SUBJECTS: Funding for schools in Central Australia.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: Thanks for coming along. This is my third visit to Alice Springs since I was appointed Education Minister. Earlier this year the Prime Minister announced a $250 million fund for Alice Springs and Central Australia, and part of that is $40 million to be invested in 46 schools across Central Australia. I was here early in May of this year talking to principals right across Central Australia about that funding and what that money will be used for. And it’s great to be back here today and yesterday talking to the same principals about how we’re going to break that money up, allocate it to different schools and the difference that we hope it will make in providing a better future for young people here in Central Australia.
Yesterday I got the chance at Centralian Middle School to talk to principals right across the region about that funding. And that money will roll out from next year. And I was joined in that meeting by Dr Lisa O’Brien, who is heading up a review into school funding right across the country and what we tie funding to in the next National School Reform Agreement.
But when I was here in May for the first meeting to talk about the rollout of this funding and I got to meet Donna, and Donna talked about some of the incredible things that are happening here at Gillen, about a school that when you started here was behind the rest of the Territory in NAPLAN testing and is now in front of it and that the work that’s been done at this school led by an incredible principal, but with a team of incredible teachers all working together in a consistent manner using phonics but also getting children out of the classroom into smaller groups and providing them with additional support has had a real and measurable difference on the children’s ability to learn and ability to read and has set them up for the future.
This is my first opportunity to come back and see it in person. I can see it in my own neck of the woods in Western Sydney, but this works everywhere. It’s about great leadership, great teachers, providing teachers with the support that they need and being able to put that in practise in the classroom. And the extra one and a half million dollars that we’re going to invest in this school as part of the $40 million will help to build on the fantastic work that’s been happening here at Gillen for the last couple of years.
I’ll throw over to you.
JOURNALIST: On that funding, NT Education Minister Eva Lawler this morning said the $40 million of federal government funding would be distributed to schools using the attendance-based effective enrolment method. Minister Lawler has vowed to phase out this method because a government-commissioned report found it to be unfair and disadvantage already disadvantaged students, especially First Nations students. Does the Commonwealth support its education funding being distributed this way when it’s trying to improve outcomes for disadvantaged students in particular?
CLARE: I welcome the fact they’re phasing that out because you want to make sure the funding is based on enrolment rather than attendance. And so, my department is working with Eva’s department on that. We want to make sure that the methodology, the way we allocate the money to schools, is based on the Gonski model. I want to make sure that every school across the country is funded at 100 per cent of what that schooling resource standard that David Gonski set is at. Not every school is at that at the moment, in particular in the Northern Territory, schools are funded below that. And I want to make sure that we fix that but that we get funding to the schools that need it most first – the most disadvantaged schools first. And it’s hard to find a part of Australia where there is greater disadvantage or where there is a bigger gap in learning than Central Australia. That’s why this funding is important.
JOURNALIST: Are you concerned it might be spent in that way, though, even though we know that it doesn’t work, it’s not effective for those kids?
CLARE: The work that my department is doing with Eva’s department will help address that. And what’s important here is that we give agency to principals to work out what they spend that money on. We want to make sure it’s used for the sorts of things that’s happening here at Gillen – early literacy and numeracy – but also in remote schools where secondary education is not possible at the moment. There are principals thinking about how they can adapt and use that funding to provide more access to secondary school education as well. When I was at Centralian Middle School yesterday the point was made that for a lot of students they can’t get access to vocational training or not as much as they would like to. So, there’s work being done there. The other thing I’d say in terms of how we use this money is that I said to principals yesterday, “Don’t make this decision on your own. Talk to your teachers. Talk to students and talk to parents and the local community about it as well.” This is, in a sense, a bit of a live experiment. Next year with this additional funding we have a chance to use this funding, see what works and see what doesn’t. I want what’s happening here in Central Australia as we get schools to the level of funding that they should be at to work not just here in the middle of the country but right across Australia.
JOURNALIST: The MK Turner Report was released last week, which was authored by a network of Indigenous leaders from across Australia. It’s called on the government to overhaul the way First Nations children are educated. Have you read that report? And given the continued decline in attendance at schools across the territory, is it time to look at an Indigenous-led education system for First Nations children?
CLARE: I haven’t seen that report, but I’d be very keen to have a look at it.
