: Here’s what’s on my mind. The Productivity Commission produced a report on government services, and education was one of the areas they looked at, and they came up with these figures. All government funding for public schools is $20,940 per student. All government funding for private schools is only $12,442 per student. Now there’s a massive more amount of money going in per student to public schools than private schools, yet the pitch that’s coming out of your meeting is the other way around, that somehow that these government-funded schools are being disadvantaged. On those figures it’s the other way around. Can you explain that to me?

CLARE: Well, that covers taxpayers’ money only. When you throw in fees and endowments and investments, then the story is quite different.

AUSTIN: But don’t you want parents to do that? I mean if a parent can afford to help their child get ahead, don’t you want a parent to do that?

CLARE: I want parents to have a choice. I want parents to feel like they can send their child to the school that they want to send them to. To be frank, I want them to feel like the public school around the corner is the perfect choice. And a lot of parents don’t feel like that at the moment, because they don’t feel like it’s got the investment and the resources they need.

We need a fair system here, where we level the playing field and we use that same Schooling Resource Standard for every school and every student, set it at 100 per cent, and so that wherever you go you get the same opportunity in life, and that’s what the deal we negotiate next year’s got to be all about.

AUSTIN: My guest is Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare. This is ABC Radio, Brisbane.

Minister, we’ve been focusing a lot on education here on this program for the last few months, and one of the things that we’ve heard consistently from teachers in Queensland ‑ bear in mind it’s only Queensland ‑ that there’s good evidence that universities, which is who teaches our trainee teachers, are not teaching student teachers what they want or need to know about classroom management, about handling, you know, kids who may have genuine problems at home and they bring those behavioural issues into the classroom setting. So, they’re getting a lot of theory, and very interesting knowledge at university, but they’re not getting some very practical skills like classroom management, behaviour management, which is what the trainee teachers are asking for. Is anyone doing anything about this?

CLARE: You’re bang on. I talk to teachers all the time. Teachers always tell me that when they leave uni and start in the classroom, invariably they don’t feel ready for the classroom, they don’t feel prepared, particularly to deal with a disruptive classroom.

One of the things that Ministers agreed back in July, and we ticked off the details of this yesterday, was a new curriculum for university courses so that students at university get given the fundamental skills that they need to teach children how to read and write and do maths, but also to manage a disruptive classroom, and to increase ‑‑

AUSTIN: And when does that new curriculum ‑ when does that come in, Minister?

CLARE: That needs to be in place at every university by the end of 2025. Yesterday we ticked off the bare bones of what that curriculum needs to involve. These are important reforms if we’re going to help to make sure that students, when they go to uni, get all the skills they need. A lot of teaching students quit their degree.

That’s a problem too, Steve. Only one in two people who start a teaching degree finish it. If we can improve the course, we’ll get more people to complete it. The prac is a key element of this as well. A lot of people tell me that prac’s not up to scratch, that the opportunities they get, while they’re still at uni to experience life in a classroom, isn’t as good as it could be, and so these reforms are also about improving that practical experience as well.

One of the things that the Commonwealth Government is also looking at through a separate review I’m doing into universities is looking at paid placements. Lots of uni students, whether they’re teaching students or nursing students, tell me that it’s really hard to do prac in a hospital or a school, and the hours that you need to do mean that you can’t hold down a part‑time job. And so it’s hard to find money to pay the rent, pay the bills, pay for public transport at the same time.

So, we’re having a look at whether we can provide some form of support for those students as well.

AUSTIN: Minister, are you able to stay with me for a few more minutes?

CLARE: You bet.

AUSTIN: Just stay with me. I’m just going to subject you to a Brisbane traffic report, and I’ll come back to you.

CLARE: Okay, no worries.

[Commercial break.]

AUSTIN: 10 to 4, news at 4. This is ABC Radio Brisbane. My guest is Australia’s Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare.

Minister, thanks for staying with me.

CLARE: No worries.

AUSTIN: One of the other issues that’s come up a lot with teachers here in Queensland, that many of them feel ‑ so they’re new teachers, they get into the classroom, they feel like they’re data entry operators, or they’re collecting data for the education system, which is taking up a huge amount of their time, particularly in their own time at home, and I haven’t heard anyone at a State level say how they’re going to try and reduce this. Was that excused at all at your meeting of State and Federal Education Ministers?

CLARE: Yes it was. And to be fair, I think it gets discussed at every meeting. This idea that teachers start at 9 and finish at 3 is rubbish. Anyone who knows a teacher knows that they’re working around the clock and on weekends.

Data entry or all of the admin that comes with teaching now is one of those things that can cause a teacher to want to leave the profession that they love, so different States are doing different things about how they can reduce that admin burden. I know in New South Wales they’re employing more admin assistants in schools; I know that very well because my Mum was one of them for 40 years, including at my old high school.

