Release type: Transcript

Date:

Interview with Liam Bartlett - 6PR Perth

Ministers:

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business
Acting Minister for Education and Youth

LIAM BARTLETT:

But first up today on the program, as we promised, we have the Federal Education Minister Stuart Robert here in Perth, and here in the studio to take your questions on that talkback line. Now, our listeners on Friday reacted in a big way to the Minister’s suggestion that our classrooms had way too many dud teachers in them and more should be done to weed those duds out, strive for a better quality of education and ultimately, of course, better performances on international rankings for our students. Minister, good morning.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Liam, as always, great pleasure to be with you. How good is the Gold Coast Suns? As a Gold Coast MP, great starting shot, 27 points up.

LIAM BARTLETT:

You've opened up with a bang, I'll tell you what.

MINISTER ROBERT:

I arrived as they were winning.

LIAM BARTLETT:

And you haven't forgot that since. I can see the smile on your face.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well, it's the first time my team, the Suns, have actually won in Perth. This is a historic moment for my town. This is great.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Gee, alright. So some of those listeners who would like to ask you questions about- look, I just hope there's no teachers who think they've been called duds and they're also Eagles supporters, so then you'll be in big trouble this morning. So listen, let's talk about the education suggestion. I mean, you told us on Friday, and you gave that speech in Canberra last Thursday, that if we took the bottom 10 percentile of the duds out of the classroom, we would have a much better system. Now, that put the cat among the pigeons. I will tell you, Minister, that the feelings were mixed after we had that interview. Here's a sample of what some of our listeners thought of your assessment.

[Excerpt]

VOX POP:     

You’ve got an overloaded curriculum, which they're trying to address through the national [indistinct] now. But that's the one of the other big issues there is the political interference in curriculum changes has had an impact over the last 30 years in education; they continually change it.

VOX POP:

There’s no methodology taught. Where is the passion? Where is teaching kids sensory things, awareness, values?

VOX POP:

The dud teachers? Why? It's supply and demand. Nobody wants to become a teacher anymore. Why? And it's the elephant in the room that nobody wants to discuss, which is the inability of schools to remove the truly, truly bad students whose sole purpose is to disrupt the classroom and make hell for the teacher.

VOX POP:

The curriculum is jam packed. These poor teachers have got so much added pressure on their plate that teaching is like right at the bottom of what they have to do, but there's so many bureaucratic boxes they have to tick.

[Excerpt ends]

LIAM BARTLETT:

That was just a sample some of our listeners on Friday, Minister.

MINISTER ROBERT:

And I tend to agree with every single comment. Now, my comments were designed to be provocative, to start a conversation about where we need to go, because our results internationally through PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment, have been so dire. So from 2003 to 2018 for mathematics to drop from 11th in the world to 29th, reading, from fourth to 16th, science from sort of eight circa to 17th, despite funding doubling. And funding from state and Federal have all increased, Federal more so. So despite the funding doubling, our results have been going backwards.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Are you talking about funding doubling to public schools?

MINISTER ROBERT:

In Queensland, government funding to public schools got up 141 per cent across the board, yes. Doubling right across the board. The new school agreement for funding, which is quite clear, and the Commonwealth is meeting its part of it, as is the states and territories. So there's no question about funding, and I applaud all the state and territory governments and my ministerial colleagues for their work in getting that agreement done. It will come up again in 18 months or so, and the Productivity Commission is looking through it. So it's not an issue of funding. We’re all very happy with that. So funding’s doubled, but our results have gone backwards. And we have to face that brutal reality: why? And we believe it's got to do with a very packed curriculum, that 10 per cent of our teacher graduates are failing basic Maths and English. So they're not meeting the LANTITE test.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Well, hang on, well, stop right there. Why? Why are we having those people as teachers? Why do they qualify at all? Do we need to go the other way? Do we need to- I mean, how do we make it more desirable? That's the question. How do we make it more a desirable for high achieving students?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Education ministers have made a number of changes. One, they've limited you have to be in the top 30 per cent of school graduates in terms of the entrance score to be teaching. The LANTITE exam came in a number of years ago, which you have to actually meet that for basic literacy and numeracy to graduate as a teacher, and we're bringing that forward to the- like the first year, the first couple weeks of your university course, rather than the latter.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Well, it’s just incredible that it is in the final year.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Correct. So this is my point about 10 per cent of teaching, is that 10 per cent right now are failing the LANTITE test, which means those 10 per cent have been. We know right now that 25 per cent of maths teachers aren't qualified to teach mathematics. So let's have a conversation, respectfully, about how do we improve teacher quality through initial teacher education. How do we shrink the curriculum, so it’s not so busy? And how do we deal with the classroom environment so that teachers aren't being assaulted. Because some of the numbers I've seen, and when I speak to my principals, over 80 per cent of principals are saying they have experienced bullying or violence.

