05 December 2019




SUBJECTS: Australias reading, maths, and science scores plummet; Labors policy announcements.

LAURA JAYES, PRESENTER: The decline in the performance of our students was the front page of almost every newspaper yesterday. It is concerning when it comes to maths, science and literacy. Joining me now is the Shadow Education Minister, Tanya Plibersek. Thank you for your time. What do you put this decline down to?

TANYA PLIBERSEK, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING: Well, it's never one thing, is it? Theres a few things that we need to look at. The first is, we need to make sure our students are getting the basics under their belt very early in their education. One of the reasons that we did needs-based funding in the way that we did - giving principals the ability choose where the funding went in their school was to give them the freedom to do things like get specialists literacy teachers in to work with the kindy, year 1, year 2, year 3 kids, just to make sure that they get the basics right first. The second thing we need to look at is what's happening with teaching. High-performing countries around the world generally take their teachers from the top 30 per cent of academic achievers in their community and we have seen a continued slide in Australia in the marks that you need to get into a teaching degree. What I'd really like to see is people competing to get into teaching, the same way that they are competing to get into medicine, so that we are attracting and retaining the best and brightest in our classrooms. And thirdly, of course it's got something to do with funding, you know, parents this weekend will be out doing cake stalls and sausage sizzles, raising money for their schools because they know that resourcing counts. The single most important thing we can do, though, is continue to invest in our teachers and that means not just attracting the best and brightest into teaching courses, it means giving the teachers, who are there, time for continuing professional development, mentoring, working with highly experienced teachers - keeping those teachers in the classroom instead of seeing them go off into education bureaucracy or other jobs. And part of that is making sure.. I mean we saw reports today of kids behaving badly in classrooms. One of the things we need to do is restore the status of teaching in our community so that if kids are playing up and teachers call them to order, we don't have parents on the phone two minutes later saying 'What are you doing to my little darling whos getting in trouble?' We need to back our teachers as a community as well.

JAYES: How do you do that? Why aren't teachers being backed? Is there a problem about the strength of the union in that sector or is it just 2019 where parents are given more power?

PLIBERSEK: Yeah, I heard the Minister complaining about the teachers' union the other day - I just think that's ridiculous. I mean, who is your typical teachers' union member? A woman my age who has been teaching for a couple of decades. They've got every right to demand good pay and conditions for themselves but what I have seen from the teachers' unions over the years is a fight to give kids the best possible quality education. So I think it is a bit reflexive for the Liberals to go straight to blaming the unions for any problem they see in our community. I think there's two things Laura. I think a lot of people who are coming out of those teaching degrees at universities tell me that they don't feel that they ve got a lot of tools for dealing with kids who are playing up in the classroom, so our teaching degrees have to teach teachers better and that means, I think, more practical time in the classroom before graduation. And it means more specific focus on the sort of techniques you use to pull kids into line. And it means more focus on teaching kids with differing abilities in the same classroom. But it also is about what we do as a community, right? Years ago, if you were living in a small town, who was it, it was the doctor, the bank manager, the school principal or teacher...

JAYES: Well, bank manager is definitely out!

PLIBERSEK: Well, these were the most prestigious jobs and as we continue to see a slide in the marks you need to get into teaching courses, you've now got teachers themselves and parents saying to kids "Don't waste your marks on studying teaching". That actually breaks my heart. I mean, this is one of the most important jobs in our community and we need to treat it, as a community, we need to treat it as one of the most important jobs we can do.

JAYES: We are running out of time, but we've got to talk about funding. I wouldn't want to be Jim Chalmers negotiating with you about what Labor does and doesn't spend on school funding into the future. Now I know there is a Review, Tanya Plibersek, but did find it notable yesterday, in your release in response to these figures, you didn't say anything about funding. Is it still Labor's commitment to spend $17 billion dollars more than the Coalition on schools?

PLIBERSEK: Well, our leader Anthony Albanese has made very clear: we are not going to be making any policy announcements for some time to come. We're more than 2 years away from the next election. We will be reviewing all of our policies.

JAYES: Is this still an article of faith for the Labor Party though?

PLIBERSEK: Well, investing in education will always be an article of faith for the Labor Party. We will always do better on education than the Liberals because we see it as an investment, not as a cost. It's an investment in individual children...

JAYES: So, you will always spend more is what you're saying...

PLIBERSEK: Well, we will always do better.

JAYES: But reality has set in perhaps and you need to review how much and it might be less?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we are reviewing all of our policies and that includes the big revenue-raising policies, as you know. But, I'll tell you this Laura, we have always been the party of education because its the biggest change we can make to the lives of individual young Australians but it is also so necessary for the productivity of our country. We cannot be a productive, first world country if we are not investing in education. And those figures that we saw yesterday, that took us from around the top of the world in reading, maths and science to just barely cracking the middle of the pack are really concerning. But what's worse is we've extrapolated those figures - if we continue on this slide, by 2030 we'll be amongst the bottom of the developed countries. So, taking maths for an example, we'll go from the fifth best in the OECD to the fifth worst in the OECD, by 2030 if we continue on this path. That is not acceptable. It is not acceptable for our kids and it is not acceptable for the economy.

JAYES: Forgive me, because for the last six years you have been promising to spend more than $17 billion dollars more than the alternative and that is the Coalition Government. Now, our education standards according to this report and others, are getting worse, but Labor is considering spending less?

PLIBERSEK: Well Laura, as I've said, we're not making any announcements about spending for some time and that's across every portfolio - across every policy and every portfolio. So, I'd love to help you out - Id love to make you a commitment this morning.

JAYES: That must be uncomfortable for you though. Is that uncomfortable for you though given your commitment in this area?

PLIBERSEK: No. I can tell you I'm certain that we will do better than the Liberals on education every time because we see it as an investment and I have to say funding is a vital part of this, particularly for the most disadvantaged schools, the most disadvantaged communities. But it will take more than just funding too. It will take us lifting our standards, making sure that we are using the evidence of what works in the classroom to teach our kids, making best practice in the best classrooms common practice in all our classrooms.

JAYES: We never have enough time! We could talk about COAG, mobile phones in classrooms and student discipline, the list goes on. We will have to do it another time. Thank you.

PLIBERSEK: Look forward to it.