SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools
Michael Rowland: Let’s return to our top story now. Billions of dollars in federal funding are being offered to private schools if they have kids back in the classroom by 1 June. To talk about this, the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan joins us from his office in Hamilton in Western Victoria. Minister, good morning to you.
Dan Tehan: Morning, Michael. Wonderful to be with you.
Rowland: And, it’s great to have you on the program. Now, why are you doing this when, in states like Victoria, the firm and unwavering medical advice is that it is simply unsafe for kids to go back to the classroom?
Tehan: So, first of all, the medical expert panel, which is made up of all state and territory chief medical officers and the Commonwealth Medical Officer, has said it has been safe for schools to be open throughout this pandemic, and, also, it’s safe for teachers to be in the classroom teaching, with the right protocols in place. That’s all state and territory medical officers, and the Commonwealth Medical Officer, have said that. And, why we’re doing this is because Catholic and Independent schools approached the Federal Government, and said that some schools were experiencing cash flow issues, and asked for us to consider bringing forward the July payment that we would normally make to them. So, what we’ve decided to do is to bring forward those payments in two instalments. They’ll get the first if they commit to have a plan in place to have teachers back in the classroom, teaching all year levels, by the end of May. And, then, if they achieve 50 per cent of students, at a minimum, attending schools by the end of May, they’ll get the second instalment.
Rowland: Okay. Now, I hear what you’re saying about that national committee. But, as you would well know, as our viewers would well know, states, schools, rather, are a state issue. And, we have the Queensland medical authorities expressing concern about this. But, again, in Victoria, Brett Sutton, the Chief Health Officer in Victoria, saying it is unsafe, not just for the kids, but for the teachers, but also the parents doing drop off and pickups too.
Hello, Minister? We have lost transmission to Hamilton in Victoria. Listen, we’ll try to get Dan Tehan back up for you.
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Rowland: Let’s bring in now the Federal Minister Dan Tehan, again. Dan Tehan, hello. Apologies for that break.
Tehan: That’s alright, Michael. It’s good to be with you again.
Rowland: Now, just going back to this incentive offer. You say you’ve heard from quite a few principals from Independent schools who are cash-strapped. I’d understand that. But, doesn’t it put other Independent school principals in a rather invidious position? They’re still being told by their states’ chief medical officer, their states’ premier, that it is utterly unsafe for kids to go back to the classroom. And, now they’re being presented with this pot of money from the Federal Government. What do they do?
Tehan: So, what we want is all non-government schools – all Independent and Catholic schools – to get a plan in place to be reopened by the end of May, and then to commit to get their students back in the classroom, at least 50 per cent of those students back in the classroom, at all year levels, by the end of May. Now, as you’re aware, in Western Australia, in South Australia, and in the Northern Territory, schools are resuming right across those states, and students are attending. In South Australia, they had over 60 per cent attendance yesterday, so we’re already seeing schools getting back to normal there. In Queensland, they’ve indicated that they want to get their schools back to normal, and will review in early May. In New South Wales, they’re starting to get their schools back up and running, as well, for that classroom teaching. In Victoria, they’ve said they’ll consider it. But, the Premier in Victoria has said that when it comes to non-government schools, schools, school councils, can make the decisions as to whether they should reopen or not. So, right across the nation, non-government schools now have the opportunity to put plans in place, and get that classroom teaching up and running again.
Rowland: Okay. But, even though we, despite, we have this advice about it being unsafe, as I said before we were broken up by, not just regarding the kids, but the teachers and the parents, as well. The teachers are still very concerned about any move to go back to school, regardless of which state.
Tehan: Well, that’s why the Government has been listening to the expert medical panel – that medical panel which is made up of all state and territory chief medical officers and the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer – and that’s been consistent right throughout this pandemic that it’s safe for our children to be at school learning, and it’s safe for our teachers to be teaching them, with the right protocols put in place. And, that’s been the consistent position. It’s one that the Federal Government has backed all along, because we’ve always said that we would take the expert advice. And, that’s why we’re incentivising non-government schools to get back to teaching in the classroom. As studies released on Monday have shown, if we don’t do that, it’s going to be those children from low socio-economic backgrounds, from Indigenous backgrounds, from rural and remote backgrounds, where English is spoken as a second language in the home – it’s going to be those students who miss out, miss out on learning that literacy and numeracy, that they need. So, that’s why we want to incentivise all schools, all non-government schools, to get back open, and getting that teaching done in the classroom.
Rowland: Okay. Just before we go, did you consult the state and territory leaders on this?
Tehan: Yes. The Prime Minister advised all the state and territory leaders yesterday. And, I let all the education ministers know yesterday, as well. And, obviously, have consulted with the Catholic sector and with the Independent sector.
Rowland: Okay. And, we’ll see how many schools take up this offer from the Federal Government. Dan Tehan, thank you so much for joining us.
Tehan: Pleasure, Michael.