SUBJECTS: Expert panel to inform a better and fairer education system; Teacher shortages
DAVINA SMITH: “Australia has a good education system, but it could be a lot better and a lot fairer”. That's a direct quote from the Federal Education Minister today as he vowed to do something about it. Jason Clare joins us now from Canberra. Minister, thank you so much for your time. Tell us about your announcement today.
EDUCATION MINISTER, JASON CLARE: I said it and I believe it. We do have a great education system, but it can be so much better and so much fairer. If you're a child from a poor family or from the regions, or if you're an Indigenous young person, you're three times more likely to fall behind at school. We've seen over the last decade or so the reading skills of primary school students improve, but we've also seen the gap in reading skills of children from poor families and children from wealthy families get bigger. That gap is growing with every year at school. The evidence also is that if you're a child from a poor family and you go to a school where there's a lot of children who are disadvantaged, then it's harder to catch up. That weighs heavily on me because I went to a school like that. That's the sort of thing that we need to fix. Funding is part of that, but so is what it's spent on, what we tie funding to, and that's what I talked about today. This is our last best chance to fix this, making sure that the extra funding that we need to put into schools is tied to the sort of things that are going to work, that are going to help children who fall behind to catch up.
SMITH: Okay, how do we fix this?
CLARE: The panel’s led by Dr Lisa O'Brien, the head of the Australian Education Research Organisation and also the former CEO of the Smith Family, that focuses on educational inequality. They're going to provide me and every Education Minister with advice about what are the targets we need to set to fix this, and what are the real practical reforms that are going to make a difference. I'll leave it up to them to tell us what they think. But there's a lot of good evidence out there, for example, at the moment, that shows that if you've got children falling behind in the classroom, but if you get them out of the classroom and you've got intensive small group literacy and numeracy assistance for children who need extra help to catch up, that's the sort of thing that works. And if you've got children falling behind, they're going to keep falling behind unless you can provide them with that real practical extra assistance. If that's the sort of thing that this panel recommends, then that's the sort of thing we need to make sure happens in our schools across the country.
SMITH: One of the problems we're all conscious of, we don't need a panel to tell us about it, is this teacher retention issue. Teachers who, they're just fed up with being overworked and underpaid. You need teachers to make this happen. How do you fix that?
CLARE: You're right. We have a teacher shortage crisis in this country, ten years in the making. Not enough young people are leaving school and becoming teachers. We've seen a drop in the last decade of 16 per cent in people becoming teachers. I think we need to stop bagging teachers, start giving them a rap. I want more young people bursting out of school and wanting to become a teacher rather than a lawyer or a banker. That's why in the Budget, there's scholarships worth up to $40,000 to encourage some of our best and brightest young people to become teachers. But we also need to make sure that once you're at uni and you're studying teaching, that you finish your degree. Only 50 per cent do. And some of the best teachers in this country tell me that for all of the education they received at uni, they didn't feel ready when they started at a school as a teacher. So how do we make sure that that uni course is better? Giving teachers the skills they need to teach literacy, teach numeracy, manage classroom behaviour and give them a better practical experience of schools when they're still at university. And then how do we make sure that we help brand new teachers once they get started? Because, believe it or not, Davina, about 50 per cent of teachers quit in the first five years. So there's a lot that we need to do here. We've developed an initial plan to tackle this, but there's a lot more to do, and this panel will look at this as well.
SMITH: Let's hope that works, Minister, thank you so much for your time.
CLARE: Thanks Davina.