ANDREW BOLT: Now one of the most astonishing things about education in this country is that the more we've spent, the worse results we've got. Huge increases under Labor, including free laptops. And remember all those free school halls? More increases under the Liberals. But our performance over the last 20 years has fallen compared to, say, Singapore, China, and Shanghai. Today, Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge became the latest Education Minister to promise to fix this. Get us back to the top of the international ratings by 2030. Well, I’m not sure that’s going to happen, but I was joined a short while ago by Alan Tudge.
Alan Tudge, thank you so much indeed for your time. More spending, worse results. Where did we go wrong?
ALAN TUDGE: I don't think there's any one thing, Andrew, which we can point to, to say why our standards have declined over the last 20 years. But I think there's a few factors. I think that within the teacher education colleges, we haven't always been training our teachers with the best available evidence. I think that the curriculum has become way too cluttered and maybe taken our eye off the ball on the reading, and the mathematics, and the science, and those core subject areas. And I certainly know in recent years, we've really struggled to get some subject matter expertise into the classrooms, particularly mathematics teachers, where we know we've got a big weakness. And it's in maths where we've seen the biggest decline in our standards over the last two decades.
ANDREW BOLT: That's really a worry. Can I tell you something? I mean the curriculum being too crowded with other stuff, sometimes peripheral stuff. I mean, the political pressures, though, always are on the Governments, aren't they? I mean, right now there's a petition signed by thousands of school girls calling for better and earlier sexual consent education in schools. Is that really what we need, more lessons on consent rather than on maths?
ALAN TUDGE: Well, I think we can do both. But you're right about that general principle, is that whenever we have a societal problem, Andrew, we tend to look to our schools as being the solution to address those societal problems. And this is one of them where I think we can do better, though, in relation to teaching of sex education and consent. But we do need to ensure that we have sufficient time to teach the basics, to teach kids how to read properly, to teach kids how to do the mathematics and the science and also in terms of the civics and citizenship, which is so important as well where we know our results have been failing.
ANDREW BOLT: Yeah, but you see, I really put a finger on one that, you know, it's very hard for a politician to say: no, that's for parents, or that's for communities. That’s how it gets clogged up.
ALAN TUDGE: That's true, Andrew. But I think in this particular one, where you’re talking about sex education, it's always been, for as long as I can recall, part of the school curriculum. Yes, it is primarily the responsibility of parents, but it has always been part of the school curriculum. And I think we can do better in relation to the teaching of consent laws, for example, in the schools. And we're going to have some more materials come out at the federal level over the next few weeks in relation to that. I think the broader principle, though, is that whenever there is a social issue which arises, we tend to look perhaps too much to the schools to try to solve those social issues which that then leads to an overcrowding of the curriculum, and perhaps insufficient time to learn those basic skills.
ANDREW BOLT: Can I talk to about another political pressure that's always been on Governments - To show you care by hiring more and more teachers and having smaller and smaller class sizes, which in principle sounds good, but the problem is teacher quality. The more teachers you need to hire, obviously the entry level to get more and more has to go down. And we've seen very, very low entry scores required by universities of teaching teachers. So is that one of the problems? Going for smaller class sizes, we have actually had to hire people that wouldn't be your first choice as a teacher.
ALAN TUDGE: Yeah well, a couple of points on that, Andrew. Firstly, you're right, there has been a big emphasis on shrinking the class sizes over the last couple of decades and the evidence does not suggest that makes a difference in relation to student outcomes, but it is very expensive, because obviously the teacher costs are your major costs of running a school. But secondly, it does mean you need a lot more teachers. And so it becomes less competitive, if you like. I have been concerned in the past about the very low ATAR scores to get into some teacher education courses; not all of them, but some. What we've done to, in part, ameliorate that is actually introduce a literacy numeracy test as part of the teacher education degree. So, a student must pass that in year three of a four year degree, say, in order to be able to graduate. And that gives us some surety that at least they’ve mastered the basics there.
ANDREW BOLT: Now, you've said you wanted a less crowded curriculum. You want also experts in subject areas like maths to be able to teach maths while having a shorter period at university to qualify as a teacher, maybe one year. What else would you like? What's the next big hope that you've got to actually make a difference?
ALAN TUDGE: Well, we're reviewing the national curriculum as we speak. Now, one of the objectives will be to declutter that curriculum. But I want to see us benchmark our curriculum standards with the best in the world. I would like to see and you did mention this, and this is important, though – faster mechanisms for mid-career people to be able to come into teaching, because you'll have some brilliant people out there, Andrew, particularly who have got maths backgrounds – they might be engineers, they might be accountants, or other such professions – who may want to make a bigger contribution to society by becoming a teacher. But at the moment, you've got a minimum two-year degree to go through before you can enter the classroom. It used to only be a nine-month course, 20 years ago. Why does it have to be a minimum two years now? And it becomes such an impediment for a mid-career person.
ANDREW BOLT: That's a no brainer. Alan Tudge, thank you so much, indeed, for your time.
ALAN TUDGE: Absolute pleasure. Thanks, Andrew.