So looking at ways where they can get other professionals at the school to do those jobs and give teachers more time to teach. We’ve created a $30 million workload reduction fund where we’re trialling different ideas and asking the States to come up with ideas like employing admin support, and the Commonwealth will co-fund that so that we can, you know, see what works, that’s going to help to reduce the burden on teachers.

AUSTIN: In my mind, the Commonwealth has consistently been doing the heavy lifting in this area. When the previous Coalition Government was in place, the States reduced their funding of education. Can you confirm that?

CLARE: I don’t have those numbers in front of me, Steve, but yeah, it’s teamwork. Invariably, and this is the nature of the Federation, whether it’s health or education or anything else, as I said before there’s an 80/20 split when it comes to private schools and public schools. We’re not going to achieve anything here unless we work together, and yesterday’s a great example of that. Nine Ministers around the table representing everything from Queensland to the Northern Territory. Two very different education systems with different sorts of challenges, but we go through all of the challenges we’ve got and try and come up with common solutions.

AUSTIN: I want to talk about you for a couple of minutes, if I may.

CLARE: Okay.

AUSTIN: So you attended a public school in Western Sydney, Canley Valley High School, I think.

CLARE: Canley Vale.

AUSTIN: Canley Vale, my apologies, Canley Vale. So here you are, you went through sort of the supposedly cash-starved public education system, yet here you are a Federal Education Minister in Federal Cabinet.

CLARE: Yeah.

AUSTIN: What was it that led to that? Was it money, family culture, or your work rate? Which was it?

CLARE: Teachers. It was teachers. There’s a bloke called Peter Valenti who was my history teacher for most of high school. He took me in a time machine every day to some other part of the world and another time, taught me about ‑‑

AUSTIN: So, a teacher who engaged you in what was being taught.

CLARE: Yeah.

AUSTIN: Okay.

CLARE: But also, you know, taught me more than just the past, taught me to believe in myself and what was possible, told me the story of dead politicians and how they changed the world for better or for worse and the importance of Public Service. And that got me thinking about the community I live in. Cabramatta’s not a ritzy part of Sydney. It’s like the western suburbs of Brisbane. A lot of tough places, people who work hard without much. Lots of refugees. Cabramatta was a place in the 70s and the 80s where a lot of people came from Vietnam by boat, kids in the classroom telling me stories about boats and high seas and pirates.

Most of those kids today, mate, are lawyers and doctors and farmers and ‑‑

AUSTIN: Through hard work.

CLARE: ‑‑ through hard work. And that tells you about the power of education. I told PK on radio this morning the story of a mate of mine called ‑‑

AUSTIN: Patricia Karvelas?

CLARE: Yep, Patricia Karvelas, about a mate of mine called Corey. He was the tallest kid in my class in Year 7, and he was the shortest in Year 12. And it turns out, we only realised afterwards, that he was five years older than the rest of us. His mum and dad changed his birth date, so that when he arrived in Australia he got a chance at going to school, and it changed his life. If he’d turned up here at 18 and didn’t get an education, then his life would have been so very, very different.

AUSTIN: My guest is Federal Education Minister Jason Clare. So let me come back to schooling itself. The stories you’ve told me of your friend and yourself, in my mind, don’t necessarily rely on funding, they rely on attitude, culture and hard work, which is where I want to bring it back in my mind, that you’re spending a lot of money trying to fix issues that are apparently happening in the family home with young people, and I’m wondering whether that’s ‑ we’re missing the core problem of some of the education and behavioural problems in our schools.

CLARE: You can’t fix everything in the classroom, that’s right. I talked about the invisible things that children bring to school with them. There’s some children that will arrive in kindergarten and their first day of school, and they’ve never seen a book before. They’ve never been in early education. But that doesn’t mean we give up on those children. It means that we probably need to provide different supports for them.

We know that if you’re a child from a poor family, or if you’re from the regions, regional Queensland, then you’re three times more likely to fall behind at primary school. And if you fall behind when you’re little, when you’re eight, well, we know that only one in five of those kids will catch up by the time they’re 15, and if you don’t catch up or you don’t finish school, then you don’t get to TAFE or you don’t get to university, then your life opportunities are very different.

So what we can do in those early years matters. And sometimes that takes money. What I’m saying here is that we should be funding all schools fairly and making sure that we use that money on things that work, make the money work for us.

AUSTIN: My listeners are expressing shock; shock that, (a) you’ve come on the program and you’re actually answering questions. They’re saying thank you very much, thank you very much Education Minister.

CLARE: No worries. And a quick shout‑out to my brother Matt who lives in Brisbane. G’day mate, and Merry Christmas if I don’t see you before Chrissy.

AUSTIN: If you don’t call him personally, you’re a disgrace.

CLARE: Fair enough, I’ll take that.

AUSTIN: Thanks for your time.

CLARE: Cheers.

AUSTIN: Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare.

ENDS