Television Interview with Lisa Millar – ABC News Breakfast – Tuesday 12 December 2023


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

LISA MILLAR: Big news in the education world as well, there’s a new national review of our education system, and it’s found there is an urgent need to address the severe underfunding of public schools. We need to attract and retain teachers and improve student wellbeing.

Well, the Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare, joins us live from Sydney. Minister, good morning, welcome as always to News Breakfast.


MILLAR: I’m good. I think the thing that jumped out at me about this review was not just that it was highlighting something we’ve talked about quite often with the underfunding, but that it was firmly entrenched, and I wonder, how do you go about changing a disconnect between these two schooling systems when it’s firmly entrenched.

CLARE: The report tells us that we’ve got a good education system, but it can be a lot better and a lot fairer. It makes the point that public schools aren’t properly funded at the moment, but as you say, it also makes the point blisteringly clear that poor children, children from disadvantaged backgrounds, are three times more likely to fall behind at school.

Now we need to fix both of those things. We need to fix the funding, but we also need to fix this education gap. You talk about entrenched disadvantage in our schools. This report tells us that we have one of the most segregated school systems in the OECD, not by the colour of your skin, but by the size of your parents’ pay packet. It tells us that not only are children more likely to fall behind at school if they’re from a poor family or from the bush, but if they’re at a school where there are lots of other children who are experiencing disadvantage, then it’s even harder to catch up. And this report says there are a number of things that we need to do to help to tackle that and turn that around.

MILLAR: Yeah, most of it comes down to money though, isn’t it, and the State Governments and the education union have been kind of putting it back on you guys saying, “Well, stump up”.

CLARE: Well, it’s about money, but it’s also about what that money’s spent on, what it’s invested in, to make sure that it makes the maximum difference.

I don’t think anybody watching wants us to write a blank cheque. What this report tells us is that we need to make sure that we’re funding the most disadvantaged schools first, and that we should be providing financial incentives to our most effective teachers to work in those most disadvantaged schools, but also provide for things like intensive catch‑up support, catch‑up tutoring, so that when children do fall behind, they might be taken out of a class of 30 into a class of three or four and provided that extra support that can mean that they can catch up really quickly.

But also in schools where you’ve got a lot of entrenched disadvantage, that you provide extra support. It might be parental services, it might be an early education centre, it might be occupational therapists or speech therapists, nurses. All of the different supports that can make a world of difference in a school where there’s a lot of entrenched disadvantage.

MILLAR: Can you talk to me about this concept of sending the most experienced teachers into the worst-performing schools? How is that actually going to happen? How do you get teachers, or convince them, “Hey, you’re great, so we’re actually going to give you the hardest job”?

CLARE: It might be by paying teachers more to work in some of those schools. Experience tells us that teachers often start, once they’re fresh out of university, working in some of our most disadvantaged schools, and then will work at other schools throughout their career.

But we also know the biggest difference in a classroom is that teacher, and through our really experienced teachers, our highly‑accomplished teachers, if we can encourage them by financial support to work in some of the most disadvantaged schools, schools like I went to, Cabramatta and Canley Vale in the western suburbs of Sydney, then those teachers, with all their wealth of experience, can make a world of difference for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

That, Lisa, is one of the ideas, one of the recommendations in this report. The job next year for Education Ministers is to look at these recommendations and work out what we put in the next National School Reform Agreement, make sure that we fix funding, but we also tie that funding to the sort of reforms that are going to make a difference for children in this country.

MILLAR: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. It expires next year, so I’m assuming this report and the content of it goes directly to the heart of those negotiations. When do we kind of know what happens with it all? When do parents who are watching this this morning start seeing a difference and feel that change is happening?

CLARE: This report’s a bit of a blueprint for that work. Those negotiations will take probably the best part of next year. But this report recommends that we develop a 10-year plan, and next year we need to ink that will agreement that sets out the funding that the Commonwealth and the States will each put in to help to make sure that we finally fully fund our public schools, but also that we put in place the sort of reforms that are identified in this report, and others, that are going to make the difference to children in this country to make sure that, if children fall behind, that they catch up, and that more young people finish school.

One of the things this report also points out is in the last six years we’ve seen a drop in the number of people finishing high school, particularly at public schools, and particularly amongst poor children in this country and in the bush.

Now that’s happening at a time where we need more people to finish high school, and then go on to TAFE or uni because most of the jobs being created today require you to go to TAFE or university.

There is a direct link between a drop in the number of people finishing high school and more people falling behind at primary school.

So that’s why I say this can’t just be about money, it can’t be a blank cheque, we’ve got to make sure that we tie funding to the sort of reforms that are going to help children to catch up and to keep up and to finish school.

MILLAR: Jason Clare, just a quick one to finish on in regards to the policies on migration that have been discussed over the last 24 hours. What impact is it going to have, these extra requirements from international students if they want to study here in Australia, what impact is that going to have on the universities? Do you have any concerns?

CLARE: We’ve seen international students come back over the last 12 months, faster than expected, but we’ve also seen the shonks come back, people at the margins who exploit students to make money, use the loopholes in the system to encourage people to come to Australia, not to study, but to work.

We’ve closed some of those loopholes, but we’ve got to close more of them if we’re going to protect the quality and the integrity of international education. I think it’s one of our greatest exports. It doesn’t just make our universities money, it helps to make sure that when students come here and then go home, they take with them a love and affection for Australia, and that’s invaluable in the world that we live in.

These reforms will help to make sure that we maintain quality and protect the integrity of the system, and that’s why I welcomed them when they were announced yesterday.

MILLAR: Jason Clare, thank you very much for joining us.

JASON CLARE: Good on you. Thanks, Lisa. Merry Christmas.

MILLAR: Thank you. To you too.