Release type: Transcript


Minister for Education Dan Tehan interview with Greg Jennett, ABC Afternoon Briefing


The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, Year 12 students, Universities

Greg Jennett: Someone who probably has a few clues though is Dan Tehan, the Education Minister. He’s trying to shape some sort of national approach to schooling next term, and he was with us here in this studio just a few moments ago to discuss that, and many other matters besides that are going on in our places of study and of learning.

Well, Dan Tehan, welcome back to our studio at, we hasten to add, appropriately safe distances. You’ve got so much on your plate at the moment. We’re going to try and step through all the sectors, or as many of them as we can, within education. Let’s start with schools, though. I know you’ve been in discussions with the states about what term two looks like, when everyone clears these holidays. What do we know about that?

Dan Tehan: So, we had a really constructive meeting on Monday, and can I thank all the state and territory education ministers. I’ve been working with them now for nearly two years. It’s been the same state and territory education ministers right way through. We’ve got a really good working relationship, which is fantastic, and …

Jennett: … Rare stability, actually.

Tehan: Yeah, rare stability. And, the coronavirus, in many ways, has brought us even closer together, because we’ve had to work through so many issues. We had a really constructive meeting on Monday, and, really, what the outcome was, twofold. First, we’re going to try to get some nationally consistent priorities for education at the school level, right across the nation, while recognising that every state and territory has the jurisdictional responsibility for schools. And, we’ll make decisions dependent on the circumstances in those individual jurisdictions.

Jennett: So, when you say nationally consistent priorities, this would deal with being open, in some form, particularly, for what? Parents who must lodge their children into schools? What else? What are the other key parameters, if you like, in this national uniformity?

Tehan: So, that was one of the clear things we were all very united on, was making sure that schools are open for those parents who can’t – because of work – can’t supervise their children safely at home. Or, it might be that it’s a safer environment for children being at school than being at home. So, making sure that schools are open for those parents who need schools open, to get that learning in a safe environment for their children. Making sure that we had a nationally consistent approach when it came to Year 12. So, everyone agreed there’ll be no Year 13. There’ll be no mass repeating – that students will get a 2020 ATAR. So, they’ve now got that certainty, that university, vocational education or employment beckons next year, which is fantastic, as well. So, they’re the, sort of, the priorities that we’ve agreed on, and, then, understanding that each state and territory has the jurisdictional responsibility, and will act according to where the pandemic is at in their jurisdiction.

Jennett: Right. How much variation does the system tolerate, I suppose, is the question? Could we get to a situation: Day one, term two, one jurisdiction – Tasmania, or whatever – decides, no, we are, for all intents and purposes, closed?

Tehan: So, ultimately, that’ll be decisions for the states and territory. But, where we’re at, and where we are heading to, is, we’ve had the NT announce today schools will be open. They want their students going to school. That’s the requirement. If you’re not sending your children to school, or your child to school, then you have to give a reason to the school. Whereas, in Victoria and New South Wales, what they’re doing is encouraging parents, if they can, to keep their children at home, and only send them to school if they can’t be supervised properly. So …

Jennett: …Okay. So, you reckon that is all within the framework of national uniformity?

Tehan: Absolutely. And, look, I know, at times, there’s been a little bit of frustration that we can’t get a more unified approach. But, that’s the nature of the federation, and we’ve got to understand that. And, that’s why ministers have wanted to be clear on the things that we can be nationally consistent on. But, also, we just then have to explain to people that each jurisdiction will make their own decisions, dependent on the spread of the virus.

Jennett: Okay. Well, let’s get to a system that you have significant control over, which is Independent schools. You’ve written to the Independent Schools Council of Australia. You can tell us what you say in that letter, but, first of all, what’s prompted you to write this letter to, what I think you describe, as a small number of schools that appear to have chosen to physically close their schools? How many are we talking about?

