SUBJECTS: OECD Education Report, Voice to Parliament
DAVID LIPSON: Poor discipline in the classroom has been identified as a major problem for Australian schools, dragging down grades and contributing to the high number of teachers quitting the profession. A global report into education standards found rates of bullying reported by principals in Australia are three times higher than the OECD average, and the Department of Education's own figures project a shortfall of 4,100 secondary school teachers within two years. I spoke to the Federal Education Minister Jason Clare, and started by asking him about the problem of bullying.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: I hear this from teachers and principals all the time. This is a massive issue. Parents want their children to be safe at school, but teachers and principals have a right to expect that they'll feel safe at school as well. I think you can draw a line between this and why a lot of teachers are leaving the profession, feeling worn out and burnt out. A lot of teachers will tell you that when they leave university and jump into the classroom for the first time, they don't feel prepared to deal with some of these challenges. Whether it's the challenge of making sure that you're equipped with the skills you need to teach a child to read or write, or whether it's the fundamental skills about managing classroom behaviour.
LIPSON: Are we able to pinpoint why rates of bullying are so high in this country compared to others?
CLARE: Look, I'm not sure. I think this is a big challenge all around the world. It's not just in the playground, it's online, as we know too, David. And you can escape the physical bullying in the playground when the school bell rings, but that online bullying continues right through the afternoon and into the night. I think one of the things we're dealing with still today is the fallout or the aftermath of the pandemic. Teachers will tell you that they're still seeing in children today the fallout in terms of the mental health of young people from two years on and off of lockdowns.
LIPSON: One of the other key challenges identified in this report is that educational outcomes are very different between kids in rich and poor families, and also between those who live in the city or the bush. Are we now at risk of an entrenched two-tier education system between the haves and the have-nots?
CLARE: David, this occupies almost every waking moment of my time in this job. If you're a young person from a poor family or from the bush or an Indigenous Australian, you're three times more likely to fall behind at school. The fact is, you're less likely to go to preschool, you're more likely to fall behind in primary school and you're less likely to finish high school, let alone go on to university. These are the sort of challenges we need to fix.
We've got a great education system in Australia, amongst the best in the world, but not for everyone. There are children here who are missing out and so the work I'm doing this year, whether it's in early education or school education or in higher education, is about what do we do here that fixes this. We live in a world, David, where pretty much every job being created requires you to finish school and then go on to TAFE or university. Now if you fall behind at school and you never finish, then that means that you're at a disadvantage for the rest of your life. And we all know the power of education, the power of education to change lives. We need to make sure that we have an education system for everyone.
LIPSON: The report also highlights the teacher shortage. And another thing that we are very familiar with, and of particular concern the high level of teacher attrition, that is teachers dropping out of the profession before retirement. Now you have your National Teacher Workforce Plan now in place. It hasn't been running for that long, admittedly, but are there any signs of progress?
CLARE: This has been happening now for about a decade, David. It's going to take some time to turn it around, but there's at least three things we need to do. We've seen a big drop over the last ten years in the number of people going to university to study teaching, about a 16 per cent drop. To help turn that around, we're investing in the Budget, in scholarships, to encourage students to become teachers, worth up to 40 grand a pop. But also, we've got to improve the way we teach teachers at university. I mentioned that just a moment ago and there's a big piece of work on that at the moment to make sure that people are better prepared for the classroom. Believe it or not, about 50 per cent of teachers quit the profession in the first five years, and there are things that we can do to tackle that problem.
LIPSON: Will there be anything more in the budget in that space?
CLARE: In that area, Mark Scott, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, is leading a review into how do we better prepare teachers for the classroom and how do we reform teacher education at universities so more people finish the university degree. At the moment, only about 50 per cent of people who start a teaching degree finish it. And how do we improve the courses that they do so that there's more emphasis on teaching children how to read, teaching children how to do maths, but also teaching teaching students about how to manage difficult classrooms.
LIPSON: Just briefly on the Voice to Parliament, Julian Leeser has quit as Shadow Attorney-General because he wants to campaign for the Yes Case, which is, of course, against the official position of his party. How significant is this to those who support a Voice to Parliament?
CLARE: It's very significant. It's not an easy thing that Julian has done, but he knows how important this is. It's about recognising the fact that Indigenous Australians have been here long before Captain Cook arrived. But it's also a chance to change the lives of Indigenous Australians for the better. If you're an Indigenous Australian today, you're more likely to go to jail than to go to university. Australians are decent people. We believe in a fair go. Ultimately, that's what this is all about; about making sure that our Indigenous brothers and sisters get a fair go. The Voice will help us to make that change.
LIPSON: Minister Jason Clare, great to talk to you. Thank you.
CLARE: Good on you. Thanks, Dave.