SUBJECTS: NAPLAN results; funding for schools; teacher shortages.
SABRA LANE: The Federal Education Minister Jason Clare joins me now. Good morning, welcome.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Good morning, Sabra.
LANE: Were you surprised by these results?
CLARE: To be honest they're better than I expected. These are the first NAPLAN results since those big lockdowns in New South Wales and Victoria last year. And across most of the categories, the results are stable. They're similar to what we saw in 2019 before COVID. That's a tribute to the incredible work of teachers and parents and students out there.
But in that story, Gabriella did make the point that we're seeing a trend down in Year 9 students, particularly boys, but we're seeing it in girls as well. Now that might be because of COVID. We've certainly seen a trend down over the last couple of years there. NAPLAN tells us what's happening, but it doesn't tell us why, and I think we need to drill down into that.
LANE: Just on the Year 9 results, though, it was an interesting result for Western Australia. It is outperforming other States. Year 10 students, people who want to sit beyond Year 9, have to sit an extra exam if they want to go on to Year 12. Is that a lesson perhaps for other States?
CLARE: I asked this question of the team that put NAPLAN together and they tell me that in WA your results in NAPLAN for Year 9 count towards qualifications in Year 10, Year 11 and 12. So, in WA, you tend to see students studying harder for NAPLAN because it counts. Whereas in other jurisdictions students are not encouraged to prepare. So that may account for it, but that's only one of the reasons, I suspect, why we're seeing a difference there.
LANE: Do you still think that there is value in holding these NAPLAN tests? The Education Union has previously said that the tests aren't valuable anymore and that they should go. What do you think?
CLARE: NAPLAN doesn't tell us everything. I think it's important to make that point. One of the things that we know has happened over the last few years is that the mental health and the wellbeing of young people has been smashed by COVID. NAPLAN doesn't measure that; it's not intended to measure that. But it does help us to better understand what's happening in our schools and how our students are performing. And there is some good news here, Sabra.
If you have a look at the reading skills of primary school students, primary school students are on average a year ahead of primary school students' reading capability 14 years ago. Now that's something that we should be celebrating. We see similar results when it comes to maths at primary school as well.
What I'm concerned about I guess are two things. One, that we don't see that carry on into high school. The reading and maths skills of high school students is about the same as it was 14 years ago. An even bigger concern for me is that the gap between the reading skills and the maths skills of children from poor backgrounds and children from wealthier backgrounds is getting bigger.
LANE: Okay. You're the product of a public education. Labor has promised to ensure that every public school receives 100 per cent of their schooling resource standard, which allows for more funding for poorer students and those from non‑English speaking backgrounds. Is that a priority for you in these financially constrained times?
CLARE: We committed, as you said, Sabra, at the last election to making sure that all schools were on a pathway to getting their full and fair funding. At the moment, non‑government schools are tracking downwards towards that 100 per cent level by the end of the decade. Government schools are tracking upwards but on current trajectory won't get to that 100 per cent. There's about a five per cent gap.
The National School Reform Agreement that will kick off next year will be focused on who pays to get to that 100 per cent level and what does it get spent on. What I'm particularly concerned about is making sure that we don't see that gap between children from poorer backgrounds and children from wealthier backgrounds getting bigger. It is at the moment. I think we need to zero in on that and look at what we can do using the funding we've got, to make sure we target it better to help those children.
LANE: Using the funding you've got, then, does this mean redistribution as Dr Ken Boston, a former education chief, suggests, that some private schools are getting way more than they need?
CLARE: Private school funding is on a trajectory down to that 100 per cent level now. What we've got to do is get public schools up to that 100 per cent level as well. But we've also got to make sure that in all of the funding that we provide to schools, that we're making sure that all children benefit from that.
As I mentioned before, we've seen some pretty terrific results when it comes to primary school. The reading skill of primary school students is about a year ahead of what it was 14 years ago. That's a good thing. But we're not seeing the same growth when it comes to poor kids. That tells me when we need to target the funding that we deliver to schools to make sure that we're helping those children in particular.
LANE: Okay, you're grappling with some big issues, a big shortage in teachers. How can you fix that? You're meeting Ministers next month.
CLARE: You're right, we've got a massive shortage of teachers right across the country. This is a problem ten years in the making. We're not going to fix it in an instant. It's going to take years to fix.
Part of the problem, Sabra, is not enough young people are enrolling in teaching when they finish school. We've seen a drop over the last ten years of about 16 per cent in the number of students going into uni to learn teaching.
Not enough young people at university are completing their teaching degrees. It's something like only 50 per cent of students who are studying teaching at university who complete their degree, and the average at university for other degrees is about 70 per cent.
And then we're seeing a lot of young teachers in particular leave the profession early. This is a horrifying statistic, but something like 30 to 50 per cent of teachers in their first, second or third year leave the profession. And you've got mid‑career teachers, teachers in the prime of their career, that are walking out on teaching as well, feeling burnt out.
Not enough going in, not enough completing their degrees, too many teachers leaving the profession they love early, and that all comes together to create a teacher shortage crisis.
LANE: Jason Clare, I'm sure we'll be talking to you again about this. Thank you for joining AM.
CLARE: Thanks very much, Sabra.