Interview - ABC, RN Breakfast
SUBJECTS: Teacher shortage; Education Ministers Meeting; University of Melbourne Federal Court case
PATRICIA KARVELAS: They’re burnt out, overwhelmed by reporting requirements and not paid enough. Teachers are voting with their feet, leaving the profession in numbers we’ve never seen before. As a result, the nation’s Education Ministers will meet today to thrash out plans to overhaul the profession, to help lure qualified people back into the classroom amid a nation-wide shortage.
The Federal Education Minister is Jason Clare, and he joins me ahead of the roundtable.
Minister, welcome to RN Breakfast.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day, Patricia.
KARVELAS: Is the teaching profession in crisis?
CLARE: This is a massive challenge. It’s one of the biggest challenges we face in education. It’s why I’ve made it priority number one for this meeting and why we’re going to spend half the day focused on this. But you can’t fix this by just having ministers talk to each other. It’s the reason why I’ve invited not just state and territory ministers to talk about this today but also teachers from across the country, principals from across the country and other experts. There aren’t many jobs in the country more important than being a teacher and we just don’t have enough of them at the moment. So we need to work on new ideas to help us attract more people to become teachers and help keep the fantastic teachers we’ve already got in the classrooms.
KARVELAS: Department of Education modelling has revealed demand for high school teachers will outstrip graduates by more than 4000 over the next three years. That’s enormous.
CLARE: That’s right.
KARVELAS: How are you going to find 4000 new secondary teachers by 2025?
CLARE: It is a massive challenge. You’ve got more and more kids going to school. That’s a good thing. A jump of about 10 per cent in student numbers. But at the same time over the last 10 years, we’ve seen a drop of about 16 per cent in the number of young people going into teacher training, studying to be a teacher at universities. So, there’s no one thing that will fix this, but there are a bunch of different things I want us to talk about today – how do we build respect and the reputation of teachers so more people think first about wanting to become a teacher? We promised in the election and we’ll implement up to $40,000 worth of bursaries to encourage some of our best and brightest to want to become a teacher. But also how do we better prepare young teachers? How do we prepare students to become great teachers? I think there’s more we can do there.
We’re seeing massive dropout rates amongst first year, second year, third year teachers, and so some of the things that people have said to me would make a difference are better practical experience for first year students, paid internships for final year students, better mentoring and induction processes, help with classroom behaviour management. They’re some of the things to talk about, as well as how do we keep those experienced teachers that have been in the classroom for 10 or 15 years that, as you say, and anybody who knows a teacher will know, are often burnt out and worn out by those non-teaching parts of the job – the admin burden – that comes with the job, you know, much too often.
KARVELAS: Workload is the major, if not the number one issue. Reporting is onerous. Do you have any solutions to reducing the amount of reporting that teachers now have to do?
CLARE: New South Wales Government, to their credit, are already making commitments to look at how they can employ people in schools to do some of that work. I think that is a critical part of it. You know, anybody that knows a teacher knows this idea that teachers turn up at 9 o’clock and finish at 3 o’clock is rubbish. Any teacher worth their salt knows that they’re doing an enormous amount work – whether it’s paperwork to prepare for an excursion or lesson planning that takes up a lot of time early in the morning, late at night, if not on the weekend.
And I remember the same challenge being present in policing decades ago with police often doing paperwork that a non-authorised officer could do to help them get out on the street. We need to create more time for teaching and take that admin load off teachers. I know New South Wales are doing some good things here. Other states are as well. But today’s an opportunity to talk to the teachers who are directly affected by this and see what other ideas they have to help to make sure that we can get this admin burden off teachers’ back and make their job a bit easier.
KARVELAS: The Federal Government’s Australia Institute for Teaching and School Leadership is also recommending merit-based pay rises for the best teachers, which could include rises of up to 40 per cent to lift salaries above $175,000 a year. Do you back that?
CLARE: The pay that teachers get when they start is pretty competitive. And then it goes up in grades for about 10 years and then it tops out. And so teachers have told me – I’m sure they’ve told you as well, Patricia – that after 10 years if you’re looking for a pay rise you either have to leave the classroom to become an assistant principal or you leave teaching altogether and you go into another career. So we’re losing some of these great teachers.
Everybody I talk to thinks that teachers should be paid more. We also need to create better career paths for experienced teachers. What AITSL is talking about is part of this. Again, the New South Wales Minister is talking about a model like this as well, working with AITSL on how we can create career paths for expert teachers, for leading teachers. And if that’s going to help to make sure that we get our best teachers to stay in our schools and help to improve the performance of kids who need it the most, then that’s a good idea. And it’s one of the things I want to see put on the table today.
KARVELAS: How about fast-tracking engineers, lawyers, IT professionals who may be get to the, you know, middle of their careers and think, “I wouldn’t mind doing it. I’ve got the skills”? How do you get them into a classroom fast? Are there solutions you can come up with?
CLARE: Part of it is the money gap. If you’re 35, you’ve got two kids and a mortgage, you can’t afford to take two years out of the workforce to do a master’s degree to qualify you to become a teacher. So a big part of that is this internship idea that Universities Australia are talking about, that New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland are already doing to some extent. What more can we do there? Because, you’re right, Patricia, we’ve got some extraordinarily talented people out there in the workforce who would be fantastic teachers, who want to be teachers, but can’t afford to take two years out of the workforce. So that paid internship model I think is a good one and another one of the things that I hope gets an opportunity to be discussed this morning at the roundtable.
KARVELAS: How about going back to the old Dip Ed. A lot of people keep writing text messages to the show suggesting this. That sort of one-year degree. Is that something that should be back on the table?