LIAM BARTLETT:

133-882, your chance to speak to the Minister directly and ask the Education Minister, Stuart Robert, a question this morning; 133-882.  There was- I got to say, there were some pointed criticisms. Some of our listeners on Friday, Minister, referenced your previous involvement in the China investment scandal, the Robodebt issue. There was a suggestion that you were a dud. The education debate is not for the faint-hearted, is it?

MINISTER ROBERT:

No, it's not. But I'd say to everyone, I'll be respectful in my conversation with you, you be respectful in your conversation to me. And everyone, of course, loves to email and vent their spleen. And I always go back and say, look, if you’re going to be personally abusive, please don't get upset if I don't respect your opinion. Let's have a respectful conversation. It can be robust. I'm all for a robust conversation. Politics is a robust affair but doesn't mean we are disrespectful.

LIAM BARTLETT:

There's a suggestion by the Grattan Institute today that you should offer scholarships, $10,000 scholarships – that's just a figure that’s just been pulled out of the air by the Grattan Institute – to make it more attractive, to make teaching more attractive. What do you think of that idea?

MINISTER ROBERT:

There's plenty of ideas in terms of attracting people to teaching. Should we pay teachers more? Should we give performance pay for teachers? I mean, there's a whole bunch of these ideas. We've released to the Initial Teacher Education Review – that's there for everyone to see. We've put in place a panel which is providing advice to government. The Government will release its response shortly. So we'll start to answer all of these questions in the coming weeks as to what we're going to do. But it is important that the initial teacher education, how we educate our teachers, becomes front and centre. So the 10 per cent of teachers who are failing the LANTITE test, which is the issue here, that we can actually drop that right down and see high-performance graduates entering teaching.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Well, that's the thing, isn’t it? Again, to make it more attractive. To make it more attractive for desirable students.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Great. So we can get the best and brightest going into teaching, and we can get high quality education in universities, so that our teaching graduates aren't failing the exit test, the LANTITE test, which is about literacy and numeracy, and they are moving into teaching ready to engage with and raise the standards and the outcomes of our students, which is what we're all about.

LIAM BARTLETT:

133-882 our number. Joanne is on the line, Minister. Good morning, Joanne.

CALLER JOANNE:

Good morning, Liam. I can only speak from an early childhood perspective, being involved with community kindies in WA. So the first thing I can say is that what our early childhood teachers are learning at university, when they go into a classroom in many schools in WA, they are not able to teach or demonstrate what they've learned in uni. Now, the reason for this, I'm going to go right to the top, is NAPLAN. So principals in WA can override curriculum guidelines or recommendations for each year group, what's appropriate, because it's all about what you're NAPLAN scores are going to be. And until someone looks at NAPLAN and either gets rid of it, or adjust it so it's suitable for all children, not just the smart kids, then we're always going to have a problem. That's the- I think that's one of the biggest things that teachers are learning how to teach in uni, especially in early childhood, and they're not allowed to do that.

Now, in WA, because of the way our schools are set up, independent public schools, principals have total control. So there might be- they might find the next best product that comes from USA, you know, explicit, direct instruction only, no play, no this, no that, and they'll sell it to their school. So there's no, I guess, accountability for teaching the fundamentals in early childhood and making sure the kids have got the skills. One teacher said to me once – and I think this is a great idea – K to 2 don't add content too much. So, you know, avoid those things, make sure they're learning their sounds, they can read, they can write, and they can comprehend what they're reading. If you can't do that by Year 2 in Western Australia, your child is in big trouble. So that needs to be focused on. And once they've got those skills, add the content. But because it's different all over Australia, we've got a big problem.

LIAM BARTLETT:

So what is the question for the Minister, Joanne?

