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Transcript of doorstop: Parliament House: Wednesday 10 March 2004: male teachers.

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DR BRENDAN NELSON Australian Government Minister for Education, Science and Training



Wednesday 10 March 2004 MIN 642/04

Brendan Nelson: Well Australia is facing a significant problem in relation to the education of boys. Our boys are falling behind where boys were, some 35 years ago, and they’re represented more than 2 to 1 in the bottom 25% for educational outcomes. Education isn’t just about transferring a thirst for learning and skills and knowledge, it's about nurturing and developing character in adults that go into the world. Our boys, and our girls, need both men and women in the classroom. It’s critically important that the Government undertake a range of initiatives, which we are doing, which include the Lighthouse Project, which has involved so far 230 schools throughout Australia. I’ll be announcing in the next few weeks, continuing funding for 30 clusters of schools that are best practice in relation to boys' education. We are currently changing the gender equity framework with the States, under which all education is being modelled. We are also examining, very closely, the way in which exams are structured for boys. Boys often know the answers to the exam questions, they just don’t understand the question which requires a complex level of operational literacy. One of the measures that is extremely important though, is that we amend the Sex Discrimination Act to allow common sense to apply. There’s far too much political correctness in this country, which is strangling common sense. Only 1 in 5 of the teachers in primary schools in Australia are men. Only 18% of those that are training to be primary school teachers are men.

It’s time that we realised we’ve got too many children in Australia that are going from birth to the end of primary school without having a male role model in their lives. And Mark Latham and I spend a lot of time in schools, reading to children, but for too many of those children it’s the first time they’ve actually had a man in the classroom reading a book to them.

Apart from us, as parents, the single most important person in the lives of our children, informing and influencing their development into adults, is teachers, and our boys and our girls need men and women in the classroom. And that’s why the Government is prepared, and is determined, to amend the Sex Discrimination Act, to make sure that scholarships can be offered by Catholic Schools, by Independent, by Government Schools, to attract more men to actually apply for teaching and if they’ve got sufficient marks to get in, then to get in and subsequently teach in our primary schools.

Question: Why has there been a drop off, is it just the money, they don’t think the pay’s good enough, or what?

Brendan Nelson: Well there are a number of reasons why men are not seeing teaching as an attractive

career. Firstly they often feel that they’re being undervalued, professionally. Society doesn’t place enough value on the status of teaching as a profession. Men are increasingly concerned that accusations about inappropriate behaviour in relation to children makes it a career that they don’t particularly want to be involved with. And we’re also in a vicious cycle, in that because there’s such a small number of men in primary school teaching is increasingly being seen to be a women’s kind of job and a lot of men find that quite difficult and the role models that they’re having, in fact we’re now producing a generation of men whose predominant role models have in fact been women in the classroom, instead of men. And it’s time that we realised that we’ve got to take significant action and that’s what we’re determined to do.

Question: Minister, the Democrats say that they want to see affirmative action in areas dominated by men, like engineering. Why is teaching different?

Brendan Nelson: The relationship between a teacher and a student is like no other relationship in professional life. Apart from us, as parents, the single most important consistent and ongoing role model in the lives of our children are teachers. We need both men and women in engineering, obviously, but we also need to understand that teaching is about building character, it’s about the development of well rounded human beings and we need, in the classroom, both men and women who bring to that particular task the strengths that are specific to each gender.

We will do a great disservice to our future if we produce a generation of men who have not ever had a significant male role model in their lives. It’s time that we challenged the stereotypes of masculinity that are being paraded to our boys on a daily basis, and move them simply beyond sporting and musical icons. Teaching is a critically important profession and we need both men and women in the classroom. It is quite different from any other profession.

Question: There’s been criticism already from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the Labor Party says it’s a radical step that goes too far.

Brendan Nelson: I think most of us have had an absolute gutful of people that are trying to frustrate the application of common sense. All of us as parents, no matter where we live, whatever our politics, we want to see that our children are being taught by men and women. The problem we’ve got in Australia at the moment, there are many problems that we’ve got with our boys. But our sons, at the moment, represent 80% of children involved in school disciplinary programs, almost 100% of those that are being expelled. They are three times more likely to be involved in a car accident, more likely to be involved in assault and drug related incidents, and they’re five times more likely to take their own lives. This Government is not prepared to spend the next 10 years hand wringing whilst people are concerned, quite rightly, about getting more men into the classroom and not be prepared to undertake a suite of measures of which amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act is one.

Question: But isn’t it a risky precedent?

Brendan Nelson: The greatest risk that we can take is to do absolutely nothing, or to simply have an

incomplete suite of measures in relation to the education of boys. In the end it makes plain common sense for the Catholic Education Commission, or State Governments, to be able to offer scholarships to men who might otherwise chose to go into engineering or science, who might then, on that basis, apply for education and then spend five to ten years teaching in a primary school. We will do a great disservice to our future if we produce a generation of young men who are disengaged, disillusioned, disenfranchised, and have gone from birth to primary school without ever having a man in their lives.

Question: (inaudible) argue this morning to discriminatory practices, which this is going to be, why not just apply better pay scales, why not give everybody more pay, make it a more attractive profession?

Brendan Nelson: In order to get more men into teaching there are a range of measures that need to be undertaken and this Government is already implementing a range of those things. In addition to that employing authorities with teachers need to look at performance based pay, but what we’ve got at the moment is discrimination against common sense. It is common sense to say, if only 20% of primary school teachers are men, if 250 primary schools in the State of New South Wales, public schools, haven’t got a single man in them, it stands to reason that we ought to be able to say well if you want to offer scholarships to attract more men to teaching, who are then accepted on a merit basis into the course, who then might actually teach our sons and our daughters, well then that’s common sense, and if people are offended by that well obviously we make no apology for it.

Question: (inaudible) problem is that people, boys don’t see the job as a valuable job anyway and they’re concerned about the relationship between male teachers and students, offering scholarships is not going to change that?

Brendan Nelson: Firstly, the Catholic Education Commission itself has recognised that offering scholarships is likely to attract more men into teaching. And we’ve also been doing some

research with Year 11 and 12 students, which is not yet complete, but one of the things that is put to them is that if a scholarship is offered, it stands to reason, that they are more likely, for example, to apply for teacher education than they might be for another course. What’s important here, of course, also, is that Mark Latham, who has been speaking about the so called crisis of masculinity is now not prepared to undertake what is a perfectly reasonable measure to try and get more men in front of our sons and daughters in primary school. This is plain common sense and the only thing that’s being discriminated against at the moment is the future of our boys, and also the application of common sense in relation to education policy.