Tehan: So, what we want is a nationally consistent approach. So, at Education Council, we reached agreement that we do want schools open, and the states and territories are looking after their state-run schools. And, so, what we want to do is ensure that when it comes to Independent schools, and Catholic schools, as well, that they’re also providing that learning environment. And, what had become clear to us is that there were some Independent schools that weren’t offering – for parents who had to work, at all year levels – that opportunity for those students to be able to get that safe learning environment.

Jennett: How many are we talking about?

Tehan: Look, it’s hard to get a true sense of the number, but there were some schools that weren’t offering that. So, we just wanted to be clear that we want a nationally consistent approach on this. We want all schools to be offering that learning environment, for those parents who have to work, and for those children where it’s safer for the child to be in the classroom supervised, rather than being at home.

Jennett: Now, more than that, you’re not just gently encouraging them to do something, you actually have a funding lever. Is that right? And, what …

Tehan: … That’s right.

Jennett: … is it that you’re telling them about your preparedness to use that?

Tehan: We’re just saying now, that as part of the funding requirement, you have to be offering this to parents whose children you’re educating – that ability for them to be able to send their children to school if they’re working, or if the child is safer at school than at home.

Jennett: And, do you expect full compliance with this? I mean, if not, clearly you are saying you would hold back, potentially, large amounts of money.

Tehan: So, we want a team Australia approach to how we’re dealing with the pandemic, and we want everyone to play their part. We want schools to play their part. We want principals, teachers, to play their part – just like doctors and nurses are, just like the mechanics that are fixing the trucks that are helping deliver the goods to the supermarkets are playing their part. We want everyone as part of team Australia. So, that’s what we’re saying to all schools – that we want you open, so that those who have to work don’t have to make that choice between going to work, or staying home and looking after the education of their children.

Jennett: And, would that be the choice for all families? I mean, if a school went ahead and decided no, no physical education offered by our school. Would it be an option to access, at least temporarily, the public system? If one were available in the catchment area.

Tehan: So, what we would prefer, and this is our strong preference, is that we want all schools open. It’s why we offered free child care, and have encouraged as many child care centres to stay open as possible, because we don’t want parents having to choose between a school environment that their children know – somewhere that they know they enjoy learning, it is safe, it’s familiar to them – rather than, all of a sudden, having to look around and say, ‘Okay, well I’m going to have to try and find another school, and I’m not quite sure, you know, I don’t have that relationship with the teachers,’ etcetera.

Jennett: Sure, continuity is important.

Tehan: Absolutely.

Jennett: Alright, let’s jump towards the upper end of school education now. And, you and those other ministers are all wrestling with what to do with Year 12s of 2020. Some modification of the ATAR system for university access is being contemplated. What are you trying to accommodate, in whatever model you land here, for score adjustments?

Tehan: So, what we want to do, in the first instance, and what we have achieved, is a national commitment that all school students will get an ATAR ranking for 2020. So, they’ve got that certainty now. They know that they will get that ranking, which then gives them the opportunity, if needed, for education, whether it be university, vocational education or going into employment. So, they’ve got that certainty.

Jennett: That’s universal, but the circumstances of each Year 12 student is not the same?

Tehan: No. So, what we will then do, as we do and have done in previous years, is look to adjust, dependent on individual circumstances of students or regions. So, that is done, for instance, if there happens to be a bushfire, or a flood, or, for instance, if an individual student falls ill – those things are taken into consideration as part of their ranking – so, we will do that again, and education ministers right across the nation were very committed to this, to make sure that there is that equity there, especially when it comes to the digital divide. There will be some families where there won’t be the opportunity for the children to be able to access the type of technology there will be in other families. And, there will be some communities, some students in remote Australia, even in regional and rural Australia, where connectivity is still an issue – where we are going to have to take that into account – and there was a strong commitment from every state and territory to do that.

Jennett: [Indistinct] to throw another variable at you, subject choice, as well. I mean, if you’re doing something in the dramatic arts, for instance, one would imagine that that would usually entail physical proximity to a stage, which may not be possible. All of that is going to affect your scores in some way, I imagine. What do you think of the ANU, it is proposing, at least temporarily, an intake assessment system that would rely heavily on end of Year 11, they think a very strong correlation from that to end of Year 12. Is that valid? Could that be mapped out nationally?

