SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, Year 12 students, Universities
Kieran Gilbert: Let’s go live now to the Education Minister Dan Tehan. Minister, thanks so much for your time. Can you tell us what the position is now, when it comes to Independent schools? You’re saying they must reopen in term two.
Dan Tehan: What we’re saying is that they must provide a forum. They must keep their schools open, so that those students who can’t be cared for at home, can attend school to be able to do their lessons. The Government has been very consistent about this right the way through. The medical advice says that it is safe for schools to be open. So, we want all schools to be open, so that those children of parents who both need to work, for vulnerable children, for others who can’t provide a safe learning environment at home, that those schools are open for those children to be able to go and do their learning at those schools.
Gilbert: And, fundamentally, this is what the advice has been to you from the medical officers throughout?
Tehan: It has been. It’s been very clear, right throughout. And, we’ve been very clear. We’re going to take the advice of the medical experts, the medical expert panel, and, that’s what we continue to do. And, they say that it’s safe for schools to be open. And, so, therefore, we want to ensure that all parents have that choice – that if they’re working, we do not want them to have to make that decision between going to work, or staying at home and educating their children. So, if they’re working, they can send their children to school, or, for those other children who might need the sanctuary of school to be able to safely learn, that schools are open for them. And, that’s been our consistent position. It’s been the consistent position of the medical expert panel. And, we want all schools, all schools, to be making sure that they’re open for those students.
Gilbert: And, if those schools that receive federal funding don’t reopen, you’re going to say, ‘Well, your funding is at risk’? What’s your message on the funding front?
Tehan: Well, we have made it a condition that they are open, to be able to provide that environment for those students to be able to learn, who can’t safely learn at home.
Gilbert: Okay. So, if they don’t open, there’s no funding. And, in terms of the prescription, you know, are you being prescriptive in terms of how the teaching needs to be [audio skip] classroom?
Tehan: No. What we’re saying is, if they’ve moved to an online learning model, then what they need to be able to do at that school is provide the forum for those students to be able to go to school, and do that learning online there. But, supervised and in a safe environment. Some states are saying that they’re going to offer a dual forum, where students can go into the classroom and get taught there, or, if they’re at home, they will get online learning tools and an online learning format. What we’re saying to schools is, ‘We’re happy if you provide one consistent form of learning. But, you have to have your schools open, to provide that for those children who need the safety of the classroom at that school.’
Gilbert: Yeah. And, it’s not just for essential workers. So, it’s for anyone with a job. As the Prime Minister said, ‘Right now, anyone with a job is an essential worker in this economic downturn.’
Tehan: Absolutely. We want to make sure that parents don’t have to choose between going to work, or staying at home and educating their children. Now, in many families, both parents work. So, we want those parents to be able to go to work, knowing that their children are at school and learning in the safety of that school environment, in the safety of the school classroom.
Gilbert: So, just in terms of the message, because we’ve heard from some of the states to parents, ‘Keep your kids home if you can.’ Your message is different. It seems that you’re saying you want parents to be told, ‘Send your kids to school if you can.’ Is that a fair way to characterise it?
Tehan: Well, ultimately, every state and territory has jurisdictional responsibility for their schools. And, we already have the NT announcing today that they want all students at school. Western Australia are very keen to see children at school. South Australia are also saying that if you need to send your children to school, for those reasons that I’ve outlined, then the schools will be open. So, we want to make sure, and, then, obviously in New South Wales and Victoria, they’re saying that they would prefer students to learn at home, if they can. But, they are also providing for those children whose parents are working, or those children where it’s safer for them to be at school. So, what we’re saying is, we want that right across the nation. We want schools to be open, so parents don’t have to make that choice. And, you’re absolutely right, the Prime Minister has been very clear – essential workers are anyone who is working to help us get through this pandemic.
Gilbert: What’s your thinking on the resumption of full schooling, like the Teachers Federation in New South Wales is saying, that maybe you start with the kindergarten and Year 12 students, and then build from there. Are you open to that, or do you just, basically, want schools to say, ‘No, we’re open for everyone,’ from the get go?
Tehan: Well, we want schools to be open for all those parents who need their children to be educated at school. But, also, one of the things that we discussed on Monday, when all state and territory education ministers came together, was how we can start looking to get normality back for students, with regards to the classroom. And, some of the things that we discussed, is it possible, for instance, that Year 12s could come back maybe one day a week, to do the practical things of their Year 12. And, that might be, if you’re in vocational education, how you could be drafting if you’re doing an architectural type subject. Or, if you’re doing chemistry, how you could do your practical parts of your chemistry experiments. It might be, also, that you would want to bring some Year 11 students back, for instance, if they were doing, you know, one VCE subject, or one leaving certificate subject, as part of the year. Could you bring them back one day a week? But, I think, the idea of Year 12s being able to come back one day a week, or maybe two afternoons a week, to start with, on top of ensuring all those other children, or all those other students that need to be there for those other reasons, that’s something that all states and territories, I think, are considering as part of their planning.
Gilbert: And, finally, I’ve heard various reports from the universities of staffing reductions. They’re really copping it in a financial and economic sense, right now. Do you have any sympathy for where they’re at, because they haven’t received any financial government propping up, like other areas of the economy have?
Tehan: Yeah, look, I was talking to Universities Australia just before I came on this afternoon, Kieran. We’ve been in a really good dialogue. I understand that the impact in the drop of international students has had on their revenue. We continue to look and discuss options. I’ve said earlier, I think it was on Tuesday of this week, that I’ll have more to say on this in the coming days. I thank them for the constructive way that they’ve engaged with the Government. I know that they’re also engaging with the union, as well, with the NTEU. And, my understanding is those discussions have been very good, as well, and very constructive. And, I think, if we can get some constructive discussions and outcomes between universities and the union, as well as the Government looking to see what it can do, especially on the domestic student front, that we can make sure that our universities get through the next six months. Because, we’re really going to need them through the end of this. Because, we’re going to have to ensure that the opportunities are there, not only for our Year 12 students from this year, but also for those who might have been disengaged from the workforce during this coronavirus pandemic. So, they have the opportunity to improve their skills through higher education, as well.
Gilbert: Is JobKeeper – just quickly, I won’t keep you any longer – but is JobKeeper something you’d be open to for the universities?
Tehan: So, JobKeeper is open to universities, under the requirements that if they’re over a billion dollars in revenue, then it has to be, there has to be a fifth in turn over, there has to be a 50 per cent reduction in revenue. If they’re under that billion mark, it’s a 30 per cent drop in revenue. So, they’re eligible for that. I don’t think that, ultimately, will be the solution for universities. I think the constructive dialogue we’ve been having, there are other mechanisms that we can, in the ways that we can assist and help the university sector.
Gilbert: Minister, as always, I appreciate your time. Thanks.
Tehan: Pleasure, Kieran.