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Afternoon Briefing, ABC, 27 March, 2024

Greg Jennett: Sarah Henderson, welcome back to Afternoon Briefing – a little overdue it feels so we do welcome you back. Teacher quality is in the headlines once again this week, especially with a focus on maths teachers, not necessarily something that is new for education ministers around the country, but whose responsibility it is to fix what now looks like a pretty urgent shortfall here?

Senator Henderson: Well, Greg, great to join you and there is certainly an urgent shortfall in maths teachers, some 40 per cent of math teachers are not qualified and that needs to be urgently remedied. But there’s also a general crisis with teacher shortages right across this country, particularly in the regions. And while we did a lot when we were in government fixing teacher training, with all of those reforms that were proposed, dramatically cutting teacher degrees, the cost of those degrees, and also waiving HECS debts for remote teachers, we just haven’t seen any action from this government and now AMSI – the Australian Mathematical Scientific Institute – is very critical of the government’s plan.

Greg Jennett: Did those changes that you listed there actually have a material increase in teacher supply?

Senator Henderson: So, what we did see is, we just didn’t see the level of crisis that we see now. The states and territories are crying out for more teachers. I spoke to a principal yesterday who said we need a busload of teachers in Alice Springs. So, there is no doubt – and COVID was a factor – but there is no doubt things have become a lot worse. And one of the things that we’ve been prosecuting Greg, is the importance of encouraging mid-career professionals – the accountants, the lawyers, the engineers, the scientists – to go into teaching, but at the moment they’ve effectively got to do a two year masters’ degree and we want to see that dramatically shortened, going back to the old Dip’ Ed’ so we can get more teachers into the classrooms. But the government has not embraced that reform and we think it’s desperately needed.

Greg Jennett: Do those sorts of measures really work? Because we’ve had “Teach For America”, “Teach for Australia”, conversion incentives in the past to get as you say, mid-career professionals to try to walk into a classroom – it does seem to a casual observer like me, though, to have had limited success.

Senator Henderson: Well, “Teach For Australia” is one very good program. And I think we need more programs like that. But as AMSI said to me yesterday, there were so many scientists and mathematicians who were saying, `I want to get into the classroom, but I can’t take two years off my work, particularly with Labor’s cost-of-living crisis to go and study full time’. So, we need to fast-track those experts in their field back into the classroom. And so, there is much more the government could do in that regard.

Greg Jennett: What about pay incentive? Is that important here?

Senator Henderson: Look, I think it is, and some states and territories, and of course there are responsible for pay, are increasing the pay of teachers, and right across the country there are bonuses available to teachers particularly to go into rural and remote areas. So, pay I don’t think is the biggest issue. Certainly, teachers want respect. They do an incredible job. They are responsible for the next generation of Australians…

Greg Jennett: Sure, in difficult circumstances …

Senator Henderson: So, we do need to see the teaching profession enhanced. We need more than an advertising campaign, which is what the government is doing. But certainly, we need to see teachers supported with the best evidence-based teaching, and that’s now starting to happen in some school systems and in New South Wales. But that’s a very, very big issue.

Greg Jennett: Well since we’re sort of touching on the matter of dollars, can I also take you to the next school funding agreements which Jason Clare is launching into negotiating. There is pushback coming from a number of states but the biggest being New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. They want up to 25 per cent federal funding on these agreements. Are you sympathetic to their cause?

Senator Henderson: Well, I think the first point to make is the Commonwealth is already delivering full and fair funding under the Gonski Funding schedule, and that’s not in dispute. So, the shortfall in funding is happening with the states, except for the ACT. But what we have seen is now a school funding shambles. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen a national agreement and we haven’t seen the reforms that school children deserve. The introduction of explicit teaching, other evidence-based reforms that we know we’re going to lift standards, because frankly, Greg, one in three school children is failing NAPLAN. Year 10 students are a year behind in their learning compared to 20 years ago. So, we need to focus much more on what is happening in the classroom. Because we’ve seen under the Coalition a huge increase in school funding, but we really need to focus more on those reforms. So, I would say to Jason Clare, `Let’s get a national agreement, but we also need those reforms’.

Greg Jennett: Alright, time is really squeezing us today. Sarah Henderson. Somehow, I think with Jason Clare having to negotiate so many of these, we might have you back in the near future to run a ruler over what is negotiated there. Thank you once again.

Senator Henderson: Thank you so much, Greg, great to join you.

 

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