SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, CPSU
Tom Elliott: Now, two days ago the State Government announced that Victorian students will begin all their term two learning from home. On top of this, a lot of private schools, not only Carey, Melbourne Grammar, MLC, Geelong College, just to name a few, have also declared that yes, term two will be at home learning. Our next guest says no, schools must open their gates, their doors, their windows, whatever it is, for the start of term two, which is Wednesday next week. It’s only six days away. We’re now joined by the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan. Mr Tehan, good afternoon.
Dan Tehan: Afternoon Tom. How are you?
Elliott: Well, I’m good. So, leaving the state schools to one side, quite a lot of private schools have said term two will start off home learning. What’s your response to that?
Tehan: So, we understand if they want to be offering home learning to parents. But, what we also want all schools to be doing is offering a classroom environment, where those students whose parents are working, or it might be because the child is safer learning in the classroom, that those schools are open and offering that for those children.
Elliott: Right. So, what you’re saying is, the private schools have to offer both? If parents don’t feel comfortable sending their kids to school, then, yes, have a home learning program online. But, for those parents who are comfortable or who have no choice, the school has to open its doors?
Tehan: That’s right. And, we don’t, we understand if they want to offer a similar learning environment. So, it’s like, it’s at home learning, but it’s done supervised in the classroom. So, there’s not two different types of learning that needs to be offered. But, we want to ensure that those questions – when it comes to parents having to choose between going to work or staying at home to look after their children, so that they can get the learning and the education that they need – that that choice does not occur. We want parents to be able to choose that they know that they can go, their child can go to school, and learn safely in the school classroom.
Elliott: Righto. Now, let’s say an Independent school says, ‘No, we’re keeping all of our doors shut. There’ll be no students allowed in.’ What will you do to that school?
Tehan: Well, we’ve made it a condition of their funding requirements. So, the expectation is – like it is for Catholic schools, like it is for government schools – that there is that ability for parents to have that choice, when it comes to their children being able to go to the school and to get that learning in the classroom.
Elliott: So, do state schools have to do the same thing? Do they have to allow home learning, but also allow students through the door, if those students parents’ have no other choice?
Tehan: So, there’s been a commitment from every state and territory government that was made at Education Council on Monday that, yes, they will provide that supervised learning environment for children at school, for those parents who need it.
Elliott: This is difficult for parents. I mean, I’m a parent of a girl in Grade 5 and, you know, we don’t know whether to send her to school next week or not, assuming the school offers us the option. I mean, what should we do?
Tehan: Well, ultimately, the choice will be up to you, Tom. And, that’s why we want to make sure that you’ve got that choice. But, the medical expert panel – which is made up of the state and territory and the Commonwealth medical experts – clearly say that it’s safe to send your children to school. So, we want to make sure parents have that choice.
Elliott: And, are you getting any pushback from the Independent schools? I mean, I listed four that I know of in Melbourne – Carey, Melbourne Grammar, MLC and Geelong College – all of whom have said we are going to go to home learning next week. Have you had any pushback from those schools, on this request, that they keep the doors open?
Tehan: Look, we’ve been in discussions for the last few weeks about the importance of ensuring that that option is there for parents. They understand why the Government wants that, because it’s so important that those essential workers – and the Prime Minister has defined that as anyone who’s working to help us through this pandemic – and, especially those vulnerable children who need the safety of the classroom at school, that they need to be catered for. And, so, we’ll continue to have discussions with them, to ensure that that choice is there for parents.
Elliott: Right. Now, just while I’ve got you, I don’t know if you’ve seen this media release from the CPSU – which represents all the hardworking public servants up in Canberra – but they’re demanding a pay rise over the next six months. They say they’re not happy that you’re freezing their pay, you being the Government. I reckon it’s one of the dumbest press releases I’ve ever said, ever seen. You know, when people are losing their jobs left right and centre, when businesses are going under, here are the public servants up in Canberra demanding a pay rise. You’re a frontbench Minister. What do you think?
Tehan: I agree exactly with the sentiment that you’ve just expressed, Tom.
Elliott: Dan Tehan, we’ll leave it there. Thank you so much for your time.
Tehan: Cheers. Bye.
Elliott: Dan Tehan, Federal Education Minister.