SUBJECTS: NAPLAN results; Teacher shortages; Energy prices.
KIERAN GILBERT: For more on this, I was joined earlier by the Education Minister, Jason Clare. I began by asking him what these results tell us about the impact of COVID on our students.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Well, to be honest, Kieran, they’re better than I expected. These are the first results that we’ve got in since those big lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne last year. And there were some pretty horror predictions about what this would all mean. What it shows is that, in most of the categories, results are pretty stable. We have seen some drops in numeracy and literacy in Year 9 for boys but also for girls. It’s not clear whether that’s COVID, but I suspect that’s a big part of it.
GILBERT: With the boys, about 15 per cent of Year 9 boys don’t meet the minimum standard in terms of literacy. Are you worried about that? What can be done to turn that around?
CLARE: Well, of course I’m worried about it. Anybody looking at this data would be concerned about that. Over the longer term, what we’ve seen is that the literacy and numeracy of young men and young women in Year 9 has been pretty stable over the course of the last 14 years or so. What we’ve seen is a tapering off of those results over the last two or three years. That tells you that there’s something to do with COVID there. NAPLAN tells us what’s happened; it doesn’t tell us why. But when you think about it, particularly with lockdowns and particularly with parents having to take on a bigger role in home schooling, that there’s a difference between home schooling a 15-year-old and home schooling an 8-year-old.
We see in the data some pretty incredible results in primary schools. Over the last 14 years or so, we’ve seen some pretty dramatic growth in the reading skills of primary school students. So, for example, the reading skills of a primary school student today are about a year ahead of what they were 14 years ago. But we’re not seeing that in high school.
As I said, Year 9 reading and maths skills are about the same today as they were 14 years ago. So, I think we need to zero in on what’s happening there and why it’s happening.
GILBERT: Yeah, indeed. What about the maths standards across the board? Again, the view is that some of the maths standards that we’re seeing in NAPLAN are actually below what it was pre‑pandemic. Is that your read on it?
CLARE: We’ve seen a bigger drop off in maths, and that’s not just in high school but in primary schools as well, over the course of the pandemic than we have, say, in reading or in spelling or in grammar. They’ve held up by and large. We’ve seen a drop in numeracy results in primary school and in high school over the course of last year and the year before.
Again, you’ve got to drill into the detail to understand why this might be the case. But I suspect part of it is COVID. I do need to take my hat off to teachers and to parents and students for the incredible work that they did over the last couple of years. This has been the biggest disruption to education in living memory. And people did predict that we were going to see results fall off a cliff. That didn’t happen, but we’ve seen it more in maths than we have in literacy, and I think COVID might be part of it.
GILBERT: There’s also been a dip in the participation rate at NAPLAN. What do you put that down to? Is that – and what can be done to try and reverse that trend?
CLARE: You’re right. We are seeing a drop in the number of students participating in NAPLAN. That is a cause for concern. If we continue to see that drop, it’s going to affect the integrity of this data, long term. We are seeing bigger drops in high school than in primary school.
Next year, for the first time, NAPLAN will be done in March so it will be done earlier in the school year, and the team at ACARA that are responsible for running the tests tell me they’re on a pathway to getting the results back to teachers at a much quicker rate than they have before. I think next year they aim to get this information to teachers within a month. Long term, they want to be able to get the results from NAPLAN to teachers within two weeks, and I think that’s critical.
One of the criticisms of NAPLAN by teachers is: “If you’re going to do these tests, give us the data of what it’s telling me as soon as possible because it will be much more helpful for me as a teacher if I’ve got the information within a short period of time rather than taking months and months.”
GILBERT: On to a separate issue but a related one, last time we spoke you gave us the details of this national action plan that you and your State-based colleagues have agreed to on teacher shortages. Can you give our viewers an update on where that’s at?
CLARE: Kieran, anyone with children at school would know that we’ve got a teacher shortage at the moment. It often means children being grouped together in classes. It’s an even bigger challenge in regional Australia than it is in the cities. A bigger challenge in our high schools than primary schools. But this is nationwide, and it’s 10 years in the making. It’s going to take some time to fix.
One of the first things I did when I became the Minister for Education is organise a roundtable of teachers and principals and education ministers to talk about this, identify the things that we can do. Over the course of the last couple of weeks, I’ve had education departments across the country working with unions and working with the non-government school sector on the development of a draft plan on the sort of practical steps we can take to turn this around. Later this week, I’ll release that draft plan and the next step, Kieran, is to talk to teachers, talk to principals about what is in it, whether we’ve got it right or wrong, what should be put in, what should be taken out. Hopefully, that will be ready for Education Ministers to look at when we meet again in December. But even then, come December it won’t be the sort of thing you can just tick off. This is a big problem. It’s going to take a while to fix. And I think this is going to have to be the top of the agenda for Education Ministers for some time to come.
GILBERT: So, when you say you’re releasing the draft plan this week, talk us through how long it will take to finalise that, and is it something that you envisage, given the way you described it there, that it’s basically going to continue to be a work in progress?
CLARE: I think it’s got to be a living document. You can’t just put a plan on the table to Education Ministers in December and say, tick, it’s done. It’s not going to be done. It’s going to take a while to turn this around. To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, we’ve seen over the last 10 years a big drop in the number of students going into uni to learn to become teachers – a drop of about 16 per cent. We’ve got too few teaching students finishing their uni degrees – only about 50 per cent finish their uni degrees compared to 70 per cent with other uni degrees. And then you’ve got a lot of early teachers, teachers in their first five years of teaching, who leave the profession – something like 30 to 50 per cent of teachers in their first five years leave. And that’s what creates this crisis – not enough young people going in to uni to become teachers, not enough finishing their degrees, and a lot of people leaving early, either in their first five years or sometimes it's teachers mid-career, at the height of their profession, that feel burnt out and worn out and leave.
The draft plan that I’ll release for consultation later this week will look at all of those areas. As the Federal Minister, there’s things that I can do to help boost supply. We’ve put about $159 million in the budget to train more teachers. We can also help to improve the way that early teacher education at uni works. I’ve got Mark Scott, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, on the case there developing up some plans about how we improve the way we train teachers at university. But I don’t employ teachers. Most of that work is done by State governments. And so, things like salary and workload are key to what they do. The only way we’re going to fix this is if we work together. And that’s the underlying theme here in this plan is what the Federal government and State and Territory governments can do working together to build the workforce we need for the future.
GILBERT: One last question before you go, on energy prices. Many of your own constituents will be bearing the brunt of these higher prices now and over the next 12 months. Does the Cabinet, does the Albanese Government, get the urgency of this?
CLARE: Yeah, big time. This is a serious issue. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The fact that this is a problem that’s not just happening here in Australia but you see it, I think, in almost every country in the world tells you why this is happening – a war in Europe has made this worse. We’ve got to get that inflation zombie back in the grave here, and that’s what the Budget has been focused on. Jim Chalmers has made the point over the last couple of days that all options need to be on the table here in terms of how we fix this. It means looking at options that former governments might not have even considered over the course of the last year or two. He’s got the ACCC on the case here to look at what are some of the regulatory actions that governments can and should take to make sure that we push prices down.
GILBERT: Jason Clare, Education Minister, thanks for your time, appreciate it.
CLARE: Thanks, Kieran.