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Minister for Education Dan Tehan interview with Patricia Karvelas, ABC Afternoon Briefing

Ministers:

The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, Year 12 students, Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package, Universities

Patricia Karvelas: Some of those schools are asking for help of the Federal Government, and Dan Tehan, the Federal Education Minister, joins us now. Dan Tehan, welcome.

Dan Tehan: Good to be with you, Patricia.

Karvelas: Is there more to be discussed at National Cabinet on schools tomorrow?

Tehan: Look, there’s always ongoing discussions when it comes to schools. Obviously, we’ve seen further developments. South Australia yesterday announced that it will go to predominantly classroom teaching as of term two. We’ve seen the Northern Territory do the same thing. Western Australia in a similar mode. New South Wales have announced that they’ll be looking to transition in week four. So, there will be more to discuss when it comes to schools tomorrow.

Karvelas: Okay. Specifically, do you hope to come to some sort of clearer decisions about that phasing up again?

Tehan: Well, look, I think, from a Commonwealth Government’s perspective, what we’re hoping to see is a transition back to full classroom teaching during term two. That’s very much our desire. It’s very consistent with the approach of the medical expert panel – that’s the Chief Medical Officer of the Commonwealth, plus all the states and territories. They’ve said all along, been very consistent, that it’s safe for schools to be open. So, our hope is we will see a transition back to classroom teaching during term two, right across the nation. Understanding that, already, the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and South Australia are pretty much fully implementing that.

Karvelas: Will the education ministers meet soon to plan around that term two approach?

Tehan: Yes. We’re scheduled to have our next meeting of Education Council early in May. One of the things that we want to address at that meeting is what assessment will look like for Year 12s. Obviously, we made big inroads the last time we met in making sure that we made a very clear, no Year 13. No mass repeating. Now, what we want to work through is what will exams look like, what will the assessment look like for that ATAR, which will be given to all Year 12 students for 2020.

Karvelas: And, can you give me an indication of what it might look like? I know some Year 12 students watch Afternoon Briefing, actually. They might be thinking, ‘Can you give me a better steer?’

Tehan: Yes. So, what I can say to them is, the curriculum and assessment authority, the national body, is looking at this, and has been since Education Council met a couple of weeks ago. And, we hope to be able to announce what that looks like in early May. Now, that work is ongoing, it’s at a pace, and, our direction was clear that we want to provide some certainty for those Year 12 students by early May. So, that’s the clearest guidance I can give at this point. Obviously, it has to be agreed by all the relevant state and territory education ministers, but we really do understand the importance of getting this work done and getting it announced, so that we can provide that certainty for those Year 12 students.

Karvelas: Independent schools had a meeting with you recently, where they requested a bailout or some financial help. Is the Government considering helping them?

Tehan: So, the clear message that the Government gave to the Independent school sector was, ‘We want to see you reopening.’ We think the best thing they can do for their business models, is get teachers back in the classroom, and get teaching kids. If they do that, we think that will help their financial sustainability. But, we also agreed to continue to work with them, and if there were measures that we could put in place which would help and assist them, then we would do that. Our first clear message was, ‘Please reopen. Please provide that teaching in the classroom to students, because that’s what parents are looking for. That’s what we want you to be able to do. And, we think that will then help and support your business models.’ But, we said we would also look at other things that we could do to assist.

Karvelas: What sort of other things could you do to assist?

Tehan: For instance, there are payments which are made throughout the year. So, we could look, potentially, at bringing some of those payments forward to help with cash flow. There are regulatory things that we ask of Independent schools and the Catholic schools – so, the non-government sector – so, some of those things we could ease the regulatory burden on. There’s issues around census dates. These are all the things we said we would explore. Some of these issues we have to talk to states and territories about, and we’ve begun those discussions. So, we understand that these are difficult times for the non-government sector, and we said we would work with them. But, we also gave a very clear message that what we wanted to see was them reopened, and providing that classroom teaching to children.

Karvelas: Victorian Education Minister James Merlino has accused the principal of a private – I think it’s a private primary school in Melbourne’s inner north – of being reckless for planning to return to face-to-face learning next week. Do you agree with James Merlino?

Tehan: The principal at that primary school is following the advice of the national expert panel, and I think he’s made it very clear he’s looked at that advice, and it says that it’s safe for schools to be open. And, he’s also looked at what has been asked of schools – that they remain open for those parents who need their children to go to school, to provide the safety of learning there, if it can’t be done at home, or for those who need to work. So, I think he’s made a considered judgement to keep his school open, and I understand that about 50 per cent of the students who attend that school are attending.

Karvelas: So, what do you think of the state government minister calling him reckless?

Tehan: I think what he’s done is looked very closely at the medical advice of the medical expert panel, and I think he’s made a decision that what he needs to do is follow that, follow the science, follow the medical opinions. I think he’s looked and said, ‘What has that done for us when it comes to flattening the curve?’ Because, that’s what all governments have done, is followed that medical advice, and I think we’ve been successful at doing that. This is something that the Federal Government has been very consistent with right throughout this pandemic, is, the best way we get through this is follow that medical expert advice. And, that’s what he’s doing.

Karvelas: Minister, on child care. One child care operator has written to parents stating centres can’t operate at their pre-COVID-19 levels because of social distancing requirements. Are you worried about a shortage of places? There’s been reports of essential service workers not being able to get their children into child care.

Tehan: So, what we hope is those parents who need to get their children into child care, will be able to do so. What we’re hearing is, at the moment, the sector is probably running anywhere between 40 to 60 per cent. We’ve obviously funded it to operate at a much higher level than that. And, we did so to rescue the sector, to stop it collapsing, as parents withdrew their children. Now, parents are looking to re-engage. Our hope is that the sector does what we ask it to do, and, that is, provide the places and the hours for those essential service workers, to make sure they re-engage with those parents who were using those child care facilities, and also to make sure that they’re looking after vulnerable children. And, there is capacity in the system for them to be able to do that. And, we’ve just now set up a helpline, so that parents who aren’t able to access child care for their children, they can ring that helpline – which is available if they go to the Federal Department of Education website – so, that we will help them find a spot for their child.

Karvelas: What guarantees is there around that helpline? You’ve set up the helpline. How, is there a guarantee around how quickly you will deliver that spot for those parents?

Tehan: We can’t give an absolute guarantee. Obviously, it will depend on the location and the centres that are open, and what availability there is. But, we definitely want to work with the sector to make sure that as many parents are re-engaging again with the sector, and are getting the care that they need. That’s why we put the new package in place. And, we want to make sure that the sector is offering those places to parents. We need everyone doing their bit during this pandemic. It’s very much a Team Australia approach. And, we ask of the child care sector, the Government obviously stepped in, in what was a very difficult situation for you. Now, we’re asking for them to play their part as parents seek to re-engage with the sector.

Karvelas: Very briefly, Universities Australia has asked for access to zero interest loans. Will you give it to them?

Tehan: So, the university sector has been in discussions with state and territory governments around the issue of loans. We’re going to let those discussions continue. Obviously, we put a package together a couple of weeks ago. In particular, what we did was guarantee student loan for the universities. So, put a ballast into the sector. And, we’re watching with interest and waiting to hear how their discussions go, with state and territory governments, on the provision of loans.

Karvelas: Minister, thanks for coming on.

Tehan: Pleasure, Patricia.