Education minister backs classroom phone ban
NEW federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has backed schools that want to ban "distracting" mobile phones from the classroom while declaring he is determined to fix the Catholic school funding debacle with a brand-new deal "within weeks".
And in his first act in the job, Mr Tehan will prioritise a Gonski recommendation to give every student across the country an identification number that will have their academic performance attached to it, to track their progress and stop children from falling behind.
This will be top of the agenda at today's Education Council meeting with state education ministers.
"We're making it a priority at today's meeting, which shows how serious we are about making sure we're doing everything we can to monitor results or to continue to monitor results and be able to follow how students are performing during their schooling," he said.
"It gives you an ability to measure how students are performing across the board, and their progress in a 12-month period, and (helps us) understand whether we're getting the bang for our buck for all students when it comes to how our schools are performing."
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Mr Tehan also stated his support for schools that want to stop children from using mobile phones during class, saying practical measures like collecting the devices before class would be "very sensible".
"There is no doubt that phones can be distracting," he said.
"What we need is for teachers to understand whether mobile phones are preventing people from learning or not and if it is the idea that they all be put in a basket at the start of class and picked up at the end of class, if that's what teachers think will lead to better outcomes, then I'd be happy to back teachers on that."
But Mr Tehan's top priority is fixing the politically problematic funding deal, particularly negotiating an agreement with the Catholic sector.
He said a new funding deal is likely "within weeks", indicating it will link funding to parents' income rather than the geographic area of a school and that he will stop Catholic schools from having to hike their fees.
"The concerns that have been put to me is that if there aren't certain steps taken, that choice (about where to send your children to school) could be put in jeopardy and that's what I'm seeking to address," Mr Tehan said.
"This is obviously my first priority. I understand the need for schools to be able to plan for next year so my hope is that this would be a matter of weeks and that's the time frame I'm still working towards."
After consulting his predecessor Simon Birmingham, Mr Tehan said he was bringing "my own approach to try to resolve the issue".
"I also bring to the portfolio my own personal experience from representing a rural electorate and from someone who went to a Catholic primary school, a state high school and then a Catholic boarding school," he said.
"I picked up the phone the day I was asked (to do the job) by the Prime Minister and I haven't stopped."
He said of the new funding deal: "It's a matter of making sure the fundamental underlying issues that the Catholic education sector and the independent sector have are fully understood and making sure they are a key part of our education sector."
During negotiations with the Catholic sector, Mr Tehan has drawn on the advice of his former teacher Paul Henderson from Xavier College in Melbourne.
Mr Henderson taught the young Tehan politics during his final year of high school, tutored him and also was his football coach.
"He was a very big influence on me growing a love of politics. It's wonderful to still catch up with him. He was a great mentor and to me just shows how important the role teachers are in the school system," Mr Tehan said.
Mr Tehan said Mr Henderson's advice for resolving the funding agreement is "be yourself, bring your own experiences to it and make sure you can learn as much as you can".
Sharing the load
At today's meeting with the states, Mr Tehan will issue a stern warning that the federal government will no longer increase education funding if the states cut their own funding by the same measure.
"I'm going to call out state and territory governments where they are not lifting their funding commensurate with how the Commonwealth is lifting theirs. I'm not going to tolerate any excuses," he said.
"I am not going to allow state or territory governments to cost-shift onto the Commonwealth."
Public school Year 7 student Emerie, 12, said she thought phones often helped kids in class.
"Our teacher tells us to use our phones for activities: looking up things, writing documents or posting something to Google classroom so the teacher can mark work. Most of the time you see children working and they aren't focused on the phone that much."
But Aaron, 13, attends a private high school where the rules are tighter.
"At the beginning of the day you put your phone in your locker," he said. "I prefer actually talking to my friends and I don't feel the need to take pictures everywhere."
- additional reporting Sam McBeath