SUBJECTS: NAPLAN results, teacher shortage and additional university places.
MURRAY JONES: Got some interesting things to talk about but some positive things, including some new places for JCU in the tropical north this morning. He’s a bit cold, but we’ll try and warm him up – Senator Anthony Chisholm is the Assistant Minister for Education. He’s just arrived in Canberra this morning where it’s about 4 degrees compared to about 27.5 in our part of the world. Anthony, good morning. Thank you so much for your time this morning.
ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Thanks, Murray. Good to be with you. And I was up in Cairns for the Local Government Association a couple of weeks ago, and I must say that the town really seemed like it was thriving at the moment. So a lot of tourism and a lot of activity.
MURRAY JONES: There’s a lot going on. And, thankfully, we’re starting to diversify some of our economic base. We have challenges, though, and I guess I touched on some of those in my intro. You know, I would like to think that, you know, if we can deal better with some of the education systems and, I guess, you know, there’s issues of respect, there’s family violence, there’s a multitude of issues that are impacting on our youth these days that are unfortunately making things go a little awry. I am keen to talk a little bit more about JCU in just a minute, but let’s talk a little bit more about some of the concerns. I mean, traditionally, particularly in those early teen years, girls traditionally do do a lot better than boys, but almost 15 per cent of Australian Year 9 boys not meeting the national minimum achievement standard for reading. That is a concern, and I guess that’s something that’s been borne out in these latest NAPLAN test results.
ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Yeah, you’re right, Murray, it is a concern. And NAPLAN tells us the sort of raw data of what the challenges are, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us how that has become. So we really need to drill in to find out more. Obviously the results that we see this year are the first ones post COVID and obviously the educational impact that COVID restrictions had around the country. So we were expecting some challenges to emerge, and we think this is part of it. But obviously we need to get a bit more detail to find out exactly why that was so alarming, that drop off in those grade 9-ers.
MURRAY JONES: Now, look, you know, I do know a few people that work in the education sector, and one of the things they often talk about is becoming a very crowded curriculum. And, you know, for various reasons, there’s a lot that needs to be covered. But it seems like a lot of the basic foundations – I mean, I was concerned with my son, you know, he didn’t know – he didn’t actually know how to get to A to Z to do his ABCs well into his high school years. You’ve got the crowded curriculum. The inclusive education, you know, model which, I mean, is very positive and there’s a lot of, you know, benefits there but when you’ve got special needs students in, you know, the classroom as well it’s making it a lot harder for teachers – and it’s coming back to that crowded curriculum – to basically deal with behavioural issues. We need more teacher aides there on the ground. Some of these concerns I guess are things that are really impacting on teachers and I guess coming back to why we’re losing so many of them.
When it comes to getting back down to the basics, dealing with, I guess, behaviour in classes and having the support for teachers, surely they’re some of the areas that we really need to be focusing on?
ANTHONY CHISHOLM: I think that’s right. I think you covered a lot of topics there, Murray. And I think the first one around the curriculum is – that’s been a concern now for a couple of years. And the previous government worked on trying to – well, they had a review of the curriculum and tried to ensure that they refined and realigned and decluttered the content of the curriculum. And that was agreed to earlier this year under the previous government. And that’s due to be rolled out by states and territories at the beginning of next year. So hopefully teachers see some changes that benefit their work load as a result of those. So we support that new curriculum and look forward to it being implemented.
I think the broader subject of teacher workloads is something that is part of a review that Minister Clare started when he first became minister. So one of the first problems he identified is the teacher shortage and what we can do to arrest it. And it has been something that has been developing over a number of years now. And the challenge with it is that you can’t fix it next year – it is going to take time to fix. But we need to start making those changes now and ensuring that we get the – you know, that we get as many teachers to stay in the profession so that they enjoy it and want to stay and become long-term teachers, but also attracting that next generation of teachers and the high school – the university dropout rate for the teaching profession is higher than it is for general courses at university.
MURRAY JONES: Wow.
ANTHONY CHISHOLM: So there’s obviously a problem at universities as well. So there’s so many facets to it that need fixing, Murray. I think that we’ve identified what they are and we need to systemically go about working with the states to get those improvements there in place, whether it be university, whether it be in the profession, and ensuring we get the best quality teachers possible out there teaching the communities that need them.