JOURNALIST: Great. Currently the NT Department of Education is offering teachers from anywhere in Australia return air fares, accommodation and a high hourly rate for five weeks of relief teaching in Central Australia to help ease the significant teacher shortages that we’ve got here. Are these kinds of FIFO incentives sustainable, and should the Commonwealth be doing more to address the underlying cause of the shortfall?
CLARE: We have a teacher shortage right across the country, and it’s a crisis that’s been building for 10 years. And there are lots of things we need to do to fix it. We’ve seen a 12 per cent drop in the number of people going into teaching over the last 10 years. I want people to leave high school and want to be a teacher rather than a banker or a lawyer. And so, there’s more that we have to do to encourage people to want to be teachers. Part of my job is being a champion for teachers and encouraging more people to want to be a teacher when they leave school. And there’s a $10 million campaign that’s funded by the Commonwealth government but also by the states and territories that will kick off later this year designed to do exactly that – to encourage people to become teachers.
Next year we’re going to roll out scholarships worth up to $40,000 a pop to encourage people to do teaching at university. That will help as well, and that will be available for CDU students, just as it will right across the country. But it’s not just that, there are other things that we need to do as well. Something like 20 per cent of teachers leave the profession in their first three years on the job. And there’s a lot of reasons for that. The changes we’re making to teacher training to make sure that people are better prepared for the classroom are important there. But if you talk to a lot of teachers, whether they’re brand new or whether they’ve been teaching for a long time, they’ll often tell you that workload is one of the reasons they leave the profession, the paperwork that’s got nothing to do with teaching children to read or write or do maths. And so, there’s a lot of work that I’m doing with Eva but also with other State and Territory Ministers about how together we can cut the administrative workload of teachers, so they’ve got more time to focus on teaching students.
JOURNALIST: Minister, [indistinct] from NITV.
JOURNALIST: Hi. How would you describe the effectiveness of the Learning on Country Program at Gillen Primary?
CLARE: Well, Donna, do you want to talk a little bit in broad terms about what you do? That might help to frame your question better.
DONNA O’BRIEN, PRINCIPAL GILLEN PRIMARY SCHOOL: The phrase, “Learning on Country” does mean a lot of things to different people. And I know in the context of the rollout of these funds it has been a term that’s been discussed very broadly. So yesterday I sat down with my Aboriginal Education Officer, and we had a conversation about what that looks like at Gillen.
So, Gillen is on Arunda country in Alice Springs. And we have many students and families living here from other places – Pitjantjatjara, Warlpiri, Luritja, many more. And those families live in town for a really complex array of reasons, and a lot of those reasons are problematic – so health, they need to come to town, families who are incarcerated, just a whole range of reasons they’re in town. So learning on country here means us providing a school which is welcoming, non‑threatening, where the families feel that they’re safe, and that we can provide that guarantee to all of those families that in them sending their children to us we will meet them at their point of need and we will provide the education that those families expect us to provide for them in as culturally responsive a setting as we can manage. And we have done that on limited funds, and I believe we’ll be able to do that far more appropriately with a funding level that meets our needs more.
JOURNALIST: Could I go back to the Minister for this one?
CLARE: Yeah, sure. Just to follow up on that, I mentioned that this is the second meeting we’ve had with principals. Over the course of the next few months, principals will develop in detail their plans about how they’ll use this money. And, as I said, different schools will do different things. But they’ll put those plans together with their schools and with their communities over the next few months so that they’re ready to roll that funding out next year.
And part of that will often involve employing people, whether that’s employing more teachers or assistant teachers or whether it’s medical professionals as well. Part of these funds – the Northern Territory Government spoke to principals yesterday about using part of these funds – a couple of million dollars – for a central team that would provide extra support in the form of occupational therapists but also potentially counsellors and psychologists as well and that that team would work particularly in the more remote communities, not here in Alice where Congress is providing a lot of that support for schools here, but to provide that service outside of Alice itself where there is a desperate need for that. But also providing literacy support as well, and that will be available right across Central Australia.
JOURNALIST: A couple of more questions from me?
CLARE: Go for it.
JOURNALIST: We heard in NT estimates recently that the NT did not meet its funding obligations under the 2020 bilateral agreement, a shortfall of 8.3 - $18.3 million, I should say. However, there are clauses in the agreement which means the NT receives no penalty for doing this from the Commonwealth. How is that fair on NT schools which are in dire need for funding?
