Interview - ABC Radio PM
DAVID LIPSON: Despite a record injection of school funding since 2018, Australian student outcomes have stagnated. A Productivity Commission report, out today, points to overworked teachers, a failure to help slower kids catch up, and more generally poor student wellbeing - with one in three pupils skipping 10 per cent of classes. The report calls on federal and state level governments to spell out how they’ll ensure teachers have more face-to-face time with students. The Federal Education Minister is Jason Clare, and he joined me earlier.
Jason Clare, only 40 per cent of teachers’ workload right now is spent in actual face-to-face teaching. How can that be improved?
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: I think this report makes it clear that the idea that teachers just turn up at 9 o’clock and finish at 3 o’clock is rubbish. Our teachers are working longer than ever before, longer than teachers overseas. And as you point out, David, only 40 per cent of that time is actually face-to-face teaching. If we free teachers up and give them more time to teach, they'll be better teachers. The results that we get in our classrooms will be better and we'll have fewer teachers leave the job.
DAVID LIPSON: How do we free teachers up?
CLARE: Well, state governments across the country are looking at this at the moment. The New South Wales Government has made a commitment to employ more parents as teacher aides or in administrative roles to take away some of the jobs that teachers have to do that aren't face-to-face learning in classrooms. I think that's a good idea, but there's more that needs to be done here. There’re some good recommendations in this report that will inform the work that I'm doing with state and territory ministers right now on how we turn around the teacher shortage crisis. And that plan, that action plan to tackle that issue, will be presented to ministers in December.
DAVID LIPSON: The Productivity Commission also highlights that a third of children who fall behind in early years aren't catching up in later years. What practical steps can be taken to help them along?
CLARE: This is a serious issue, David, and one that I think everybody would intuitively get. If you fall behind, it's hard to catch up. And we've seen improvements in NAPLAN results for kids over the last ten years or so in literacy and numeracy at primary school, but not for kids from low socio-economic backgrounds or kids from the regions or Indigenous kids. I don't want us to be a country where your chances in life depend on who your parents are or where you live or the colour of your skin. But if we're honest with ourselves, we are at the moment. So, what we do here matters. We need to think seriously about how we better target the funding that we invest in schools to help these kids. These kids who are falling through the cracks, who are falling behind.
DAVID LIPSON: One in three pupils are skipping 10 per cent of classes. Are you surprised by that?
CLARE: Well, I think this is an issue that we need to confront. How do we make sure that school is relevant for kids who, in our day, would have left at the end of year ten? Kids are now being asked to stay until they're 17. That's important, because most of the jobs that will be created in the decades ahead require you to finish school and then go on to TAFE or university. We need to make sure that school is relevant for them, interesting for them. Otherwise, you're going to have results like this where you are going to see more kids not attending school.
DAVID LIPSON: Minister, are you willing to make a commitment that there'll be a tangible improvement in educational outcomes in this term of government?
CLARE: Well, I think this report reinforces what I've been saying since I got this job a couple of months ago. If we're serious about making a difference here, for kids and the quality of the education they get, then we've got to do something about the teacher shortage that is at crisis point in this country. And a big part of that is fixing teacher workloads. If we’re serious about making sure that we turn around our results, we've got to help the kids who are falling behind, because if you fall behind at primary school, it's hard to catch up at high school. And if we're serious about this, then a big part of what we need to do is focus on kids’ mental health and wellbeing, made worse by COVID. This is a massive issue that we all need to focus on.
DAVID LIPSON: But are these problems too complex at this point to be able to make such a commitment?
CLARE: These are massive issues, David. And what this report tells us is that things like teacher workload, kids falling behind, mental health and wellbeing, need to be the focus of the next National School Reform Agreement that will be negotiated next year. I agree. These are big issues. We need to focus on them. And the only way that we're going to get meaningful results is if I, as the Federal Minister for Education, work closely and cooperatively with state and territory education ministers. That's the way I've approached the teacher shortage crisis. Working with state and territory ministers, working with teachers and principals, with students as well, picking their brains for good ideas. And it's the same approach that I'll take to this task.
DAVID LIPSON: Minister Jason Clare, thank you so much.
CLARE: Good on you. Thanks, David.