SUBJECTS: Expert panel to inform a better and fairer education system; Productivity Commission review into early learning; Universities Accord
KIERAN GILBERT: A panel of academics and leaders in education has been established to help set targets and develop reform to improve outcomes in our classrooms. In particular, the five person panel has been tasked with developing accountability measures for spending on education and better frameworks to help students at risk of falling behind. Let's bring in the Education Minister Jason Clare. There's a focus on those that fall behind. Is there also a focus on that panel you announced today to drive better standards, so to push the best as well?
MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, JASON CLARE: It’s both. We want an education system that is excellent. We want an education system that is equitable. One that's better and fairer than the one that we have at the moment. The Productivity Commission put out a report in January and it said that if you're a child from a poor background, or if you're a child from the bush, from regional Australia, or if you're an Indigenous child, you're three times more likely to fall behind at school.
GILBERT: And there's the panel there we've got the Lisa Paul, Stephen Lamb and those others there that are key thinkers in that education space.
CLARE: And led by Dr Lisa O'Brien, who's the head of the Australian Education Research Organisation, but also the former CEO of the Smith Family. The Smith Family, that is focussed on tackling educational inequality, somebody who knows a lot about this area. That report told us one, some good news, which was that primary school kids are reading at about a year ahead of what primary school children were reading 15 years ago. But it also told us some bad news, which is that the reading skills of a child from a wealthy family and the reading skills of a child from a poor family in primary school are getting worse.
GILBERT: Is that why we're falling down that pecking order internationally?
CLARE: That's part of it. Other countries are doing a better job. Part of it is that educational inequality as well. We grew up in the same neck of the woods, so we know Western Sydney pretty well. What this report told us is this, if you're a child from a poor family and you go to a school where there's a lot of kids experiencing disadvantage, then it's harder to catch up than if you go to a school where that isn't the case.
GILBERT: But if you'd look at the standards of our best performing kids, they would match it internationally-
CLARE: Yeah, of course they do.
GILBERT: But so you're trying so the key aim to lift our ratings internationally is to lift that equity. That's the point you're making?
CLARE: That's what we've got to do. If nine out of ten jobs that are being created now require you to finish high school and go on to TAFE and go on to university, then we've got to make sure that our children have the skills they need to finish high school. Now, I'm talking about some of the differences that we're seeing in primary school, Kieran. Here's the difference at high school. If you're a child from a wealthy family, 82 per cent chance you're going to finish high school. Child from a poor family, 72 per cent. Now, if most of the jobs require you to finish high school and you don't, then disadvantage continues, in your life and in your children's life. So, what we do here matters in terms of making sure that more people finish school, go on to TAFE and go on to university.
GILBERT: And so do you see, you've also set up a ministerial or you're setting up a ministerial reference group. So what is that in relation to these experts? How does one work with the other?
CLARE: I will tell you a little bit about what we're doing in early education and higher education too, to set the scene. This is a big year in education. We've got the biggest, most comprehensive review of early education in Australia's history. I announced that last month. That's being led by Professor Deborah Brennan, the best in the business in early education. Albo has made the point he wants to see us set up a universal early education system, that's the job of Deborah and the Productivity Commission. At the other end of the education system is higher ed, universities, and we've got Professor Mary O'Kane, conducting a review there, the first big and broad review of higher ed in 15 years, the first since the Bradley Review. The work that we're announcing today sits in between that. How do we create a better, fairer school education system? There's a common thread, though, that runs through all of it. If you're a child from a poor background, you're less likely to go to preschool, you're more likely to fall behind at primary school, you're less likely to finish high school and you're less likely to go to uni. Now, in a world where you've got to finish high school and then go on to TAFE or uni to get a job, build a career, that matters, we've got to fix that. And that's what all of these reviews are about.
GILBERT: I want to play for you and our viewers. This is a comment from Pat McGorry. He was on this program yesterday, former Australian of the Year, and he's given Jason Clare an idea on how to get more psychology graduates into the workforce.
PAT MCGORRY: One of the things would be to boost the number of students who've done basic psychology at university honours level, widening the channel of access to clinical training, clinical masters, clinical doctorates. And the trouble is, at the moment, the universities make a loss on those training places because the Commonwealth doesn't fund those training places at the right level, so they need to bring up funding so there's an incentive for universities to provide that training.
GILBERT: So, Professor Pat McGorry there saying the Federal Government needs to boost the funding for those clinical doctorates, clinical masters, because we need more psychologists out there, given the crisis in mental health among our adolescents.
CLARE: We're seeing that at school right now, we're seeing that at university. If you ask any principal or any vice chancellor of a university, they'll tell you that they're seeing still the after-effects of COVID in the classroom. Whether it's a child going into kindy or whether it's a young person going into uni. I'm hearing the same thing, which is people aren't as ready for school or uni as they used to be and you see it in the behaviour of students at school. We're seeing lots and lots of evidence that COVID might be behind us but...
GILBERT: Would you look at that idea of boosting federal funding for that?
CLARE: Pat met with my team yesterday about that. We're incorporating that into the Universities Accord that I just mentioned that Mary O'Kane is doing. I talk a lot about the fact that we don't have enough schoolteachers. Thousands short. We're 8,000 short in terms of the number of psychologists we need. Part of what that Universities Accord is about is trying to identify how many people do we need to have a university degree by the end of this decade and by the end of the next decade. We know we've got skill shortages right across the economy right now. What do we need to do to make sure that our universities are training the Australians that we're going to need to be engineers and scientists and doctors and lawyers and psychologists, teachers and nurses in the years ahead?
GILBERT: Well, does that make sense to you, that idea? Because he's saying that at the moment the unis don't have the incentive to get students into those clinical trials, clinical lessons?
CLARE: Yeah, he’s pointing to something that we know, out of the Job Ready Graduates. Changes the former government made basically cut the amount of funding that universities have access to to train a psychologist. It created a disincentive, in a sense. It cut the cost to the student, but it increased the cost to the university. So, one part of that review is looking at those changes the former government made, did they work, or didn't they and what changes should we make to them.
GILBERT: It's good though, that Pat McGorry has had that input to your crew. That's good.
CLARE: There's no one more eminent in this field than Pat.
GILBERT: That's true. Education Minister Jason Clare, thanks. Talk to you soon.