CLARE: The bottom line is I want to make sure that all schools get full and fair funding. At the moment non-government schools by and large – not everywhere, not in the NT, but by and large – most non-government schools are at 100 per cent or above it and on track to go down to 100 per cent by the end of the decade or on track to get there by the end of the decade. No government school is except for the ACT. In every other jurisdiction, the government schools are on track to top out at about 95 per cent over the next decade or so. They’re there for South Australia and WA at the moment. New South Wales will hit that point in 2025; Tasmania in 2027; Victoria, 2028; Queensland in 2032; and the Northern Territory some time in the middle of the century. There’s a big gap. And I don’t want us to be a country where your chances in life depend on who your parents are, where you live or the colour of your skin. And I don’t want us to have an education system where it really depends on what State or what Territory you live in. So, the next National School Reform Agreement is where it’s at.
It’s an important agreement designed to make sure that we have the targets and the practical reforms to hit those targets to make sure that we close the funding gap that exists in all States and Territories and that we’ve got the reforms needed to close the sort of education gaps that you see here in Central Australia more than almost anywhere else in the country.
JOURNALIST: So, to another issue that we’ve been following: Universities Australia have not delivered an anti-sexual violence campaign. They were given – they were given a $1.5 million grant by the government to deliver. Is that appropriate, and should they have to give that money back?
CLARE: It’s very concerning. It’s funding not from my department but from another department. This is subject I suspect of a parliamentary inquiry that is being held this week. More generally the Universities Accord Interim Report, which I released last week, made the point that sexual violence on campus, sexual harassment on campus, is a real and serious issue, and universities haven’t done enough over the course of the last decade or so to address this. And the recommendation which I’ve agreed to is to convene a meeting of Education Ministers across the country to make sure that we put in place the measures that are necessary to make sure that universities do take this seriously.
We need to improve the governance of universities full stop, whether it’s making sure that students are safe or making sure that staff are safe, making sure that staff are paid properly as well and making sure that the people on our university boards and councils have the experience necessary to run our universities.
And so that piece of work has now begun. I’ve written to all Education Ministers across the country about the next steps that we need to take. But that report that was in the Saturday Paper is an important one that highlights a major problem and issue. And I would expect that ministers will focus their attention on it when we next meet.
JOURNALIST: What role do Aboriginal educators have in this program?
CLARE: When you say, ‘this program’, you mean the work that we’re rolling out?
CLARE: A big part of the conversation yesterday was about Indigenous educators. The lack of Indigenous teachers and the fact that a lot of the heavy lifting in our schools happens, particularly in the Northern Territory, happens with the leadership of Indigenous assistant teachers. And we spoke yesterday about the challenges for Indigenous educators becoming teachers and what potential changes or reforms might be necessary in order to make it easier for Indigenous educators to become teachers or to be paid at the level of teachers.
The Teacher Registration Board came in for a lot of comment in that discussion yesterday. One of the things we agreed to do was to get the Northern Territory Department of Education working with my department as well as AITSL to look at what measures can be put in place there that are going to be of assistance in making sure that we get more Indigenous people into teaching and that we help Indigenous assistant teachers to either become teachers or to get paid at the level of teachers knowing that more often than not, particularly in remote communities – I’ve seen it in the Top End and I’m sure next when I get a chance to go into some of the more remote schools outside of Alice I’ll see it there as well – is that it’s the Indigenous assistant teachers that are playing the critical role in children’s education in these schools.
In addition to that, this additional funding that’s going to all schools across Central Australia offers an opportunity for principals to think about who they might employ with this funding. And I’m hoping that principals look at this funding and think about people in the local community, in particular, Indigenous Australians in the local community that could be employed with this funding to provide the extra services and support that students need.
JOURNALIST: I’ve got a couple of questions on the spending. How much of the $40 million announced in the budget has been spent? And where has it been spent?
CLARE: It hasn’t spent yet – it starts from next year. So just to double back, I mentioned the meeting we had yesterday. That’s all about talking to principals about what they want to spend the money on. On Monday principals got their allocation, so they now know how much they’ve got. I spoke about Gillen being about $1.5 million. And the next couple of months are a chance for principals to talk to teachers, parents, students, the community about what their plans are for that money, develop a plan. It gets ticked off by the department and then rolled out from next year.
JOURNALIST: How much money has been spent outside of Alice Springs in bush schools? Do we know about the specifics at this stage?
CLARE: It’s 40 (million) across the 46 schools that are within Central Australia. I can get you a breakdown, if you like, of the amount in Alice and then the amount outside of Alice. I don’t have that at the moment at my fingertips, but I can get it for you.
CLARE: Thank you, guys.