SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, Year 12 students, Universities
Deborah Knight: Now, we’re seeing some promising signs with the spread of COVID-19, but we’re a long way from getting back to normal. It is impacting so much of our lives, of course, including education, and it’s still not clear what schools, what parents, and what students will be facing when we head into term two, which is just a few weeks away now. It looks like we will still be home schooling. But, what about Year 12 students? Will their end of year exams go ahead? Will they have to repeat the year altogether? Imagine that. And, how will they actually work out how their marks to get into university will be calculated? Well, Australia’s education ministers are about to meet to work out a lot of the plans for the weeks and months ahead. And, Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan is on the line for us now. Minister, hello.
Dan Tehan: Hi Deb. How are you?
Knight: Yeah, good. Look, a lot of anxious students, and, frankly, parents too, who are muddling their way through home schooling, wondering what we will be facing for term two. Home schooling – is it going to continue?
Tehan: So, it will predominantly be the case that children will be learning from home for the start of term two. But, for all those parents who need to be working, for vulnerable children, schools will be open, so they can attend from there so that they can get their education in a safe environment.
Knight: So, pretty much the same as what we’re doing now will continue into term two?
Tehan: That’s exactly right. The same as what happened in the lead up to term two will continue right across the nation for the rest, well, for term two.
Knight: And, a lot of confusion still exists around schools staying open. We know that the medical advice from the Chief Medical Officer is still the case that schools should remain open for those essential workers. But, is this still a bit of disquiet between the states and Canberra about the best way ahead?
Tehan: No. Look, the National Cabinet has been working through the issue of schooling like they have been all other issues. And, everyone has got a very consistent position, and, that is: If it is possible to study safely at home, then that is the preferred option. But, where parents need to have their children supervised, and supervised safely because they might be working, or for vulnerable children, then, there will be, schools will be open to cater for those children.
Knight: Could we see more support being offered up for parents? Because, I think the novelty of home schooling is wearing off in a lot of households already. I know that teachers are saying that it can be a struggle for them, let alone for parents who are at home trying to do their work too. Lots of families don’t have really great Internet connection, don’t have a lot of the devices. Will there be more help being offered up?
Tehan: So, each state and territory government will be, obviously, putting in place policies to help parents and support parents while they’re educating their children from home. And, because each state and territory have jurisdictional responsibility for their schools, they will vary. But, all of them are committed to providing as much support to students and to their parents, to help them as they embark on term two.
Knight: Now, this idea of Year 12 students potentially having to repeat a possible Year 13. That would send absolute shivers down my spine if I was a Year 12 student having the prospect of doing yet another year. Is that a possibility?
Tehan: No. Look, what all state and territory education ministers are committed to is making sure that for Year 12s that they get through this year. Now, that might mean pushing back into November and December. But, the clear goal, the clear goal from all state and territory education ministers, is to make sure that we get Year 12s through this year, and we get every other year level through, as well.
Knight: So, no repeating?
Tehan: Look, there will be some instances, of course, like there normally is, where a student might have to repeat. But, for the clear majority of students, the aim is to get everyone through this year. And, so that those Year 12s can fulfil their dreams of going to uni, going to vocational education, going into the workforce. We want them to be able to fulfil those dreams, and that’s what the aim of all education ministers is.
Knight: And, I know that the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews today announced that the VCE exams, their end of year exams, will be pushed back to December. So, he’s made that announcement already. Could we see that the way for all states and territories, and could we see possible exams even later into January, for some students?
Tehan: Well, the absolute desire is to try and get everything done this year. We’re meeting at one o’clock today. We’ll meet again on Thursday. So, each state and territory will have their own unique response to this. But, what we’re looking for is a nationally consistent approach. And, one of the things is pushing back those final assessments into November and December.
Knight: The one thing that was going to be nationally consistent was the ATAR, the tertiary entrance mark. That is something that’s under question, too. There have been calls for it possibly to be scrapped or changed, the way that it’s calculated. Is that a possibility?
Tehan: So, all the state and territory curriculum and assessment authorities are providing feedback to education ministers, and will receive that today. We’re also meeting again on Thursday to consider what that then would look like in terms of trying to get a nationally consistent approach with regards to assessment. But, the idea is that we try as much as possible to make that look as normal as possible. Remembering, that there is that ability to adjust an ATAR score. We do it for grounds for floods, for fire. We do it when individual students have illnesses. So, there is no reason why we can’t adjust it for the virus, nationally.
Knight: The other thing too, universities, they’re unhappy because they won’t have access to the JobKeeper wage subsidy. I know that Parliament will be considering that tomorrow, and passing it. What are your thoughts? Should universities be included?
Tehan: So, the universities will be able to access the JobKeeper, but just under the normal requirements, which is a 30 per cent revenue drop if you are under a billion, and a 50 per cent if you’re over a billion. Obviously, they won’t be able to get the rate for charities, for those charities that are providing food parcels, clothing, etcetera, for those who desperately need it, where the revenue drop is 15 per cent.
Knight: They’re asking for help, though. They’re saying that they’ve lost more than $3 billion in revenue and, in terms of industries taking a hit from coronavirus, education is up there.
Tehan: Yeah. So, we continue to work with the university sector. Some universities are talking to their state treasuries, because they have funding arrangements through them. But, what our commitment at the federal level is, is we want to make sure that we help and support our universities, especially when it comes to domestic students. The universities have done a wonderful job. Incredible innovation in moving everything online. I think we’ve, it’s shown that our university system is amongst the best, if not the best, in the world, for the way they’ve been able to pivot to online learning. Now, we want to make sure that we’re supporting them, especially when it comes to domestic students, because we think demand, over time, will increase for students wanting to access university.
Knight: Let’s hope so. Let’s hope it gets back to normal sooner rather than later. Minister, we thank you for your time.
Tehan: A pleasure, Deb.
SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, Year 12 students, Universities