CLARE: It is on the table. It’s one of the things that was recommended by Lisa Paul’s review into Quality Initial Teacher Education. I don’t think it’s universally accepted across the teaching profession. Some people like it, some people don’t. I think the key issue here is whether it’s a one-year qualification or a two-year qualification to switch from one profession into the classroom, the big gap here is that people can’t afford to take a long time out of paid employment to get into the classroom. And so we’ve got to bridge that gap if we’re going to get more professionals to become teachers.
KARVELAS: Now, in terms of the powers you have as the Federal Education Minister, one area is, of course, the price of degrees. That’s very much in your control. You know, because some things are state and territory issues that you can work together on, but not full control to you because of our federation. So you can reduce the price of teaching degrees. Will you do it?
CLARE: You’re right, it’s a mix of things. The Federal Government plays a big role here in the training of teachers through university and the states play a big role as the employers of teachers. And so wages and conditions are very much things that they can play a big role in. In terms of university education and the cost of degrees, the cost of a teaching degree or the student contribution towards it has dropped by about 40-odd per cent in the last 12 months, but we’ve only seen an increase in students enrolling for teaching of around about 0.8 per cent. So there’s not much evidence that that cut has delivered extra teachers.
There is a bit of evidence that shows that if you provide an upfront scholarship or a bursary that can help. That’s why those $40,000 bursaries I think are really important here. But there’s also a good argument, Patricia, that as a Commonwealth Government we can play a bigger role in allocating the Commonwealth Supported Places funding to the universities that are doing the best job of training future teachers and have the highest completion rates.
Let me explain that a little bit. About 70 per cent of young people who start a uni degree finish it, but only 50 per cent of young people who start a teaching degree finish it. Now if we could fix that, if we could increase that 50 per cent to 60 per cent, then that on its own would go a long way to helping to make sure that we boost the supply of teachers for our schools.
KARVELAS: So this is obviously a crisis on – it’s just sort of been delivered to you in your taking over of this portfolio. At the end of the day – today – will you come out with some clear solutions that we will see? Because there’s a lot of talking in this area, but will we see some clear solutions?
CLARE: I hope so. I’m not doing this to have a talkfest. I’m doing this to come up with real solutions that will make a difference. I strongly believe that the ministers that will be around the table have the same view. In every conversation I had with them as I went from state to state over the last few weeks this is the big issue they’re worried about. Whether you’re a Labor Minister or a Liberal Minister for education, one thing is clear – they care about the kids that our schools are educating. And if you care about the kids that we’re educating, you’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the best teachers possible in the right numbers to do that job.
I’m confident that we’ll come out with some terrific ideas today. Then we need an implementation plan to help us implement it. Patricia, it’s not just teaching; it’s early childhood education as well. We need more young people to want to help to educate our youngest kids from 0 to 5 as well. So this is a really big issue and it’s one we’re focused on today.
KARVELAS: And in terms of being able to, you know, show some serious change here, you mentioned it earlier, but the way we talk about teachers is hugely an issue. It’s a profession that is consistently talked down. It’s a profession where I know there is an enormous stigma. Teachers have told me they feel like there is just massive disrespect for them. We have painted teachers in a way that I think is quite offensive for many people in the profession. How do you change that? Do you run a campaign? What are you considering?
CLARE: I think that’s part of it. Stop bagging teachers and start giving teachers a rap. The first thing I did when I got this job is I went back to my old primary school, Cabramatta Public School, and I gave Mrs Fry a hug, who taught me back in first year. She started at Cabramatta Public School in 1978. She’s still there. She’s been there for more than 40 years. She helped change my life. She’s changed the lives of thousands and thousands of kids over that last 40 years.
Now Paul Keating talked about education as being the keys to the kingdom. You get a great education, it’s like a master key that opens every door. Well, if he’s right – and I think he is – then our teachers are the key masters. They’re the key makers. They’re the ones that help to open doors that would otherwise stay closed. They’re so important to us. And if I can do one thing in this job to help to build the respect and the reputation of teachers in this country, then I think I’ll have done a good thing.
KARVELAS: So stop bagging teachers is your message. Will you actually fund a campaign? It sounds like you’ve got a good campaign headline – stop bagging teachers.
CLARE: Again, Patricia, it’s one of those things that we’ll talk about today, and it’s one of the things that’s been recommended by the Lisa Paul review, and she’ll talk about that today and in the meeting about 9 o’clock this morning.
KARVELAS: Just one other issue before I bid you farewell, Minister, the University of Melbourne is accused of threatening to cut the work of casual academics who wanted pay for working extra hours. Now, this is all playing out in the Federal Court. The Fair Work Ombudsman claims the university coerced and took adverse action against two casual teachers. But what I want to hear from you is that this actually is something the union says is consistently happening. They’re hearing similar allegations from other members. Are you concerned that this is happening in our universities?
CLARE: The big issue here is casualisation. We see that right across the workforce nationwide, but we certainly see it in our universities. Western Sydney University took some goods steps in this regard just recently. I’ve committed to developing an Australian Universities Accord to look at some of the big issues in our universities, including industrial relations, including casualisation of the workforce, including wage theft. We’re going to criminalise wage theft. We’ve seen examples of that in universities. We need to stop that as well.
There are a big challenges and big opportunities in our universities, whether it’s affordability, whether it’s industrial relations or whether it’s equity and access. 40 per cent of young people today have got a university degree, but only 20 per cent from poor backgrounds, 20 per cent from the bush, seven per cent of Indigenous young people have got a university background. I don’t want us to be a country where your opportunities in life depend on how rich your parents are, what your post code is or whether your skin is black or white. There’s an opportunity for us to do something about the things you’ve raised and something about equity in that universities accord.
KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us.
CLARE: Good on you. Thanks, Patricia.
KARVELAS: That’s the Federal Education Minister Jason Clare. And you’re listening to ABC RN Breakfast.