CALLER JOANNE:

Well, is he, one, going to look at NAPLAN? And two, you know, I think we need to look at a national curriculum. Are those things going to be looked at? Because, you know, if you travel state-to-state, everything's different and everyone's doing something different. So the quality of education and the standard Australia-wide is not the same.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Minister?

MINISTER ROBERT:

You're right in terms of the national curriculum; it is very busy. We're looking to reduce it by 25 per cent, and also to get mastery in the early years – the national curriculum, of course, from F foundation right the way through to Year 10. And we want literacy and numeracy at a mastery level well into the early years. So at present, the curriculum only speaks about inquiry in mathematics and you can use calculators whenever you like; as opposed to you must learn your time tables. We’ve now landed on you must go into phonics, sound base, in terms of reading, and anchoring those as early as possible and moving a lot of the content out. So, Joanne and I are on a unity ticket in that respect.

Now, NAPLAN is designed to understand where schools are up to. Now, like all things in public policy, if you make an intervention, you get a response. Now, we don't want teachers teaching to NAPLAN. It's just designed to give a snapshot of where things are up to. And of course, Jo-Ann is quite right as well, in terms of the national curriculum is not mandatory. Queensland tends to pick it up holus-bolus. New South Wales and Victoria, it’s advisory. WA picks the best bits out of it. But that's up to state education ministers as to how they implement that national curriculum.

LIAM BARTLETT:

But NAPLAN’s here to stay? Yes?

MINISTER ROBERT:

NAPLAN is here to stay, yes, it is.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Sidney, good morning.

CALLER SIDNEY:

Good morning. Look, part of the problem is this blame-game, you get sick and tired of listening to and throwing money at things. That doesn't fix anything. The problem starts right at home. There is no respect. Kids have got no respect. You know, they- what chance have they got? They can’t add up. It's because there's so many side attractions and parents are not being parents. That's where the problem is. No good blaming teachers and blaming this one and that one and throwing money at- that's not going to fix anything. Wake up Australia. Thank you.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Alright, well.

MINISTER ROBERT:

There's something to that. The- teachers are doing a crack of a job, and no one's blaming teachers. But we just want the 10 per cent currently failing English and maths at universities not to fail it. Yesterday we announced a program called ReBoot, which is a lot of money. It's $46.8 million for 5000 kids to do a 12-week, literally, reboot program because it's a whole bunch of kids who just come from difficult families, and they haven't had a good crack at life and it's really heartbreaking, and someone has got to teach them how to get up and how to wash and clean, and how to be reliable, and how to take positive action, and how to be respectful, and how to be a good, well-adjusted citizen, so that we can then get them into youth programs like Transition to Work or Youth PaTH. So we're in a trial list and we're going to put 5000 students through it. Really great program called Limited Services Volunteers in New Zealand that has got extraordinary results. People that go through that program, 70 per cent are employed within three months of doing the program.

So your caller is quite right. There are families with some real disadvantage, and we're going to lean in and help those families, otherwise they're not going to get the most of education.

LIAM BARTLETT:

9:21, Minister, we’ll take some more calls in just a moment. We've got the Education Minister, Stuart Robert, here in the studio. Give us a call on 133-882. We’ll come back in a second.

[Unrelated content – advertisement break]

LIAM BARTLETT:

26 after 9, with the Education Minister Stuart Robert here in the studio. Let's go back to the phones, Minister. Jan's on the on the line. Hello, Jan.

CALLER JAN:

Oh, good morning. Thanks for taking my call. Look, I do speak from experience. I have two adult sons who went through high school, didn't go past year ten. I have a grandson, and they’ve gone ahead and made very successful careers. They got apprenticeships, they went to Leederville TAFE. They were fortunate it was available to them. I have a 14-year-old grandson who was at high school three weeks ago, he has been disruptive because he hates being there. He doesn't understand why he's there and he doesn't like the subjects. The teacher snapped and said to the whole class, if you don't want to be here, pack your bags and go now. My grandson thought, well, that's an invitation. He packed his bag, waved goodbye to his mates and rode his bike home. And his mother said, what are you doing here? He said, oh, the teacher said we could leave if we didn't want to be there. So that night his father came home and he said, well, if you think you're sitting on your backside doing nothing, you can think again, there are jobs out there, you will get a job, have your lunch made, your shoes at the front door, you're leaving here at 7:00 in the morning. Your mother's taking you somewhere. Which she did do, she took him over- he’s 14, I don't think he can work until he's 15, I'm not sure about that. But anyway, she came to a place and my son had talked to him, this particular person before. And it's very lucky to have some connections sometimes. Now, he went over there, he did two weeks’ traineeship. On Friday, he was offered a joint apprenticeship in auto vehicles and auto electrician.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Well ...

