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Minister for Education Dan Tehan interview with Zoe Daniel, ABC RN Drive

Ministers:

The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Education

SUBJECTS: Coronavirus and schools, Year 12 students, Universities

Zoe Daniel: Dan Tehan is the Federal Education Minister. Welcome to RN Drive, Minister, on a busy day.

Dan Tehan: Pleasure to be with you Zoe.

Daniel: Now, the Government is threatening to suspend funding to Independent schools that refuse to open next term. Why did you feel the need to issue that sort of edict?

Tehan: Well, we want to make sure that parents don’t have to choose between going to work, or staying at home to supervise their children while they do online learning. We don’t want vulnerable children left at home, when they should be at school getting the supervision that they need so they can continue their education. The coronavirus has taken a lot from us, but we don’t want it to take our children’s education. And, the Government has been very firm on this the whole way through. And, we will continue to be so, because it’s just so important for this generation of children that they get the education that they need for this year, while we’re dealing with the pandemic.

Daniel: That said, are you happy for schools to deliver remote learning for most of their students who can learn that way, and just keep their doors open for those who need it?

Tehan: Yeah, we want, if they’ve moved to distance learning or remote learning or online learning, we want them to be able to provide an area, a classroom, a space, where children, who can’t be supervised safely at home, can go and do that learning. We’re happy if the offering is consistent, so that if there’s online offering at home, they can do an online offering in the classroom at school. But, we want all years at school to be able to, for those children, to be able to go to school if they can’t get supervised safely at home, and to be able to learn there in the safety of the school environment.

Daniel: Well, the Independent Schools Association supports your position. But, were many schools actually refusing to reopen?

Tehan: There were some schools that weren’t offering that to, that choice to parents. And, so, we wanted to make sure that parents weren’t going to have to look around for other arrangements, or, potentially, get other people in to supervise their children while they had to go to work. Or, in the case of vulnerable children, that parents could make sure that their children could go to school and learn safely in the classroom.

Daniel: I guess there’s a question about why some of those schools didn’t plan to reopen. There have been concerns raised about the safety of teachers, for example.

Tehan: That’s right. But, the medical experts’ panel – which the Government has listened to right through this pandemic and will continue to take the advice of – has made it clear that it’s safe for children to be at school, and, also, it’s safe for our schools to be open. And, it is a safe environment, within certain practices, for our teachers to be there, either teaching or supervising children.

Daniel: Now, you’ve made it clear that Year 12 students will be able to graduate this year. But, states and territories will redesign their final assessment processes. That’s going to be pretty messy, isn’t it?

Tehan: Look, they’ll take the advice of the relevant curriculum and assessment authorities in each state and territory, and we’ve asked, as best we can, that we get a nationally consistent approach when it comes to ATAR rankings across the nation. So, education ministers have been meeting regularly during this pandemic, and, I must say, the level of cooperation amongst all education ministers has been terrific. Everyone is putting the national interest first. Now, they’ll, obviously, have to look at how the pandemic is spreading within their jurisdiction, and make choices as a result of that. But, there is absolutely a desire to, as far as possible, have a nationally consistent approach when it comes to ATAR rankings this year.

Daniel: Minister, I’d like you to hear something. Yesterday we spoke to Karsten Duval, who’s the school captain at Dalby State High School in Queensland. Here’s a bit of what he said.

[Excerpt]

Karsten Duval: I am actively worrying about it. I know a lot of my peers are too. It’s affecting our mental health, especially. Nobody’s quite sleeping right. It’s tough to manage, for all of us. There’s already a huge gap between resources available for us as rural students, compared to those as urban students, and everything’s just piling up. It’s making it very, very difficult for us to complete our work.

[End of excerpt]

Daniel: Just a small clip from a long interview in which a young man, who is the school captain, sounded very strained. What do you say to these Year 12 students who are feeling so completely overwhelmed?

Tehan: Hang in there. All education ministers are thinking of you. We want to work with you, as all governments do, to make sure you can get through this year. We know that your year is being turned on its head as a result of the coronavirus. But, we want to be there to support you, whether it be through helping you with your welfare, or helping you with your results. And, can I say to all those rural students, in particular, as an MP who represents a rural electorate, we all understand that the digital divide is greater as soon as you get out into rural and regional areas, and that will be something that will be taken into consideration when it comes to final ATAR rankings. Education ministers were very clear on that – that we’ve got to make sure that there is equity in the way the rankings are done, dependent on the opportunities that students have had to learn when they’re doing online learning.

