SUBJECTS: Gonski funding
Mike Smithson: We’ve been talking about the Gonski report this morning and the Prime Minister’s big announcement yesterday. I guess if you were trying to sum it up there’s a very good sentence in the paper this morning … how will my child benefit from Gonski reform? And the answer given here, struggling students will be given individual learning plans and teachers will get extra training to deal with bullying and disruptive classroom behaviour; disadvantaged children will get money for improved resources. Well sounds alright in theory, Christopher Pyne, what do you make of that?
Christopher Pyne: Two things; firstly in practice the problem is there has been no money allocated to this response. So it’s basically a non-response to the Gonski Review, it’s an all feathers and no meat response. Long on rhetoric, very short on detail. So the practical outcome is where is the money coming from? How can the Government afford yet another $6.5 billion promise on top of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the blowout in border protection, the dental scheme, the submarines and the list goes on. As a father of children, eventually you run out of money and you can’t afford to buy what you don’t have. Secondly I think the failure of this response is it seems to be all about money all the time. Unless there’s huge commitments to billions of dollars of spending, apparently you can’t do anything in education and I dispute that. We’ve spent 44% more on public school education in the last 10 years and our outcomes for our students have gone backwards. The real issue in education is supporting teachers and teacher quality, a robust curriculum and introducing real principal autonomy and addressing the discrimination against children with disabilities.
Jane Doyle: So Christopher, do you basically disagree with the Gonski Review’s recommendations? Do you not think we need more money for disadvantaged students within the system?
Pyne: I don’t think, Jane, money is always the answer to every problem. The Coalition has promised more money for every school, because we promised 6% indexation on top of the current spending. But if money was the answer to every problem, how come we’ve spent 44% more and we’ve got worse outcomes? I think we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security that as long as there are billions attached to every announcement somehow that will solve the problem. The elephant in the room is that if we have the best quality teachers available, and they’re the best trained teachers, it doesn’t really matter about any other aspect of a school’s infrastructure or whatever else, the teachers are the most vitally important part of the education system and yet we don’t focus on those in terms of their remuneration as we should.
Smithson: Correna Haythorpe from the Australian Education Union joins us on the line with Christopher Pyne. Now Correna, first of all good morning.
Haythorpe: Good morning Mike and Christopher.
Smithson: Chris has given teachers a big wrap here and basically says that’s the cornerstone of the whole process, if this review is implemented and rolled out over many years, there’ll be a much greater focus on getting better teachers and more pressures on teachers. Is it a bit of a slap in the face that we’re saying our teachers are no good at the moment?
Haythorpe: Well I don’t think we are saying our teachers are no good at the moment. In fact I visit many schools and I know that our teachers are of exceptional quality. But what the announcement yesterday actually addresses is the fact that we do have issues in terms of attracting and retaining teachers into the profession as new graduates, so it’s actually saying that we need to have a significant investment in our pre-service education and make sure that we are bringing in the best teachers into the profession and we would support that.
Doyle: What’s so hard about attracting people, is it because they don’t get remunerated adequately enough, or is it to do with the actual role of teaching, Correna, what’s your view?
Haythorpe: Well remuneration is one aspect of it but in fact in the studies we have undertaken with our members, they actually talk about the role of the teacher and the mentoring that is important as they begin their profession and the training and development that they have. So we would say the emphasis needs to be very much put on the pre-service education and the support that’s in place for those people when they go out into the profession.
Doyle: So Christopher how do you remunerate teachers better and train them and offer them ongoing support within the profession if you don’t have money to do so?
Pyne: Well it’s a dual role for both the State and Commonwealth. The Commonwealth’s part of the bargain is that we fund universities and yet we don’t have a big say about the training of teachers at university. Yet we have university compacts. So the Commonwealth can actually significantly influence the training of teachers through the universities and that won’t cost any more, that just means better training. At the moment I don’t think the training is up to scratch and neither do teachers and neither do principals. All surveys would indicate that.
Smithson: Do you agree with that Correna Haythorpe?
Haythorpe: Well I think that’s a matter for the universities. Our union doesn’t actually represent the universities. What I do know is that they work very hard with their pre-service students. But I think that everyone recognises the fact that teaching is a very difficult profession and particularly many of our new educators end up in very rural and remote locations and the importance of having good mentors in place for them as they begin their job is I think critical.
Doyle: Correna, you seem to support Julia Gillard in your release that you put out, you said, ‘Gillard gives a Gonski, does Grace Portolesi?’ Do you fear that the State won’t come to the party with necessary funds if we’re going to have co-payments and co-exist with the federal government in ramping this up and getting it off the ground?
Haythorpe: The announcement yesterday firstly was a commitment to the Gonski recommendations and we welcome that, it’s an historic moment I think for education in Australia. But our next step is making sure that States and Territories do actually commit to the co-contribution and I believe that Prime Minister Gillard has set a timeframe for that to happen, and she wants that to happen before the first COAG meeting of next year. So our attention very much now is about talking to the State Government and making sure that Premier Weatherill and Minister Portolesi commit to the Gonski reforms because we want this money in our schools for our disadvantaged students, for our students who are living in poverty, our indigenous students, students who have disabilities and those in remote and rural locations.
Doyle: Christopher Pyne, the Gonski Review is on the table, if you’re not happy with Julia Gillard and her Government’s response to it, what is the Opposition’s position on this? What would you do differently?
Pyne: Well Jane, I agree with that, all wisdom is not found in the Gonski Review. The Coalition has a very specific policy and an absolute commitment and that is fourfold. We will provide $4.2 billion in new funds over the next four years and 6% indexation, based on the current quantum, so schools know exactly how much they’re going to get so they can plan with certainty. Yesterday’s response gave schools no certainty at all. We will have a relentless focus on teacher quality and I think we’ll work closely with Correna and the AEU to bring that about. We will address the inequity that disabled children face where they get funded greatly in the government sector rather than non-government schools; we’ll address that imbalance. We’ll have a focus on a robust curriculum and traditional teaching methods. And we will introduce genuine real principal autonomy. We couldn’t be clearer than that.
Smithson: Correna Haythorpe, just before we let both of you go as we move on through the morning, I was horrified to read this morning in the paper that teaching, and perhaps I am out of touch on this issue, that in some schools are actually almost responsible for toilet training children.
Haythorpe: Yes, Mike you are not out of touch. In fact we have had some significant concerns raised with our members in terms of their work and we have just been through a fairly intensive workload review with the department which has looked at a whole range of issues in terms of what actually should be teachers’ work and with respect to toilet training we are aware that we do have some children in our system that have that high level of needs that we believe appropriately qualified staff should be employed to actually undertake those duties.
Smithson: Well we thank you both for joining us, Christopher Pyne who is the federal Shadow Education Minister and Careena Haythorpe from the Australian Education Union. I guess anyone with a child wants to see the very best in the education system for them. I would like to see this move on but I think it’s going to move at a snail’s pace and over a number of years. Time will tell on that.