MURRAY JONES: Look, you know, interestingly, once we get a new teacher into the system, obviously that’s a real bonus, you know, for education right across the state. But a lot of the new teachers are just on contract basis. You know, they don’t know what’s going to happen. I mean, I understand that when it comes to a teacher, you know, an existing, say, full-time teacher, wanting to transfer into a school or out of a school, they basically have got until the last day of the last term of the year to basically let their principal know. You know, it just means that there’s so much uncertainty for some of the new teachers. You know, just as a suggestion – and this is, just, you know, off the top of my head – instead of, you know, these new teachers that are just coming into the system basically having the uncertainty, not knowing whether they’re even going to have a job for the next year, you know, wouldn’t it be good to look at a system where, you know, if a teacher gets through the system – they get their licence as such – is that they’ve got, you know, at least three years of maybe solid permanent work where they don’t have to worry about that uncertainty so they can hone their skills and, I guess, hopefully stay in the profession long term?
ANTHONY CHISHOLM: I think there’s something in that, Murray. And I think when you add to it also attracting people to regional and remote schools, I think that that, you know – if someone got offered three years permanency it would make them more likely to take up such an opportunity like that. And the teacher shortage challenge is Australia wide.
MURRAY JONES: Sure.
ANTHONY CHISHOLM: But it’s more acute in regional and remote areas.
The challenge we have as the Federal Government is we don’t necessarily get to control all these things, but we’re certainly committed to leading a national discussion and having – playing our part in the national solution. So I think that those things need to be on the table.
And in terms of the teacher shortage, the Minister Clare is going to release a draft action plan about what we will be doing. He’s consulting with the states on that as well. That should be released later this week. But we want to make sure that we’re working with states and territories to implement the changes that are going to benefit those students and families right across the country.
MURRAY JONES: Yeah, sure, because I think, you know, that uncertainty for so many teachers, and the fear of basically having their family broken up because they have to go to different areas and all those type of things, a real underlying challenge. You know, I think being dictated by budgets, when it should really be – education should be seen just like health – to be an essential service. You know, obviously there needs to be some form of cap there but when it comes to, you know, teachers filling their – you know, being dictated by budgets is a real concern.
ANTHONY CHISHOLM: But it also doesn’t make sense, Murray, when you’ve got a shortage that you’d be treating teachers in that way.
MURRAY JONES: Sure, that’s right.
ANTHONY CHISHOLM: When you’ve got challenges out there that you’d think attracting them for a longer term would be of benefit to the whole system, particularly in those regional and remote areas where it is more challenging.
MURRAY JONES: Yeah, and maintaining them for the long term, because, you know, that investment is very large for the state. You want to try and keep them there. And, of course, federally, because, of course, you know, you’re focused more on the federal sphere.
ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Mmm.
MURRAY JONES: Righty, I’ve pummeled you enough. Just tell me a little bit more about JCU. And good to see some more university places, particularly for our part of the world. And we’re talking about that diversing – you know, diversifying our economy in a lot of ways, and education is a great option for the Cairns region.
ANTHONY CHISHOLM: It is. And I actually – when I was up there for the local government conference a couple of weeks ago I went through and did a tour at JCU. And they’re such exciting places the university, and James Cook is a great asset to the Cairns region. So 123 additional places as part of the Labor election promise that we made about new places around the country. And those places will go towards those in-demand skills – so education, health, engineering. So hoping that they will assist in filling that skills gap.
But I think the other thing about Cairns and higher education is the new Central Queensland University campus which will go into the city. And that will bring students into the city, which I think will provide some economic boost at the same time. And I think the buzz that you’ll have as a result of more students getting around the city will be a good one for Cairns as well.
MURRAY JONES: Certainly is. Look, great to talk to you this morning, particularly from cold old Canberra. And Jason Clare has got a lot to answer for putting you upfront while I asked you all those difficult questions this morning. Assistant Minister for Education and, of course, Queensland-based senator, Anthony Chisholm. It’s been great to talk to you. Thank you so much for your time this morning.
ANTHONY CHISHOLM: Thanks, Murray. Talk again soon.