Tehan: Look, I think each university, in the end, will make their own decisions. But, ANU have been using the end of year results for Year 11 as a predeterminer in the last few years. So, they’ve got that already, that ability to look at that. And, Brian Schmidt, the Vice- Chancellor of ANU, thinks it’s a very good indicator. Not all universities follow the same approach, but I’m sure from the discussions that I’ve had with them, that they are going to be looking for flexibility, they are going to be taking circumstances into account, and, I think, some of them will be weighting what happened in Year 11, as part of the determination as to what they do around admissions.

Jennett: Okay. But, that’s up to them? That is not something you and the education ministers are likely to impose nationally?

Tehan: No. We won’t impose it, but we are having discussions with the university sector and we hope, by May, to have reached an accommodation as to what those broad parameters will be, as to how those ATAR rankings will determine a Year 12’s advancement into university.

Jennett: Okay. Since we are talking about universities, they are hurting, as are so many sectors across the country and the economy, and there are demands for a sector wide bailout. What is your predisposition, after a few days, to contemplate these requests?

Tehan: So, I met again with the Board of Universities Australia today. We had a good discussion. Obviously, the university sector has been hit when it comes to international students, and that is something that they understand is going to be impacted for this year. What it looks like in terms of next year will obviously depend on how we go flattening the curve, and vaccines, etcetera. But, what we have all agreed is, we really want to focus now on the domestic students, and what we can do to support and provide that ballast for the universities when it comes to domestic students. So, that’s the focus. And, I’m going to continue to have discussions with them, and, I’ve said previously this week, I hope to have something more to say on this in the coming days.

Jennett: Right, so, that’s the focus. Does that imply that whatever relief you may be able to offer that is financial, would go to those institutions that have a higher proportion of Australian domestic students, as against those – and they are wealthy institutions, some of them – with larger numbers, normally, of international students?

Tehan: We will try to act as consistently across the sector as we possibly can. The university sector is reasonably complex in that regard. You’re right, there are some very large institutions. But, then, there are, some of the smaller institutions operate in more marginal areas, say in regional and rural areas. So, we want to try to be as consistent as we possibly can in what we do to put that ballast into the sector, to support them through the next six months.

Jennett: Okay. So, urgency on that. Any firmer in the actual time indication for a response?

Tehan: Coming days, Greg, is what I have been saying. And, look, I would thank the university sector for their patience. There’s a lot of calls and demands on Government at the moment. But, one of the things that the Prime Minister has been very clear about – proper process, making the case, understanding the issue, making sure that the fix will ensure that whatever sector it is, gets across the six months – builds the bridge, and gets them over this coronavirus pandemic – six months that we are all trying to get through, and make sure we are stronger on the other side.

Jennett: Alright. Just quickly, because I know Easter beckons for you, as much as for everyone else. But, as we look to that other side, is there anything that occurs to you will change forever within education? Some things are going to be proven as pretty effective, I would suggest, in all of this. What stands out for you, so far?

Tehan: Well, look, I think the thing that stands out for me is that, I think we will have made leaps and bounds when it comes to online learning and distance education. But, I think, this will reinforce the importance of face-to-face contact, the importance of teachers, lecturers, tutors, that very personal approach to education. I think there will be a lot of students who thought, ‘I have to go to school tomorrow,’ who, when the time comes and normality resumes, and they can go to school, as they were, or they can go off to university tutorials, they are going to love doing it. Because, I think, there is so much so to that personal touch of what our teachers and what our lecturers do, that will be missed.

Jennett: Yeah. There may well be a bit of everything that’s old is new again. Dan Tehan, we’ll wish you, on that point, happy Easter.

Tehan: Thanks Greg.

Jennett: And, whatever break you can manage. Make the most of it.

Tehan: Thanks Greg, and can I wish you a happy Easter too. And, to all those listeners out there, stay at home, but enjoy it and have a happy Easter.