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Sharri, Sky News, 17 May 2023

Sharri Markson: The Progress in International Rating Literacy Study shows that one in five primary school students are unable to meet the proficient rating standard and the rating gap between boys and girls is worsening over the past decade. Joining me now, the Shadow Minister for Education, Sarah Henderson. Great to see you, Sarah. Why do you think boys are falling behind so much, and we’re pouring billions of dollars into the public-school sector? So why is literacy getting worse?

Senator Henderson: Well, Sharri, good afternoon, great to join you. This is really alarming for all Australian parents. We’re seeing study after study which confirms a plummeting of school standards in literacy, in mathematics, in the foundations of education. The bottom line is that this government is tinkering at the edges with no plan. We recognized how important this was when we were in government. We drove an enormous amount of funding into better teacher education, into pushing phonics teaching in the classroom. The science of learning is fundamental. And yet, despite a change in the curriculum, Sharri, we have not seen that being adopted by the states and territories with no momentum from the Commonwealth Government, from the Albanese Government. And while Jason Clare talks about the National School Reform Agreement, we see no urgency on changing the way students are taught. Explicit education, phonics is so absolutely fundamental to turning some of these results around, which are really embarrassing, and as I say, really indicate a growing crisis, frankly, in education.

Sharri Markson: Look, there’s also this concerning trend of banning children’s books because of woke issues. We’ve seen the latest book called Guess What? that’s a book by Mem Fox, was recently banned in Florida for pornography. I mean, it’s just an image of a woman in a bath and you can’t even see anything. Surely what children see on the Internet, on TikTok and social media is more concerning?

Senator Henderson: Well, Sharri, I think a lot of Australians are concerned about this cancel culture. Of course, we saw the furore with Roald Dahl’s books a number of months ago. The editors wanted to change and remove words like fat, and crazy, and we were really stripping away the magic of the way he wrote, and of course, this is now happening with Mem Fox. Look, the bottom line is parents want to see age-appropriate reading materials in Australian schools, but this woke type approach of trying to cancel out the magic of some of these amazing stories, written by incredible authors, is just not acceptable. So I really, really hope that in America common sense prevails.

Sharri Markson: And in Australia too. Very quickly, what did you think…

Senator Henderson: And in Australia.

Sharri Markson: …of what we saw today with the drag queens reading to schoolchildren in Victoria, that event with Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews?

Senator Henderson: Look, I felt that it was disappointing. We’ve seen this trend in libraries around the country and I don’t think that it’s appropriate for that age of children, and I’m really disappointed that the Premier and the government saw fit to effectively misuse what Parliament is there for. And that’s all about educating young children on our democracy, on our way of government. So, I think it was most inappropriate, and I would like, and hope, that this doesn’t happen again.

Sharri Markson: All right, Sarah Henderson, thank you very much for your time.

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