SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package
Laura Jayes: Let’s go live now to the Education Minister Dan Tehan. Dan Tehan, thanks so much for your time. You’ve had a number of questions over schools, and we’re going to continue that theme today. But, if I could start with New South Wales. New South Wales says that it hasn’t found any evidence that there has been transmission of the coronavirus from any student to teachers. Can we expect that that is probably the case nationwide?
Dan Tehan: Well, that’s what the medical experts have been advising governments across the nation since this pandemic started. They’ve been consistent in their advice – to both the Federal Government and state and territory governments – that it is safe for schools to be open, that it’s safe for students to be going to school, and that it’s safe for teachers to be teaching at school, with the right protocols put in place – making sure that those teachers who are over 65 aren’t teaching in the classroom, and those teachers with a co-morbidity aren’t. But, that has been the consistent advice right throughout this pandemic. And, we continue to ask those medical experts to look at the research, to look at the information that’s coming from overseas. And, obviously, we saw that important piece of research which was done by New South Wales Department of Health and Education on the weekend, which once again showed, by tracking those students and teachers who had had COVID-19, tracking what type of transmission there had been from those teachers and students. And, obviously, it was incredibly limited, and, in fact, the medical panel’s advice that it is safe for schools to be open.
Jayes: Have you got a problem with states moving to classroom learning at different stages?
Tehan: Well, ultimately, that will be a decision for states and territories, because they have the jurisdictional responsibility when it comes to schools. But, what we would like to see is all states and territories aim to be back to full classroom teaching for all year levels by the end of May. We think that that would be a wonderful goal for us to set as a nation. If we could have all children back at school by the end of May, that would be a great achievement, as well as us having flattened the curve. And, there are two main reasons why we are asking states and territories to look at achieving this. One is, we don’t want the learning divide to continue to grow in this nation. We know that for those students who don’t have classroom contact, for low socioeconomic children, for Indigenous children, those where English is spoken as a second language at home, for rural and remote children, they’re the ones who miss out. And, we’ll see the education divide grow if they can’t get that contact at the classroom level. And, the second reason is, we don’t want parents having to choose between going to work, or staying at home having to supervise their children while they pursue their education. So, they’re the main reasons, the two main reasons, why we continue to prosecute the case that we really want to see all schools open, and all year levels back at school by the end of May.
Jayes: And, it is difficult for you as the Education Minister at a federal level, because, as you point out, schools are run by the states. So, there is limited power there. But, taking an overall view, if students do get back to full classroom learning by the end of May, which is your strong wish that is coming through loud and clear, will we still need to see almost a two tiered learning system? Or, do you assume, can teachers assume, that once everyone’s back in the classroom, that the curriculum just goes on? Because, the reality is, some students will be behind. They haven’t learned as well at home. So, will there need to be an element of reteaching, if you like?
Tehan: So, this will be one of the challenges for principals and for teachers. And, look, I empathise with our principals and teachers right across the nation. COVID-19 has presented many challenges for them. And, I would say to parents, please make sure, as children go back to school, as normality resumes in the classroom, support your principal, support your teachers, because we do want to make sure that our students can catch up on, on what they’ve missed. So, there will be challenges. Obviously, we’ll be looking, when it comes to Year 12 students, what curriculum and assessment will look like for them this year. We know, and we’ve made it very clear, that there will be no Year 13. There’ll be no mass repeating, and they will get an ATAR for 2020. But, we’ve now got to put in place the protocols that will govern what that ATAR will look like for all those Year 12 students, and we’ll do that in, in early May, when Education Council meets again. So, many challenges for our schools. But, the quicker we can get our students and our teachers back in the classroom and teaching, the quicker we’ll be able to address these divides. The longer it goes on, the harder it’s going to be.
Jayes: Indeed. Let’s talk about child care now, as well, because it is free for anyone sending their child to child care at the moment. This has now been in place for a number of weeks. What is the feedback you’ve had from child care centres? It’s certainly not a perfect solution, but are there some unintended consequences that you now need to fix?
Tehan: So, we just have to remember why we took the measures that we did, and why we put in place a completely new system to govern the child care sector. The child care sector was on the verge of collapse. Parents were taking their children out of child care. And, the sector faced mass closures. And, it was going to mean, especially for parents who needed to be working, that they would be struggling to be able to find places to take their young children to get the care they needed while they were working. Now, the system has worked well, on the whole, but it is calibrated with JobKeeper. And, as we know, JobKeeper doesn’t kick in till early May. So, we’ve been working with the sector to make sure that that bridge, until JobKeeper comes in, can be met by the sector, and that’s why we made two payments. We brought forward a payment, we had an arrears payment, and the first payment in the first week to try and help them with their cash flow …
Jayes: … Okay …
Tehan: … But, there will always be some unintended consequences. There were some facilities which have had attendance rates at 100 per cent, and continue to see those rates at 100 per cent. So, obviously, we need to work with them, and that’s why we’ve set up special circumstances. But, my plea to the sector is: Remember, this is a team Australia event. All of us have to work together and understand that all of us need to be making sacrifices, to ensure we get through the three to six months of this pandemic. And, as a whole, the sector has been doing that. But, we need to continue to work with them to make sure that those centres, where there are events which have happened or particular circumstances, where we need to work with them …
Jayes: … Yeah …
Tehan: … to make sure, through special circumstances, we’re dealing with their issues.
Jayes: Okay. Okay. So, you do acknowledge that some of the better performing centres, perhaps, have been penalised – not intentionally – but penalised, through this temporary scheme. So, is it your advice that you, that they contact the department, so you can work out some special circumstances there? And, also, I just want to bring up JobKeeper. Do you acknowledge that many of the workers in child care centres are actually visa holders, because it is an area where skilled workers need to be attracted to those centres, and, therefore, they’re not eligible for JobKeeper?
Tehan: Look, there are some centres who use visa holders who aren’t eligible for JobKeeper, and that’s one of the things we’re going to be looking at when we do the one month review of this new approach that we’ve got in place. And, we always said that we would do that one-month review, and that will be starting next week. And, that’s one of the things we’ll be looking at – is, how we account for those centres who might use, a large proportion of their staff aren’t eligible for JobKeeper. So, that’s one of the things that we’ll be looking at during the review. And, for those centres who have seen their attendance rates at 100 per cent or even increased further, we’ll be looking at that during the review, as well. So, we always knew that this new system would put in place some examples that we would need to address. We’ve put in place a one-month review. That’s about to get started, and we’re going to look at all these issues. And, we’ll continue the dialogue – and a very constructive dialogue that we’ve had with the sector – about addressing some of these problems. Across the board, only about, the, well, most providers are getting about 40 to 60 per cent attendance rates, so there is still a lot of capacity left in the system. But, hopefully, as we continue to flatten the curve, and as we see more restrictions lifted and more people going back to work, we’ll see those attendance rates begin to lift again. And, then we can look and see, okay, well, do we need to move back to the old system, remembering that that is ready to be turned on, if we deem it necessary. But, with capacity rates across the sector at the moment, between 40 to 60 per cent, we don’t think we’re there yet.
Jayes: Okay. Dan Tehan, thanks so much for your time.
Tehan: Thanks Laura.
SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package