CALLER JAN:

So they're taking that up this week. My grandson should never have been in that system. Now, this system absolutely stinks. Stop knocking teachers. It's not fair. They're not prepared for what they've got to face. The system should be technical school or it should be commercial, but they should not be all in there together. A lot of these kids have got very good hand skills, they're bright, they've got good eyesight, they listen, they're bored witless. They should not be there.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Great outcome. Jan, great outcome on the apprenticeship for your grandson and all power to either your son or daughter who got the young lad out there into work. That is superb. There's over 220,000 trade apprentices right now. And the good thing is the boosting apprenticeship commencement program is still up and running, so 50 per cent of the first year wages covered. So that is a tremendous story.

LIAM BARTLETT:

But it also shows the frustration of the teacher.

MINISTER ROBERT:

And it does, and there are no easy answers for some of these because some of our kids are very much academic minded and some are very tactile and into the trades mind, and you've got to have a balance for both and where it sits. A lot of schools run vocational education and training in schools, VET in schools. There are a number of trade training schools around the country. There's four in Queensland that are very good that still go through a good basic education whilst teaching you a trade at the same time. So it is horses for courses, but it is challenging for teachers, there's no question.

LIAM BARTLETT:

There's a couple of texts here. Adams says, Liam ask the Minister why there is such a high percentage of teacher dropouts. It has nothing to do with money, says Adam.

MINISTER ROBERT:

The- if I just quote Sarah Mitchell, the New South Wales Education Minister, she makes the point in her system, which is the largest school system, that the average teacher is for about 12 or 13 years. I'm not far off there, that's just what the average is. So there's a continual drive in terms of teacher training and moving teachers through the systems. So I don't know if there's a high dropout in terms of the teaching profession. When it comes to university, people are still working out what they want to do and where they want to go and you start to see dropouts in terms of university education there. But what we want to do is to make sure we get the best quality graduates from uni.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Here's one from Andrew. He says if a teacher cannot do basic English and maths, how have they managed to get through the university system and obtain a degree? The system is too slack.

MINISTER ROBERT:

This is my point and this is why we're going to lean in on the initial quality- or the quality of teacher education as part of our reforms to address that issue. So we don't get this 10 per cent of teachers failing the LANTITE test, which is the basic numeracy and literacy.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Neil is on the line, Minister. Good morning, Neil.

CALLER NEIL:

Good morning, my friend. My story goes way back. Let's see, I just retired about a year or so ago- well, I didn't retire, I was told to go. I worked till I was 82. I've never been out of work. My father died when I was only four years of age. We weren't always good boys either. We managed, but a lot of everything to me these days is mostly money.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Is there a question? Is there a question in there, Neil, for the minister?

CALLER NEIL:

Well, yeah, I'd like to know, was it true that I heard on- I think from on the other channels, that a lot of children in Victoria and Melbourne are carrying knives around the school? They do that in America too, don’t they?

MINISTER ROBERT:

We are seeing, unfortunately, an increase in violence and bullying in schools, and especially directed to teachers. So, the three areas of reform the Commonwealth is very keen to lean into: initial teacher education we've talked about, of course; the curriculum, getting literacy, numeracy stronger and less cluttered; and the third one is the teaching environment. How do we get stronger discipline in schools? How can we work with states and territories?

LIAM BARTLETT:

But what is the answer for that? Because this came up again on Friday, and further to Neil's point, I mean, how do you make sure- private schools are fine. Private schools can say: look, you can leave your son or your daughter to home. You don't have to- we don't want their payment. We won't invoice you again because you're not coming back – full stop. But how do you make sure public schools can have the same level of discipline?

MINISTER ROBERT:

And it's- it is hard. The great thing about public schools - I went to a public school for most of my life – the- is the universal service obligation, so that they will teach all students in terms of where they come from and where they're heading.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Yeah. It's a right. It’s a right.

