The impact of extended school closures have been revealed as primary results were released for the 2021 NAPLAN tests. Students are suffering the most in the nation's most locked down states. Victoria lagged behind after spending almost 150 days learning from home. Joining me live now is Minister for Education and Youth Alan Tudge. How concerning are these numbers?
Well, overall, Laura, they’re actually very good numbers, because it's showing that the average NAPLAN results are just as they were in 2019. So, it is such positive news when we're expecting to have much more diminished results this year compared to then because of the lockdown.
What these results don't show, though, is where the outliers might be. They’re average results. And so, there may be some cohorts - and I'm particularly worried about some disadvantaged cohorts - who may have lost so much of their learning but are hidden by these average figures. So that's my main concern here. And, of course, the mental health impacts which don't get shown in these academic results.
So, how much worse do you think it would be, particularly in states like New South Wales who have now been in lockdown for nine weeks?
These tests were done in May, so it's obviously before the extended lockdown in New South Wales. The interesting result, though, is out of Victoria. Victoria actually still comes out on top of the scales in terms of overall results.
I think it's just such a relief for so many kids, for parents, for teachers, and really a credit to their work as well, that they've got through this largely unscathed as a whole. But it is those pockets of people who, will be hidden in amongst the data. I hear this all the time, that kids have completely switched off, kids who have completely disengaged from their learning, and I'm worried about those kids and how we can quickly get those kids back up to speed when the opportunity allows us to do so.
Does it perhaps show that parents have been pretty good at home learning, teachers better than we gave them credit for? Or does it show that perhaps they're not doing enough work of their own?
It’s a real credit to the parents. Absolutely. I'm from Melbourne, I've got kids at home, and I know that parents have been doing an enormous job in terms of getting their kids through schooling. Some kids, I know from speaking to parents, their kids have done better than they perhaps would have done academically because they've had more time dedicated to it, but there's other kids who will be really struggling. This only measures though, in terms of the NAPLAN tests, just in the core basics of mathematics and reading. Now, they’re critically important skills to get, but they don't cover the other subjects and critically they don't cover wellbeing and just how emotionally connected people are.
And that's where the real devastation is occurring, I think, particularly in Victoria, because we know the mental health stats of the presentations to Kids Helpline, to Headspace, to the Butterfly Foundation for eating disorders. That’s where those presentations are through the roof and is probably going to have some longer lasting consequences as well, and why it makes opening the schools so important, so that we can address those mental health issues along with the structured support that we're providing.
Minister, kids are desperate to get back to school in New South Wales and Victoria. Their parents are desperate for them to get back to school as well. They are not vaccinated. Why has ATAGI been so reactive? I mean, we could all see this coming. Shouldn't that body be proactive so we can get them vaccinated and get them back?
Well, ATAGI does its work independent of governments, of course. We've encouraged them very strongly; the Prime Minister has done that in the past. But a plan is being worked on in terms of getting the 12 to 16-year-olds vaccinated. That will be finalised hopefully at National Cabinet on Friday and then we’ll be able to get those kids vaccinated.
Of course, we want everyone vaccinated, Laura. The numbers are accelerating very rapidly now. And once we hit that 70 per cent figure and that 80 per cent figure, then society can be open again. And that includes the schools. And so, we've really got to get towards that 70 to 80 per cent figure now and then open up our society once more.