Daniel: Yeah. There are some fundamental issues that could leave rural students at a distinct disadvantage. But, I also wonder whether the type of learning in rural and regional schools can be a little different. Sometimes they’re a little smaller, perhaps there’s more face-to-face or practical learning, perhaps the relationships with teachers are stronger there

for those kids who are, perhaps, out on rural properties and the like, might be feeling even more isolated than everyone else.

Tehan: Absolutely. I’m sure that that is a real possibility, as someone who grew up on a farm myself. But, I’m sure parents are there offering the type of support that’s needed, and principals and teachers are reaching out, as well. It is going to be difficult and it is going to be hard. And, you know, when you’re in a high-pressure year like Year 12 is, to have an event like this coronavirus pandemic hit and just throw everything upside down is incredibly troubling. But, the support is there, and the will and the desire is there, to want to help our Year 12s. And, that’s why we came out very clearly on Monday stating there will be no Year 13. There’ll be no mass repeating. We want to get this Year 12 cohort through. We want them learning, and, so, that they can go to university, go to vocational education, or go into the employment market next year.

Daniel: Now, the ANU says it will accept Year 11 results to help determine eligibility. What do you make of that?

Tehan: Look, this is an approach that the ANU have been taking for some years now –looking at a Year 11 assessment, and then looking at that and measuring it against the Year 12 assessment. Now, the fact that they’ve decided that they’re going to use Year 11, I think, is good for the way they go about assessing who they’ll admit into university, and who they won’t. All the discussions that I’ve had with the universities, they intend to be very flexible. They understand the difficulties that Year 12s are facing this year, and they want to ensure that those offerings are there for them next year, for all those students who want to go on to university.

Daniel: Yeah. I mean, it’s a reasonable idea, but it’s yet another imperfect solution, isn’t it? In that your Year 11 results maybe weren’t as good as you wanted them to be, you were kind of pacing yourself for Year 12, perhaps you were saving your best subjects for your final year. There’s all those variables.

Tehan: There is, Zoe. You’re absolutely right. One of the things I’m sure ANU will do, they’ll admit based on Year 11, but often they will also then look at what the Year 12 outcomes were, as well, and they’ll usually, there will be second round offerings. There’ll be other ways that they’ll look to make sure they can accommodate those students who might have decided that Year 11 was a time to just enjoy the breadth that school offers, and then Year 12 was the time to really knuckle down and study. But, I’m sure that they would have taken that into their thinking, as other universities will, when they look as to how they’re going to admit students.

Daniel: Now, I want to move onto tertiary funding. But, just quickly, are you concerned that you might end up with mass repeats, during other transition periods? Let’s say I have a child in prep, and I just think, ‘Well, you know what, let’s just forget this year. Let’s just do prep next year.’ Or, my child’s in Grade 6, and I decide the child might repeat because they’re going to be behind going into Grade 7. Are we going to end up with massive classes next year, because parents decide to rejig their child’s education?

Tehan: Well, our hope, and what we’re working towards, is to make sure that every student, no matter what grade they’re in at the moment, will get the education, get the knowledge that they need, get the learning they need, to be able to progress up to the next year. That’s what we’re all aiming to achieve. We don’t want to see mass repeating. We don’t want to see a Year 13. We want to get all students getting the knowledge, and getting that knowledge basis that they need this year, so they can move up to next year.

Daniel: Okay. So, on tertiary funding, lots of concerns about universities and their profitability. They’ve asked you to maintain current funding levels for domestic students. Is that something you’re going to do?

Tehan: Look, I had a very good discussion again with the UA Board today. We continue to have discussions. I want to clearly understand what their priorities are, and how we can assist and help them, especially when it comes to domestic students. We want to ensure that if the domestic student load grows this year, towards the end of this year into next year, that we’ve got an ability to be able to deal with that. I thank the sector for the very constructive way that they’ve engaged with the Government, and I’ll have more to say on this in the coming days.

Daniel: University mergers, for example, or courses merging. Are they options?

Tehan: Well, look, what we’re hoping to do as a Government is to make sure that we’re getting a ballast in there for our higher education sector, so that we’ll support them through the next six months. That’s what we’re aiming to. There is, as I understand it, also very constructive discussions going on between the university sector and the National Tertiary Education Union, because that’s also going to be important, that the universities can get some flexibility through the next six months. So, there’s a lot going on to make sure that we can get our universities through the next six months, and, so, they can help and play a key role in educating our children, who will be the future of this nation and who will be the future in helping us to rebuild strongly after the impact of the coronavirus.

Daniel: Minister, enjoy your Easter. Thanks for your time.

Tehan: Thanks Zoe.

Daniel: Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan, and you’re listening to RN Drive.