MINISTER ROBERT:

As it should be.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Regardless of the way- whether the kid’s a scum bag or not.

MINISTER ROBERT:

And that's a great thing about Australia, in terms of ostensibly free healthcare and free education, as a right of citizen. To be born in Australia is to have won the lottery, one former prime minister said.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Yes, but you can't leave the kids there at the detriment of everyone else in the classroom, can you?

MINISTER ROBERT:

No, that’s right and the current systems work through that very, very well and each state has got some really good systems in how they deal with children who are really struggling. If we can assist and educate teachers, provide more resources to assist them, that's what we're looking in and leaning into in terms of the classroom environment. But it is difficult. It does come down to the cohort of students, the teacher quality, the teacher resources and education. For the most part, teachers are doing an amazing job in, at times, some difficult environments.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Final question, from Cliff, Minister. Good morning, Cliff.

CALLER CLIFF:

How are you going, Liam? Liam, I’m an old guy. I was born in the ‘40s. Liam, when we went to school, the cane was there. We’d learnt respect. That guy that spoke about respect earlier, that's- that was the tool that learnt us to have respect for the teacher and our parents. When they took away the cane, it was all lost. The teachers have got no control over them now, because there's no respect for anybody.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Yeah, no, I hear your frustration, Cliff. I mean, look, the- it's an old-fashioned concept, Minister, isn’t it? But it- again, it highlights the discipline problem. I mean, how do you as Federal Minister make any dent on that?

MINISTER ROBERT:

And that's where those three areas, again, teacher quality, curriculum and the classroom environment and discipline, are the key areas. We’ll have more to say in the coming weeks. I'm speaking in Melbourne at a major conference on Wednesday, where we're looking to outline some of these- the- we're not bringing the cane back. Let's just disavow ourselves of that. I went to school and may well have suffered the injustice of being caned from minor infractions, I'm sure now. But that's not the answer. We don't want children to live in fear, but we do need to empower our great teachers.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Now, look, just quickly before you go. You're also the Minister for Employment. We put a story to air on 60 Minutes last night, detailing just a fraction of the sexual harassment claims going on in the mining industry at the moment - FIFO workers. Some of the women who spoke to us, I've got to tell you, the stories are appalling. What should the companies be doing? Are you concerned about that?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Absolutely. If you look at what we did, for example, in respectful workplaces in Parliament, we got the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, to do a report.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Well, I'm sorry, but this makes Parliament look like a crèche.

MINISTER ROBERT:

I know. But the point is that the results, in terms of 24 per cent of women experiencing the sexual, either assault or innuendo and the like and 34 per cent being bullied, when I speak to corporate executives, that's consistent right across the board. And we're now seeing, of course, greater injustices in terms of mining. Our Federal Parliament, our national leaders have stood up. So must our mining CEOs, so must our industry leaders. Everything’s a function of leadership. We've got to stand up and be accountable and deal with those issues, and that's what the mining community has to do as well.

LIAM BARTLETT:

So do you think it's over-represented? Is that what you're saying, in mining at the moment?

MINISTER ROBERT:

I don't know. I haven't seen the data to back it up. I think the Jenkins report in Parliament, in terms of a third being bullied, and in terms of unwanted sexual advances or comments at a quarter, that's probably reflective of the country. But again, there's no data set, so I can only go on the data set we've got in front of us, from the Jenkins report.

LIAM BARTLETT:

[Talks over] Well, it’s hard to tell, isn’t it? You can't get the data, because, you know, it's- some of these ladies are too scared to speak up.

MINISTER ROBERT:

This- it all comes down to leadership. People have got to stump up and lead. They've got to take responsibility for their organisations. Have zero tolerance for it. If required, put in training. If required, make sure there is clear reporting, so people can actually report without fear of persecution, and they've got freedom and opportunity to do that. Make sure there's peer support in place, so that women or others aren't isolated in difficult environments. All of these things we're doing at our national Parliament because we need to set the example. And other organisations are doing the same thing. There's no different with our corporate industrial leaders in terms of mining. And I know many of them. They are very dedicated men and women. I'm sure they're appalled at what they're seeing as well.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Minister, Thanks for coming in today. Good to see you here in Perth, and appreciate you being here to talk to our listeners.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Great to talk to you.

LIAM BARTLETT:

Education Minister, Employment Minister, Stuart Robert on the program.