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The Federal Government is concerned over the quality of teaching in schools and the low morale of many in the profession.

PAUL MURPHY: Half-baked Hewson, was how the Education Minister, John Dawkins, derided the Opposition Leader in Federal Parliament today. Mr Dawkins' attack was prompted by an Opposition suggestion that a future coalition government may consider revamping the current system of education funding by introducing individual voucher funding. A similar scheme has been floated in relation to health funding. The latest Opposition proposals coincide with the launch of a national project designed to address the crisis in Australia's teaching profession. In launching the project, Mr Dawkins has admitted that, and I quote, `teacher morale is distressingly low and teaching is becoming a profession which one enters as a last resort, and leaves at the earliest opportunity'. The national project has set itself a three year task to examine the reform of teacher career paths, the prime objective being to find ways to reintroduce quality into teaching. Well, late this afternoon, Maxine McKew asked John Dawkins how he thought talented school leavers might be encouraged to take up teaching.

JOHN DAWKINS: Yes, well that's the problem that we are trying to deal with and I think it's .. I mean, you can't run away from the fact that the kids with the lowest scores, coming out of secondary school, are the ones who tend to go into the teacher training courses within the universities. Now, that's what we've got to turn around and these fashions do change quite quickly. I think what happened during the course of last year, the improvement in teacher salaries, the adoption of a national benchmark for teachers, also the creation of the advanced schools teacher, means that there is now a much better career development prospect for people entering the teaching profession, than there was before; and I think therefore, that teaching will become once again, more popular. The other thing I think which is helpful in a kind of back to front sort of way is that a lot of the glamour areas of education, leading to business studies and accountancy and all those kinds of things, have perhaps had some of the shine taken off them in recent times because of what's happened in corporate Australia.

MAXINE McKEW: What's your view of those schools that are beginning to offer above award wages, in exchange for teachers working more flexible hours?

JOHN DAWKINS: Well look, these are all the kinds of things which can come from award restructuring. Award restructuring is to try and break out of the straightjacket which many award conditions had become, and to devolve much more of the management to the individual school, in this case. And one of the early topics for this project is going to be school organisation, and how you can have schools better managed, to deal with the local circumstances, not only of the community - parents and the kids - but also to suit the circumstances of the teachers themselves. I mean, in the end, you will never have good learning unless you have got good teachers, satisfied teachers, teachers able to do their job.

MAXINE McKEW: Well, how far are you prepared to go because the Opposition is after all, arguing that you have in part, induced this crisis, because of bureaucratic control and because of centralised industrial system.

JOHN DAWKINS: Is that what they are saying? Well, you know, I mean they say a different thing every day and it becomes more and more absurd. What we are in fact doing is devolving the industrial relations system. It's true it has been over-centralised but we are now devolving that across the board. This is the first time that we have had the teachers and their employers, from government and non-government systems, from all around Australia, sitting down to address these kinds of questions. Of course, the Opposition has a kind of maniac obsession with trying to destroy everything in their sight. They have decided to model themselves on the terrible experiences in Britain, and of course, the British system is now despised by the British system more than it ever has been in the past, and yet that is the model which they are choosing. What we are choosing is to try and build on the very great strengths of our school system and try and make it even better, without recourse to the kind of damage which they would try and inflict on the school system.

MAXINE McKEW: The Opposition is now talking of a voucher system, and you of course disparaged that today, in the House - why?

JOHN DAWKINS: Well, I mean, the major kind of effrontery of this proposal is that it is just thrown off the top of a head, without any thought. They are totally incapable of answering any questions about what a voucher system would mean, so I am entitled to speculate about what it might mean, from the point of view of the Commonwealth. In the first place, it must mean that fees will have to be introduced for government schools, where 75 percent of the kids now go, essentially without paying fees, a free system, so the States would have to introduce fees in order to collect the voucher which would be paid to those parents. But for what purpose? There is no kind of discernible advancement in terms of quality improvement to come from this area, and then if you look at the non-government sector, you would find that where most of the kids are in the non-government system, is in the Catholic schools. The Catholic schools would have to put up their fees by $1,800 a year in the secondary area, $1,200 a year in the primary sector, in order to compensate for the fact that the grants which we now give them, would be taken away. And then, would the voucher they get, be sufficient - the parents get - be sufficient to make up for that increased fee that they would then have to pay? It's a bonkers idea; it's been thought about around the world. Obviously it hasn't been thought about by the Leader of the Opposition. I think he thought he was being clever but in fact, he was just again demonstrating that he is only half-baked - half-baked Hewson.

PAUL MURPHY: The Federal Education Minister, John Dawkins.