SUBJECTS: Albanese Government reforms to early education, school education and higher education
NARELDA JACOBS: The country's education system is at crisis point, as new figures show teachers are quitting in record numbers. As many as 50 per cent drop out in the first five years in the job. It's prompted Federal Education Minister Jason Clare to pledge a major overhaul of the system and he joins us now. Minister. Welcome to midday. Thanks for your company.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thanks very much.
JACOBS: All right, this is quite alarming. Up to 50 per cent quit within the first five years. Money is being thrown at this problem, but it doesn't seem to fix it. So, what are you proposing?
CLARE: It’s not just that, we've got a 16 per cent drop in the number of people becoming teachers, straight out of high school. I want people bursting out of high school wanting to be a teacher rather than a lawyer or a banker. But we've seen a big drop off in the number of people going into uni to start teaching. Not enough people finish their uni degrees. Only about 50 per cent of people who start a teaching degree, finish it. And, as you point out, up to 50 per cent quit in the first five years. And not just them. We’ve got people leaving the profession that they love in the prime of their career as well. All of that's contributing to a teacher shortage crisis.
JACOBS: Now, there was a time when little kids would be asked, what do you want to be when you grow up? And they would say, teachers, because they love their teachers.
CLARE: Think about when you were five or six years old. You can't remember much, but you can remember your teacher's name, can't you? The impact that they have on little lives is bigger than anything else, except for their parents. And I do worry that people are thinking, I don't want to be a teacher. It's not the career for me. There aren't many jobs that are more important in life than being a teacher. I know it from my own life. I'm the first person in my family to finish high school. My mum didn't even make it to high school, my dad didn't make it past year nine. And I was one of the lucky ones at Cabramatta Public School. I was surrounded by children whose parents were lucky to make it to Australia. They were refugees. And it was our teachers that taught us not just how to read and write, but what was possible after school. But that hasn't reached into every corner of the country. If you're from a poor family, or if you're from the bush or if you're an Indigenous Australian, you're less likely to go to preschool, you're more likely to fall behind at primary school, you're less likely to finish high school and you're less likely to go to uni. I want to change that. What I'm talking about today is reform, not just of our school education system, but early education and higher education as well.
JACOBS: Is it because students and then teachers and then the whole school community, including parents and guardians and families, are having that kind of disconnect between the education system and what they can get out of it and their experience at school - both professionally and as a student?
CLARE: Maybe that's part of it. I think we've got to stop bagging teachers, start giving them a rap. It's become pretty popular to have a crack at teachers. Teachers tell me that is one of the reasons why they're walking out the door. The other is that teaching is hard, it's complicated. Teachers in Australia work longer hours than teachers overseas, believe it or not, the idea that a teacher clocks on at nine o'clock in the morning and knocks off at three is rubbish. I think most of us who've got children know that. All of this work that teachers do, either preparing lessons or the admin all adds up. So, one of the things we need to do, we want to do is make sure that teachers spend more time teaching and less time having to do that paperwork.
JACOBS: Well, that's what loved ones who are listening in now and teaching staff would be yelling at the screen saying, it's because you're loading us up with too much red tape.
CLARE: Big time.
JACOBS: We just want to be able to teach.
CLARE: Exactly right. I hear it all the time. Only 40 per cent of the time that teachers spend working is in front of children in the classroom. So, one of the things that we committed to last year was a Workload Reduction Fund, funding things with state governments, so that we can employ other people to do the sort of jobs that teachers are doing now.
JACOBS: Like police bringing in civilians to do desk jobs.
CLARE: I worked in policing about 20 years ago. It's exactly what happened with policing, where police spent all their time back at the station doing paperwork instead of being on the beat. It's the same thing here. My mum worked in the admin section of my old high school for about 30 years. She was longer there than I was, but I got how important her job is. If you can take some of the responsibilities off teachers and give it to other people, it means teachers have more time to focus on teaching. Also, if you can help them to prepare lessons, it means they spend less time up all night getting ready for the next day.
JACOBS: All right, so given those plummeting 16 per cent drop in the last decade of people applying to become teachers, shouldn't we offer free education? Would that be an incentive to get more people into teaching?
CLARE: We're offering more spots at uni, but also scholarships worth up to 40 grand, some of our best and brightest to become teachers. So that's a big, attractive offer. Some people say, why don't you scrap HECS? And we're doing that if you become a teacher and you go and work in a remote community in Australia. For 300 schools and about 150 early education centres across the country, if you go and work there for four years, your HECS is scrapped and that can save you 30 or $40,000. But on top of that, scholarships are worth up to $40,000. Saying, instead of becoming a banker or a lawyer, why don't you become a teacher instead?
JACOBS: Minister, we're running out of time, but I just wanted to put this to you. What about with all the states and territories running their own education system? Is that part of the problem as well? Should we be unifying it?
CLARE: We’ve got to coordinate. Absolutely. I've been impressed in the first few months in the job just how Labor, Liberal and National Party Education Ministers all worked together as a team. Last week we agreed on the biggest changes to NAPLAN in 14 years. The test is going from May to March. It's going all online. We're simplifying the information that gets out to teachers and parents.
The big challenge for us over the next twelve months and beyond is we all want to make sure that we properly fund schools. Private schools, non-government schools are funded above the standard SRS figure, that will go down to 100 per cent by the end of the decade. Public schools still won't get to that point by the end of the decade, so we've got to fund that, but also make sure that we're tying that funding to the sort of things that help the children we're talking about today.
JACOBS: All right, Minister Jason Clare, thank you for joining us at midday.
CLARE: Thank you.
JACOBS: The reform is much needed if you listen to the sector. So, thanks once again for your company at lunchtime.