Television Interview with Jayne Azzopardi – Today – Tuesday 12 December 2023


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

JAYNE AZZOPARDI: An expert panel has called on our country’s education ministers to boost public school funding. It comes as a new report revealed the gap between the nation’s richest and poorest schools has never been wider. For more, let’s bring in Federal Education Minister Jason Clare, who joins us from Sydney.

Good morning to you, Jason.


AZZOPARDI: When we are seeing such inequity across the system why are public schools being – why are public schools not being funded to the recommended standard while private schools are?

CLARE: Well, that’s what we’ve got to fix, Jayne. We’ve got a good education system, but it can be a lot better and a lot fairer. Public schools aren’t fully funded at the moment, but not just that. What we’re seeing is that children from poor families and children from regional Australia are three times more likely to fall behind at school than other children.

We need to fix both of those things. We need to fix funding for our public schools, but we also need to fix that education gap, make sure that we’re helping children who fall behind at school to catch up and to keep up and to finish school. And that’s what the new National School Reform Agreement that will strike next year has to be all about.

AZZOPARDI: So, you’re trying to link with states the funding with some standards that they have to meet. You set a bunch of targets for the schools, but all the state ministers are telling you that the real problem is they don’t have enough teachers. How are you going to fix that?

CLARE: That is a massive problem. We have a teacher shortage crisis in this country at the moment. We’ve seen a drop of about 12 per cent over the last ten years in the number of people enrolling in teaching courses at university. One of the things we’ve done to help address that is now offering scholarships worth up to $40,000 a pop to encourage more people to want to become a teacher. We’re starting to see for the first time in a long time an increase in enrolments in teaching courses. But we’ve also got to fix the course at university. Only one in two people who start a teaching degree actually finish it. And a lot of people who finish the course don’t feel prepared for the classroom once they get to school. So, we’ve got to improve that curriculum. So, teaching students – learn the fundamentals about how to teach children to read and write and improve the prac that they get while they’re still at uni. And then this report also says a lot more support is needed for teachers in their first couple of years in the classroom. About 20 per cent of teachers quit in the first three years. So, there’s things we need to do there to provide more help for teachers so they’re not teaching for a couple of years, they’re teaching for decades.

AZZOPARDI: So, it sounds like you’ve got a really long to-do list there. But if we go back to the funding, why can’t you increase that tomorrow for public schools?

CLARE: It’s important to point out I’m not interested in blank cheques here. We’ve got to fix funding, and we’ve said that we’ll work with the states and territories to do that. That’s what the agreement next year is all about. But we’ve also got to make sure that we tie that funding to the sort of things that are going to work, that are going to make a difference in our schools and in our classroom.

I said a moment ago that if you’re a child from a poor background in a disadvantaged community, like the one I grew up in, Cabramatta, in the western suburbs of Sydney, that you’re three times more likely to fall behind at school. And not just that, we know that only one in five kids who fall behind when they’re little, when they’re eight, have caught up by the time they’re in high school, by the time they’re 15. That’s the reason why we’re now seeing a drop in the number of people finishing high school, particularly in public schools, and particularly children from poor backgrounds. So, we’ve got to make this money work. We’ve got to make sure the money is used on the sort of things that are going to work, that are going to help children who fall behind when they’re little to catch up and to keep up and to finish high school.

AZZOPARDI: Well, for the sake of all those children you talk about, let’s hope you and the state education ministers can come to an agreement soon.