SUBJECTS: Report into the next National School Reform Agreement; A better and fairer education system; NDIS review.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: How well does your child's school stack up and how much funding does it get? Parents and politicians alike have been wrestling with these big questions for decades. Now another independent expert‑led review into school funding has found that public schools are under resourced with inequality and the gap between privileged and disadvantaged students growing.
The report handed to Education Ministers yesterday is also calling for teachers to be given more targeted support and mentoring as part of a suite of recommendations to help the workforce.
Jason Clare is the Federal Education Minister and our guest, welcome.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Good morning Patricia.
KARVELAS: Governments have been really wrestling with questions around education funding for decades. Why are we still getting it so wrong?
CLARE: This is what we have to fix, Patricia. The fact is that public schools in this country aren't fully funded. The work that David Gonski started over a decade ago still hasn't been completed.
This report shows that we've got a good education system, but it can be a lot better and a lot fairer. It's a bit of a blueprint about how we do that and sort of reforms that we need to implement if we're going to help in particular children from poor families and from the bush who fall behind to catch up at school. And this is a report that will help us to identify the sort of reforms that we need to fund in the next National School Reform Agreement that we strike next year.
KARVELAS: The Australian Education Union and the States have been calling for the Federal Government to boost its support of public schools, to increase funding from 20 to 25 per cent. Will the Federal Government commit to that now?
CLARE: What we've committed to is working with the States and the Territories to make sure that we get all schools, all schools to their full and fair funding level. We committed to that before the election. I've committed to it since.
We've got to fix that funding gap, level the playing field so that all schools and all kids are properly and fairly funded in our schools. But not just that. It's not just the funding gap that we need to close. We've got to close this education gap.
Now the fact is that if you're a child from a poor family, you're three times more likely to fall behind at school. What this report showed us yesterday is that we have one of the most segregated school systems in the OECD. Not by the colour of your skin, but by the size of your parents' pay packet. It shows not only that children from poor families are more likely to fall behind at school, but if they're in a school, as many of them are, about half of children from poor families are at schools where they're surrounded by a lot of other children with disadvantage, then it's even harder for them to catch up. This report is full of recommendations about how to turn that around.
KARVELAS: It certainly is. So let's go to the States' responsibility here. Catch up tutoring, you wanted that to happen. Is that going to happen? Have the States said they'll do that?
CLARE: Yesterday wasn't about getting the States to agree to any targets or reforms. It was about releasing this report. This is a bit of a two‑step process.
The first step is to conduct this independent review and get the advice on the reforms that we need to tie funding to.
The second step next year is to do the deal, to ink an agreement for a plan for the next decade on what we should be funding in the next National Schools Reform Agreement.
Now one of those things is catch up tutoring. What the report says is that we need to identify children who are falling behind early, so it talks about the importance of things like phonics screening in Year One but also numeracy screening right across the country, and then early intervention. Providing extra support for children who are falling behind by getting them out of a classroom of 30 into a classroom of maybe three or four and being able to help a child over the course of maybe 12 weeks or 18 weeks to learn as much as they would otherwise learn in the course of a full year.
KARVELAS: So you say yesterday wasn't about getting them to sign up to that?
CLARE: No, yesterday was about releasing the report.
KARVELAS: That's what you've got to do next, right?
KARVELAS: If you increase funding will you put more obligations on the schools reaching national targets?
CLARE: The short answer to that, Patricia, is there are no blank cheques here. I want to close the funding gap and close the education gap. I want to make sure that we tie the funding to the sort of things that are going to help children like the kid I was, in schools like the school I went to, if they fall behind to get the support that they need to catch up and to keep up and to finish school.
One of the other things this report tells us is that the number of children finishing high school has dropped over the last six years, particularly in public schools and particularly amongst children from poor backgrounds.
Now there's a direct causal link between children falling behind early when they're in primary school and staying behind and then not finishing high school. And this is happening at a time when we need more people to finish high school because all the jobs that are being created in our economy require you to finish school and then go on to TAFE or to university.
The reforms we're talking about here are important, not just for the individuals at school today but for our whole country in making sure that we've got the skills that we need for the future. This is important. The agreement that we work on and sign next year needs to have targets, but it also needs to have reforms that we fund that will make a difference for the whole country.
KARVELAS: There is a huge debate as you know that always goes on between this idea of private school and public-school funding. How do you view the growth in the private school funding, does that have to slow?
CLARE: Private school funding is now on a trajectory to get to that Gonski 100 per cent level by 2029. It's going down to 100 per cent, and that's because of the changes that Malcolm Turnbull made when he was Prime Minister.
The real problem is that public school funding is not on a trajectory to get to 100 per cent. It's either at 95 per cent in some States today, or it will get to 95 per cent by the end of the decade. In the case of the Northern Territory, never. And that's the gap that we need to fix.
I want to make sure that all schools are properly funded and at the moment they're not. That's what this agreement needs to be about, but not just that. Making sure that we tie the funding to the sort of things that are going to make a real difference.
KARVELAS: You mentioned before, you know, the kind of kid that you were and the kind of school that you went to. That kid that you were, is that kid today getting the same opportunities and the same pathways that you did?
CLARE: I still believe in the power of education to change lives and in the incredible work that our teachers do. You will never hear me say a bad word about our teachers.
KARVELAS: No, no, I'm not inviting you to criticise teachers. I'm talking about the system. Is the system delivering the same kind of results for disadvantaged kids in Australia that it was perhaps in our era?
CLARE: I think it is, against all the odds. With fewer teachers and all the challenges that we have in place. Patricia, I went to school, Cabramatta Public School, Canley Vale High School in the western suburbs of Sydney.
There was a kid in my class called Corey. He was a refugee from Vietnam. He was the tallest kid in our class in Year 7 and he was the shortest kid in our class in Year 12. Turns out he was five years older than us. His parents changed his age in order to make sure that he got a chance at education, and it changed his life. I still believe that our education system does that today, but there are challenges.
The fact is if you're a child like Corey from a poor family, in a poor community you're more likely to fall behind. And we know that only 20 per cent of children who fall behind when they're little catch up by the time they're in high school. I want to fix that. And that's what these reforms need to be about.
KARVELAS: Just finally, another big review out is the NDIS review, the States and the Commonwealth will tip in $10 billion between them to establish a new scheme to treat children with mild autism and early developmental disorders. What role will schools play in this?
CLARE: We talked a little bit about this as Ministers yesterday, National Cabinet made some decisions around the NDIS last week. They also made the decision to do work around foundational supports for childcare, for early education as well as schools.
Last week the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers agreed that there'd be work done by the Commonwealth and the States on what that would look like.
That work will be led by the Department of Social Services and Minister Amanda Rishworth, but Education Ministers will play a key role in the development of those reforms.
KARVELAS: Minister, thank you for joining us this morning.
CLARE: Good on you, PK, Merry Christmas.