Television Interview with Lisa Millar – ABC News Breakfast – Tuesday 30 January 2024


SUBJECTS: Teacher workforce; Building a better and fairer education system

LISA MILLAR: Well, who better to respond to this than the Federal Education Minister, Jason Clare, who joins us now from Frankston in Melbourne. Minister, thanks for coming on to have a chat about this. We’ve talked about it before and I know it is top of mind for you. We’ve got the workforce plan, the action plan, haven’t we? But as kids are all going back to school, how are you feeling about the current situation?

JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: It’s a crisis. We don’t have enough teachers in Australia. That’s just the truth of it. This is the most important job in the world. We don’t have enough. Both not enough young people going to university to want to become a teacher. And as that teacher just mentioned, too many people leaving the profession. This is something that’s 10 years in the making and it’s going to take us some time to fix, but it’s something that we have to turn around here because apart from mum and dad, it’s the teacher in the classroom that makes all the difference in young people’s lives.

MILLAR: I know. I remember when the paper came out last August about the shortages you mentioned at the time or made note of the fact that people weren’t even signing up to do education at university anymore. That that’s gone backwards as well.

CLARE: Yeah. In the last 10 years, we’ve seen a 12 per cent drop in the number of young people going to university to want to become a teacher. A little bit of good news here in Victoria. We’ve seen a 10 per cent increase this year in the number of offers to young people to study teaching. That’s a good sign. I think the Victorian Government offering to pay the HECS for students wanting to study teaching has helped. Plus the Commonwealth Government now offering $40,000 scholarships to encourage more people to want to study teaching is a big part of that.

But we’ve got about 80,000 people at uni right now studying teaching. That’s good. But we know that only 50 per cent will actually finish the degree and about another 20 per cent will quit in the first three years as a teacher. There’s more that we have to do to fix the course at uni, make sure that teachers are given the practical skills they need to be ready to teach from day one. Fix the practical part of studying teaching. A lot of teaching students will tell us that it’s really hard to do that when it’s not paid and you can’t afford to live, to pay the rent, to put food on the table at the same time as doing prac. We’re looking at what we can do there as well, as well as extra support for teachers in their first couple of years when they’re most likely to feel overwhelmed and quit the profession that for much of their life they’ve always wanted to do.

MILLAR: I can hear the school kids behind you. You’re there at a school in Victoria. The ABC’s got a story running today about the fact that there are 800 current jobs available that are trying to be filled within the public school system. What does that mean for students? I mean, they’re turning up. They don’t have permanent teachers. What do you say to parents who are wondering what kind of education their kids are getting?

CLARE: We’ve got a good education system in Australia, but it can be a lot better and a lot fairer. A big part of that, as I said, is fixing that course at university to get more teaching students into our classrooms. But it’s also about improving pay, and you saw a big pay increase for teachers in NSW last year. That’s important as well. So is fixing the workload for teachers. The idea that teachers start about now and finish at 3 o’clock this afternoon is just rubbish. Anyone who knows a teacher knows how hard they work.

And State Governments around the country are looking at employing more admin staff to take the burden off teachers. And just one other thing, Lisa, it’s also about respect. Ask a lot of teachers and they’ll tell you that they don’t feel respected by the community. In countries like Singapore, most teachers tell you that they feel respected by the community and they’ve got a line out the door of university of people wanting to become a teacher. I want to change the way that we as a country think about our teachers and the way that our teachers think our country thinks of them. If you feel like the community really respects the work you do, you’re more likely to want to be that teacher.

MILLAR: Just a couple of quick things that people have written in about, including that they’ve had partners from England. One person in particular, that person was a teacher. They’d gone through the whole process, couldn’t get the visa to teach. So, is that an area that you can crank up to try and fix what is a crisis at the moment? And also people who’ve retired as teachers and have said, well, they haven’t been contacted about coming back. So, are there more things that you can do immediately to try and alleviate what is an unprecedented situation?

CLARE: There has been work done to get teachers from overseas. I think something like 2,000 teachers have been granted visas over the last year or so to come and work in Australia, but that really is just a small part of this. Lisa, you mentioned retired teachers. There’s about 300,000 teachers in our schools right now, but there’s another 100,000 teachers who are registered, got the qualifications, have chosen to keep the registration but not teach. So, part of that plan we talked about a moment ago was encouraging them to either come back into the classroom as teachers or as mentors for those teachers in their early years and provide them with the support that they need.

But remember that other number I gave you, 80,000 students at university now studying teaching. Only about half of them will finish that course. If 70 per cent, which is the average for all other university degrees, finished their course, then that would go a long way to tackling the teacher shortage crisis that we’ve got right now.

MILLAR: Jason Clare, always good to talk to you about this because it is clearly a crisis. Thanks for your time.

CLARE: No worries at all. Thanks Lisa.