KARL STEFANOVIC: Welcome back to the show. Well, Aussie boys are falling behind in school apparently, with new NAPLAN data revealing their literacy levels are the lowest they've been since testing began in 2008.
ALLISON LANGDON: For more, the Federal Minister for Education Jason Clare joins us now. Minister, nice to see you this morning.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Good morning.
LANGDON: Are we going backwards?
CLARE: These results are better than I expected to be honest. They're the first NAPLAN results since the pandemic, since the big lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne last year, and there were a lot of pretty horror predictions about results going south. They're pretty stable across most of the categories over the last few years but you're right, we're seeing a drop particularly in Year 9 boys, but also Year 9 girls as well, in literacy and numeracy. That kind of suggests that it's related to COVID. NAPLAN tells us what's happening, but it doesn't tell us why.
STEFANOVIC: The whole picture. What is happening then? I mean, we do need to find out and we do need to rectify it. By the time you get to Year 9, and you've got a literacy problem, I mean that's bad.
CLARE: Well, it shows us two things. First, there's some pretty fantastic news which is that the reading skills of a primary school student today are about a year ahead of the reading skills of a primary school student 14 years ago. The work that's been done by teachers and by parents and students over the last 14 years has meant we've had this big leap forward at primary school.
STEFANOVIC: Is that because of phonics, a return to phonics.
CLARE: I think that's part of it, but we're not seeing it translate into high school. It will be interesting to see in the years ahead whether we do see that or not. What these results show is that the reading and maths skills of your average Year 9 student are about the same today as they were 14 years ago.
LANGDON: But you've also got this issue, and when you're facing a teacher shortage as we are, and it's at a really critical point. You've also got, you know, it's fine if you're from a rich school or a private school. When you go to some of the poorer schools or you go to remote or regional areas, there is a big division and, you know, that sets them up, if you're falling way behind it's hard to catch up.
CLARE: And one of the other things that these results today show is that the gap in reading and maths skills between children from poor families and children from wealthy families is getting bigger, believe it or not. Yes, we've got a teacher shortage everywhere across the country, but it is most severe in the bush and most severe in some of our most disadvantaged schools. And also, high school as well, we're talking about Year 9 boys and Year 9 girls. We're seeing bigger shortages in high school than primary school and particularly in areas like maths and science.
STEFANOVIC: All right, so the Queensland Teachers Union wants the NAPLAN scrapped. It says there's no confidence in the system. Are you going to scrap it?
CLARE: No. I think it's important. It helps us to understand what's going right and what's going wrong. It doesn't tell us everything. One of the things that we know has happened in the last couple of years with COVID is the mental health impact on young people. The mental health impact of COVID and the lockdowns has been pretty serious for young people. NAPLAN doesn't tell us that. But what it does help us understand is where we're getting things right and where we're not. And then the next step is what are the things that we can do to make a difference.
LANGDON: Where you need to be putting less funding and that putting that effort …
CLARE: Targeting the money where it's needed most.
LANGDON: I want to talk to you too about the return of the Islamic State brides and their children. There's a lot of concern within your own electorate. Why the secrecy around security and the cost of all of this?
CLARE: Well, this has happened before, it's not the first time this has happened, Ally. I think the same thing happened under the Morrison Government as well. It's all done and coordinated by the security agencies and, as I understand it, it involves the State Police here in New South Wales as well as the Federal Police and the Joint Counter Terrorism Task Force. But as I say, I live here too. I want to make sure that I'm safe, my family's safe, my community's safe. The work that the State Police here do, and the Federal Police, is critical here in making sure that that's the case.
STEFANOVIC: Where are they going to live?
CLARE: We were talking about this just before we went on air. I presume that people who have been overseas go back to their mum and dad's house.
STEFANOVIC: If you don't know where they're going to live, I assume someone knows. But that's part of the problem, flow of information has been terrible.
CLARE: But to be fair, I'm the Education Minister not the National Security Minister.
STEFANOVIC: I understand that. I understand that.
CLARE: So, it's not appropriate that I would know. But you had Frank on the program before. He's a good bloke. He knows his community as well as I do. It's important that we do take the measures to keep our community safe and that's what the work that the Federal Police and the State Police do.
STEFANOVIC: See, it's red hot in your electorate, it's red hot with people concerned about these people coming back in. What assurances can you get that the security arrangements are going to be okay?
CLARE: The assurance you give is that they don't come in without national security agencies saying that Australia will be safe, right. Do you think that any government, Labor or Liberal, would bring people in if national security agencies said there'd be a threat? It's not a political thing.
STEFANOVIC: Do you agree with it? Do you agree with them coming back?
CLARE: Well, they're Australian citizens. If the test is, are Aussies going to be safe and the answer is yes, then that's okay. But if they weren't, then of course not.
LANGDON: Any word on when the others are going to be coming back?
CLARE: Don't know. Again, all of that has to happen with security agencies doing work overseas and back here in Australia.
STEFANOVIC: Do you know what the spend on security is going to be?
CLARE: No. I can tell you what we're investing in education. But I can't tell you that.
LANGDON: Do you like that we've just broadened it a little bit here.
STEFANOVIC: Yeah, it's a rich tapestry of brekky TV. It's good to see you.
CLARE: Good to see you too, mate.
STEFANOVIC: Up next, we've got Australia's greatest ordinary rig, I don't know if you want to see that.
CLARE: I've seen the ordinary rig downstairs.
STEFANOVIC: Oh, well done.
CLARE: It's pretty ordinary.
STEFANOVIC: Jason Clare, thank you mate.
LANGDON: Thank you for that.