Interview - Triple J Hack
SUBJECTS: Teacher shortage; Incentives to study teaching; Grattan Institute report.
ANGE MCCORMACK: So many people getting in touch on the Triple J text line. Someone says: “I’m a pre‑service teacher, currently in my first placement, and everyone is so burnt out. I don’t want to be a teacher anymore and I left a veterinary career to do teaching.” Someone says: “I’m a teacher. I’m overworked, never up‑to‑date with marking. I start at 7.30 and leave at quarter to six but get paid only from 8.30 to 4.00.”
There’s heaps of issues to talk about with Jason Clare. He’s the Federal Minister for Education. Minister, thanks so much for speaking with me.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day, Ange.
MCCORMACK: Yeah, we just heard from super bright, passionate young teachers who are at breaking point. Why’s it gotten so bad?
CLARE: It makes my heart sink when I hear those stories. People like Emma and Callum, they became teachers because they believe in the power of education. They know that the teacher in the classroom is the most important person in that classroom. They can make all the difference in a child’s life, and every teacher listening, every parent listening, knows that, so when you hear young, inspired, hardworking people say that they want to give it away, it tells me that there’s something wrong here. It explains why we’ve got a crisis. When teachers are resigning, not retiring from teaching, then we’ve got a real problem here that we need to turn around fast.
MCCORMACK: Do you have a message of hope for those teachers that are in that situation? You know, there’s plenty on the text line who are saying, “I’m considering quitting, I’m over it.” Are their lives, their teaching lives, going to get better in your Government?
CLARE: Well, there’s a bunch of things that we’ve got to do, and no Government can do it on their own. Education’s one of those areas where the Federal Government’s got to take a leadership role. That’s what I’m doing, that’s what I’m trying to do. But working with State Governments and Territory Governments as well. You can start by talking up teaching and stop bagging teachers. That’s what I’ve been doing from the get‑go in my first couple of months as Education Minister. The first thing I did when I got this job was go back to my old primary school and give my old teacher, Mrs Fry, a hug. She was teaching there from 1978. She’s still there. She’s changed the lives of thousands and thousands of young people. I did that for a reason, to send a message – that I get how important our teachers are – and that we’ve got to do a bunch of different things here.
We’ve got to encourage more people to want to be teachers. We’ve got to help more people pass their university degree and get more people to complete the course, and then to the point that Emma and Callum were talking about, tackle this issue that is causing a lot of young people to leave the profession early. Now, something like 30 to 50 per cent of young teachers leave teaching within the first five years. Part of the reason for that, Ange, is either the university course is not giving them all the preparation they need, all the practical experience early on, or they don’t have the mentoring and induction support or the lesson plans, I think, that Callum talked about in his comment in that interview.
MCCORMACK: Yeah, and we’ll get to that, the issue of lesson plans and preparation, in a moment. But you’ve raised an interesting point there about getting students to study teaching. That’s one of the biggest issues. We’ve got this teacher shortage; we need people studying it. How do you plan on making degrees more attractive for young people to take up, because after hearing those stories I can’t imagine a lot of people are dying to get into it?
CLARE: Well, you’re right. We’ve seen a drop of about 16 per cent in the number of young people going into uni to study teaching in the last 10 years. More and more students at school, but fewer students opting to do teaching when they leave school and head to uni. One of the things that’ll be in the Budget next week, bursaries or scholarships worth up to 40 grand to encourage our best and brightest young people from the regions and Indigenous Australians to want to be teachers. That sort of financial support up front we think will make a big difference and help to encourage more of our best and brightest young people to become teachers rather than doctors or lawyers or, God forbid, politicians.
MCCORMACK: Minister, that’s an interesting idea, that idea of incentives that you’ve just raised – $10,000 a year for those bright students that have high ATARs to get into those courses. But the Productivity Commission looked at how effective things like incentives for studying are and they basically found that those sorts of financial incentives don’t really work that well. People are still going to study what they want to study, so are you confident that that’s going to solve the issue?
CLARE: There’s different types of financial incentives, Ange. So, a lot of the work I’ve seen says that if you waive someone’s HECS fees, it doesn’t really change the decision they make about what course they want to study because a lot of people will think, “I pay that off over my working life.” But if you provide a scholarship, upfront financial support to help pay the bills, put food on the table, pay the rent, that can make a difference and that’s why we’ve opted for that upfront support.
MCCORMACK: Will that program plug that gap of the thousands of teachers that are going to be in shortage by 2025?
CLARE: It’s one of the things. It’s not the only thing. It’s not a panacea. The other thing we’ve got to do is find ways to encourage older people mid‑career to become a teacher, to switch from perhaps being a scientist or an engineer to become a teacher, as well. That’s often a really big challenge particularly if you’ve got a mortgage or, you know, a big weekly rent bill to pay, you’ve got children at home. Taking two years out of your working life to do a master’s degree at uni and become a teacher is a challenge, and so there are programs at the moment that are designed to help that. I think we need to do more of that to help more people mid‑career switch from the work that they are doing now to becoming teachers in our classrooms.
MCCORMACK: You’re listening to Hack on Triple J. I’m Ange McCormack with Federal Education Minister Jason Clare. On the Triple J text line someone says: “I’m a first‑year teacher. The amount of administration is a big factor for burnout. I wish we had more time to focus on the actual teaching.”
That’s an interesting point, Minister, because today there was this report out from the Grattan Institute, and it found that teachers have basically near impossible workloads for lesson planning and they’re calling for Governments to basically create lesson plans and resources for teachers instead. It’d save teachers time. It’d make learning better for kids because there’d be a more consistent approach. Is your government going to look at this idea?
CLARE: It’s a very important report, and I’ve said today that if we get it right, then we can reduce the workload on teachers, give them more time to teach and they’ll become better teachers. So, it’s the sort of thing I want to talk to State and Territory Ministers about, as well as teachers, on this program and elsewhere, about this report, how it would work and the benefits that it could provide. I’ll talk to Ministers about it in December. But just generally, Ange, this idea that teachers rock up at nine o’clock in the morning and knock off at three o’clock is rubbish. Any of us who know teachers or are parents know that that’s not true, and this report proves it. It tells us that the typical teacher does six hours a week of classroom prep, of lesson planning. Lots of teachers do a hell of a lot more than that, and I think it was Emma in that story that you just took to air that talked about doing lesson prep all weekend long.
There’s research from overseas that shows that Australian teachers work longer than teachers in other parts of the world but spend less time in face‑to‑face teaching. About 40 per cent of the time our teachers spend working is face to face with students and, so, if you can do something about workload through providing curriculum materials, lesson plans, then that gives teachers an option. There’ll be some teachers listening right now that will say, “I don’t need that. I want to make up my own lessons”, and it’s got to be about choice. But you want high‑quality materials and providing the option for a school to use them if they want or adapt them for their own school. This report says that at the moment only about 15 per cent of schools have got that and if you happen to go to a disadvantaged school, like the one I went to when I was a little fella, then that’s even worse.
MCCORMACK: Minister, there’s so many more issues to unpack, but thank you so much for your time today and we look forward to seeing maybe some updates in the Budget and the Workforce Report back in December.
CLARE: No worries, Ange. Thanks for your interest.