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The Bolt Report, Sky News, 11 December 2023

Steve Price: Now to Australia’s teacher shortage crisis – you can’t believe that a country’s as rich as Australia has a shortage of teachers. And it’s going to get worse. We’re told schools across the country are struggling to fill not hundreds but thousands of positions around the nation.  Many students are being forced to go back and learn from home and we know during COVID, just how bad that was for the youngsters. Now today, education ministers around the country met, they’re going to apparently try and thrash out solutions to the crisis.  You had the Queensland education minister, actually suggesting that we give out free degrees and tax cuts for new teachers.  I would have thought there might be some more sensible ideas than that. Joining me now is shadow education spokesman, Sarah Henderson, great to catch up with you again, Sarah. Are free degrees and tax cuts for teachers the answer?

Senator Henderson:  Well, Steve, good evening and terrific to join you. Look, I think what we’ve seen today from the education ministers is that they have absolutely no plan. Certainly, the Albanese Government did announce some initial reforms to teacher training, which were very much building on the work that we had done, but as a senate inquiry called on just a couple of weeks ago, they need to be urgently fast tracked.  The bottom line is, Steve, student teachers are leaving their courses in droves and teachers are leaving their courses, leaving their schools in droves, as well because they are not being supported in the classroom – including by evidence based teaching methods.  They are being left high and dry and we were expecting some big solutions to come out of the education ministers’ meeting today. But unfortunately, we saw absolutely nothing.

Steve Price: Why do you think teachers are leaving in droves? I mean, I can understand that there has been over probably the last five or so years an argument, and education is largely the states, that are in charge.  We’re not paying our teachers enough or are they feeling that the industry itself is not a profession that is going to be rewarding enough for them?  Are they frightened about some of the things happen in the classroom? Sarah, what should we be doing?

Senator Henderson: Well, Steve, Australian parents know with one in three students failing NAPLAN, we do have a serious crisis in our schools.  That is an appalling result, so the Coalition’s is focused very much on lifting, on raising school standards. But teachers deserve much better support. And that’s at the heart of the problem. They’re going into the classroom. They’re not prepared by their university courses, which frankly are doing a woeful job and some of them should be de-funded. They’re doing such a poor job. So, teachers don’t get the support they need from the university training. And of course, the government has also done nothing about classroom disruption. We are now 71st worst country in terms of classroom behaviour.  And so teachers are being set up to fail and urgent reform is required and that’s why I was expecting so much more out of the education ministers’ meeting today. There was a very good report handed down, a report chaired by Dr Lisa O’Brien, who runs the Australian Education Research Organization.  (It) made a whole range of quite significant suggestions, but we’ve seen nothing by the way of positive response from the government.

Steve Price: We see you know, the issues in the city schools, I mean, obviously in places like you know, Western Sydney and Western Melbourne there is issues with classroom behaviour.  But when you go further out into the regions, which you know, so well out into the bush areas of Australia.  I mean, they must be doing it really tough trying to attract teachers and retain teachers in some of our country towns?

Senator Henderson: Absolutely, and that’s why when we were in government, Steve, we implemented a really important scheme for teachers in remote areas so they have HECS debt relief, which is been an important driver for those teachers seeking to teach in the very remote parts of Australia. But there is no doubt it there’s no real area where this is a challenge, but certainly classroom disruption is a massive issue. And as one young teacher said to me, who left her job after five years, `I did not go to school to have chairs and tables thrown at me’. So, not nearly enough is being done to support teachers in the classroom. And frankly, one of the big recommendations that the senate inquiry made, which of course, was chaired by Liberal Senator Matt O’Sullivan, was to introduce a behaviour curriculum, where students are expressly taught how to behave – the standards that need to be set and teachers are getting that support. So, so much is not going right in our schools. And we saw that again last week with the PISA results, the Program for International Student Assessment, where nearly half of all year 10 students are failing to meet minimum standards for reading. So we have a grim situation, urgent reform is required Steve, and it’s really disappointing. We haven’t seen that from Education Minister Jason Claire today.

Steve Price: Sarah, just briefly, what do you make of these reports that pro-Palestinian students from the University of Melbourne are being urged to wear traditional Palestinian scarves at graduation ceremonies this week?

Senator Henderson: It’s absolutely terrible. And I’ve been very outspoken about the importance of protecting Jewish students. Their security and safety in schools and universities, is a real issue.  We’ve seen an alarming rise in acts of anti-Semitism across our country and frankly, across the world. It’s very concerning. And that’s why I wrote to the Vice Chancellor of Melbourne University yesterday, asking for assurances that no student will dress in any sort of protest regalia, which of course, has already meant that some Jewish students will not be attending their graduation.  One mum said to me just yesterday, `My son will not be going to his graduation’. He’s a Jewish student. He won’t be going on Wednesday because of this sort of horrendous stuff that is happening.

Steve Price: How sad is that? It’s awful. Sarah Henderson. Always nice to see you.

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