Interview with Alan Jones 2GB

  • Minister for Education
  • Leader of the House

Interview — 2GB Breakfast with Alan Jones

28 November 2013

SUBJECT: School Funding

ALAN JONES: All parents he said, rich and poor, must have access to a choice of schools and he’s scathing about the emphasis on funding. Money alone he said is no answer and Hewitson says we now have growing public understanding that our schools are failing, yet the answers being suggested in isolation will also fail.

So the man who’s supposed to have killed Gonski and even though there are a million of them, comes from the very state where Michael Hewitson made his mark.

He’s on the line, Christopher Pyne good morning.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good morning Alan.

ALAN JONES: Well where do you start? You’ve broken a promise, you’ve abandoned Gonski, you’ve done all of that stuff, god I hope you have, but the trouble is much of these responsibilities are state responsibilities aren’t they?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: But this is the whole point. The problem with the Labor model that was left to me, the Shorten shambles, is that it was an attempt by the commonwealth to second-guess every state and territory government decisions about their responsibility. The problem at the heart of Labor’s model - which of course as you pointed out, is only very loosely based on the Gonski Report, if at all - the problem with it is the Federal Government shouldn’t be trying to interfere in every aspect of state and territory government responsibility when it comes to education.

Sure we want to support and help all of our school students around Australia, but we can’t from the Federal Government try and run state government schools and employ teachers when we don’t do that. We don’t own the schools, we don’t employ the teachers, we don’t make those day to day decisions.

What the Abbott Government wants to focus on is the curriculum is on teacher quality...

ALAN JONES: Critical, critical, critical.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ...and teacher quality and autonomy of principals and the engagement of parents because the left in education for decades has disempowered parents all the time, is don’t worry about it we will do it all...

ALAN JONES: Yeah that’s right.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ...we’ll get it right for you. Now the truth is parents need to be deeply engaged with their children or their grandchildren’s education if we are - if they are going to reach their highest opportunities and so we have come along and found since the election, as you pointed out, that Victoria didn’t sign up, Tasmania didn’t sign up, the Catholics didn’t sign up, and that Bill Shorten ripped one-point-two billion dollars out of the forward estimates for this school funding model and we are simply facing the reality of the situation which is a smaller funding envelope and we are going to keep our promises, which is to dismantle the prescriptive nature of the model.

ALAN JONES: But to put it in lingo that people listening to you, mums and dads out there listening to you, I mean it’s what’s happening in the classroom. See Professor Geoff Masters who heads the Australian Council for Education and Research said recently quote, there’s a lot of frustration internationally that a lot of money’s been spent on all sorts of initiatives, programs have been developed and implemented and there’s very little evidence of significantly improved outcomes. The response of Government sometimes is to say let’s just get out of the way and leave it to schools to work out, it’s not the answer. Systems and Governments need to continue to think about what is likely to make a difference.

Now you’ve got kids and you know that the way they’re being taught in the classroom is not the way you were taught and it’s not better than the way you were taught.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well we’ve said all along Alan that we want to return to more orthodox teaching methods...


CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ...and we are very big enthusiasts for phonics-based teaching methods because, as you pointed out in your introduction, our results have been going backwards.


CHRISTOPHER PYNE: One thing you didn’t say was in the same time in the last ten years that our results have been declining, we’ve increased spending by forty per cent. So we’ve spent forty per cent more on its school education in the same time that our results had declined, not just in relative terms against other nations, but in real terms.

Now that is quite an achievement when - well an achievement in an ironic sense - that is a complete failure of schooling when you are spending more money and you’re going backwards in real terms and the reason is because of the what we’re teaching our children and the how we’re teaching our children.

ALAN JONES: So good on you, now that’s a thousand per cent correct, okay, and that is exactly the problem. Now the big crisis - how do you, Christopher Pyne, change that? The states are responsible for this how we teach and what we teach, how do you address that?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well one thing the Federal Government can do is have a relentless focus on teacher quality and the training of new graduate teachers because of course we do have responsibility for universities and universities is where all the teachers are trained.

So I will not be trying to do the things that I can’t control. We will have programs for phonics. We have twenty-two million dollars set aside for a fund for phonics...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] so will teachers - who - which teachers are going to be taught grammar, how you use an apostrophe, where you put in a full stop, what is a sentence, how you teach spelling, how you - because the teachers in front of the kids don’t know these things themselves? How the hell can they teach it?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well that’s a very good point. I mean how - we keep saying there’s not enough science and maths teachers, but of course the people that we are enrolling in teaching at university many of them did not do science and maths...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] correct.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Year 11 and 12...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] absolutely right.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: You can’t then turn around and say to them why aren’t they teaching science and maths when they themselves weren’t...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] correct, absolutely right, that’s the crisis.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: We have a lot of work to do on things like the science, maths, technology, engineering stream, on languages and one of the things that I want to do is make it much easier for a student who went to university and did say language in arts or did science or did economics to do that undergraduate degree and then do a teaching course for twelve, eighteen months, maybe two years and then go out to teach.

We don’t have to only take teachers who have done a teaching degree and then a masters degree for example. We must have more flexible pathways and that someone who does for example, Mandarin at university can then go and do a teaching course and then become a teacher.

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] see it’s the ultimate abdication of responsibility isn’t it to allow so many Australian children to be victims of a failed education fad? I mean we’re not just failing to teach these kids to read, we’re destroying their confidence as learners. We’re teaching them to hate school. They’re getting nowhere.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well it would be completely irresponsible for me as the Federal Minister for Education to know those things and then simply turn a blind eye to them and I won’t do so. And one of the great failures in education in the last ten years in Australia has been that Governments have decided if we announce a large spending program in education, that will solve every problem.


CHRISTOPHER PYNE: And the public will say...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] rubbish.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ...there’s a big tick for spending more money...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] oh yeah we’ll that’s what you’ve got to face now. They’ll be saying - the Labor Party will be saying right over the country, Pyne’s taking all this money away from your poor little children as if money would solve the problem. It’s not the answer.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well the truth is that Bill Shorten took...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] yeah.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: billion dollars away from Queensland, Western Australian and Northern Territory and yesterday we put two-hundred-and-thirty million dollars back for Queensland and...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] but I just don’t want to hear about money, I just don’t want to hear about money. I mean I want to hear about how you’re going to improve the fact that Australia’s Year 4 students last December came twenty-seventh out of forty-eight countries on a par with Bulgaria. This is amongst English speaking participants in the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement in Science.

We were twenty-fifth in maths. Our students were eighteenth and here we are tipping forty-two billion dollars into this process and getting these results.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well Alan I know for sure that the left will attack me relentlessly...


CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ...because I am refusing to simply accept that more money is the solution to every problem.

ALAN JONES: Good on you.



CHRISTOPHER PYNE: There’s a lot of money in education, a lot of money, but we have to change a whole lot of ways we do things and the Federal Government needs to focus on the things that it can do. So we must help with the curriculum, we must help with parental engagement, we have to expand the principal autonomy...


CHRISTOPHER PYNE: states and territories of...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] just go slowly, just go slowly here, start again. So we’ve got to do what?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: [Laughs] well we’re going to focus on our national curriculum...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] absolutely right. Now on that, a 2008 Victorian study on curriculum found only fifty-two per cent of working teachers could correctly define what a syllable was. Now how many of them could tell you what a sentence was? How could you - if you’re saying to kids we’ve got to write in sentences, well a kid says what’s a sentence and they can’t define a sentence.

So that’s curriculum, go on your next one?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: We need to engage parents.

ALAN JONES: Yeah absolutely.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: We need to end this system where the teachers and others say we will take care of everything at school. We want parents to be engaged, not just in the tuckshop...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] no.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ...not just in the uniform shop...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] yeah, yeah that’s it.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ...we want them engaged every night with their students...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] take seriously their concern that my kids are not getting anywhere.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: That’s right and we want them to be...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] yeah.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ...saying to their children when they get home from school how much homework do you have, when are you going to do it...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] How do you do it?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ...and let’s get started together because...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] and then principals, what did you say about principals?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well in Western Australia they’ve independent public schools...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] yeah that’s a great idea. Hewitson was talking about independent public schools. They’re public education but they’ve got an autonomy, an independence, yep.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: That’s exactly right. They’re owned by the state government, they’re public schools but they are run independently by...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] good idea.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ...[unclear 0:9:48] and their leadership team and a governing council.

Twenty-five per cent of Western Australian schools are now independent public schools. It is having a transformative impact...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] definitely.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: education in Western Australia and everybody wants to get into it and the most amazing thing is, there is now a movement to public schools in Western Australia from non-government schools...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] there you are that’s right because...

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ...and that parents are saying we like this service, we like the education that...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] absolutely.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: ...we’re getting in independent public schools. I’ll tell you what, the union hates them.

ALAN JONES: [Laughs] yes.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: The union is doing everything it can to destroy them. The irony of that is, the irony is...

ALAN JONES: [Interrupts] now windup because I’m the speaker I’m giving you the windup here.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Okay. The union says they want more children in public schools and in the state where they’re getting them the union’s trying to shut down the thing that’s making them go to public schools.

ALAN JONES: Alright, big issue. Good to talk to you, we’ll talk again often.


ALAN JONES: Thank you for your time. Half past seven, Christopher Pyne.


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