What is the tension between Jason Clare and Tony Burke?

By Daniel X. Harris

Dan Harris has given two keynotes at national education gatherings this year. This post is based on those keynotes and addresses a gap in education policy research the tension between arts and education.

Education in conflict with cultural portfolio?

There is an urgent tension playing out between two national government portfolios, one which is creating confusion and regressive decision-making in Australian education. Federal Education Minister Jason Clare’s response to emergency-level teacher shortages and an inability to retain the ones we have is characterised by what is known as the TEEP Report, “Strong Beginnings”, which advocates for direct instruction of literacy and numeracy in all teacher training and schools, and increasingly a turn away from embodied, experiential and 21st skills like collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. Arts Minister Tony Burke’s National Cultural Policy, ‘Revive’, however, mentions education 37 times, linking arts and education as core to the recovery of a post-COVID vibrant cultural landscape.

National Education review

Last July, the Strong Beginnings: Report of the Teacher Education Expert Panel, otherwise known as (TEEP), set out 14 recommendations to revamp Initial Teacher Education in Australia’s universities. The recommendations were emphasised across four domains – a) strengthening ITE programs to deliver confident, effective beginning teachers; b) strengthening the link between performance and funding of ITE programs; c) improving the quality of practical experiences in teaching; d) and improving access to postgraduate ITE for mid-career entrants.  Creativity nor the arts are mentioned even ONE TIME in its entire 128 pages. Wellbeing is mentioned just once, and only in relation to students. Education experts pushed back: “The loss of agility and likelihood of sameness is thus concerning, cookie cutter education programs seem to be the antithesis of what we need to ensure we attract and graduate a diverse teacher workforce,” wrote Griffith University’s Professor Donna Pendergast. 

Despite an embedded ‘Critical and Creative Thinking’ General Capability (CCT) in the Australian Curriculum, and participation in the global PISA Creative Thinking test, our government responds to burnout in the teaching workforce, declining teacher retention, and increasing student disengagement, by ignoring the evidence-based research and pushing a one-size fits all approach to teacher training. To suggest that spelling and adding up are the most important skills our students need for 21st century success is just playing short term politics.

One size doesn’t fit all

In January, The Guardian reported that

“Overwhelmingly, students want to learn anywhere, anytime, but they also want to learn in ways that suit their individual needs. Sixty percent of the students we surveyed are juggling work or family commitments, and increasingly students need to learn at times that suit them. What’s more, 17% of students report having a disability, which may require an adapted approach. For many reasons, the one-to-many traditional model of university teaching is not the best approach for every student.”

Not only COVID, but its acceleration of automated decision-making and predictive AI technology can be seen as an opportunity to re-think and re-do our cultural, creative and educational sectors, including the coming ‘higher education revolution’. 

Minister Clare acknowledged last year that teacher workforce challenges cannot be addressed by any one jurisdiction alone and called on researchers to develop and publish data about teacher wellbeing and career intentions as part of his National Teacher Workforce Action Plan. We now have a chance to respond to this call with a holistic approach to reinvigoration as interdependent sectors in a larger national cultural and creative ecology. 

National Cultural Policy ‘Revive’

REVIVE links arts education as core to a vibrant cultural landscape: “Access to arts and culture through education and training will also assist the capacity of the industry through the development of future audiences for arts and cultural experiences” (p. 52, ). In other words, we have to work together to move forward. REVIVE reminds us that the more than 3.2 million Australian young people (aged 15-24) deserve experiential pathways into cultural and creative jobs. Are they going to get those pathways through a return to direction instruction in schools and teacher education? In fact, it seems as though the two ministers are not even aware of each others’ policies. But given’s Australia’s short-term desire to raise literacy and numeracy scores, and the longterm goal of improving wellbeing, a vibrant cultural sector, and global workplace skills, a combination of direct instruction and creative skills and capacities is one possibility.

REVIVE claims that “Creativity and design thinking have been shown to be increasingly valuable to a range of different disciplines, including to train and upskill individuals across a range of industries” (2023, p. 48). So how is this addressed by the direct instruction injunction to all Initial Teacher Education programs by 2026? REVIVE itself calls for a rethinking of our education system (p. 13). This is government at its schizophrenic worst, with departments not talking to each other, seemingly not even knowing what the other is releasing to the public. 

UNESCO Sustainability Development Goals

Australia is of course a signatory to the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals. Does a direct instruction approach align with SDG 3 ‘to ensure good health and wellbeing for all at all ages?’ Does an accelerated training program advanced by the Strong Beginnings report ensure that? Teachers need more training, and more support, just like artists and other precarious and overstretched sectors. Not less, like stop-gap “permission to teach” solutions. Just more short-term solutions to long-term challenges.

While REVIVE seems to respond to SDG 4’s call ‘to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all (targets 4.3, 4.4, 4.5)’ by re-integrating arts-rich experiences all across compulsory education (not just the early years), the Strong Beginnings report refutes this. 

Lastly, do these contradictory policy and vision strategies enact our commitment to SDG 8’s call ‘to promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all’ (8.4, 8.5, 8.6) (UN 2020; Sachs 2015)? 

They do not. Teachers are leaving because it is, for many, no longer decent work. Surely sustainable futures – ecologically, economically and emotionally – depend upon longer term commitments than the ones currently on the table.

Daniel X. Harris is a professor at RMIT and a leading international scholar in creativity, diversity and social change. They were most recently an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, DECRA Fellow, RMIT Vice Chancellor’s Primary Research Fellow, and are currently research professor in the School of Education, RMIT University, and Co-Director of Creative Agency research lab:

Republish this article for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.

8 thoughts on “What is the tension between Jason Clare and Tony Burke?

  1. While it is good for academics in the education discipline to provide advice to government on education policy, they can have a more direct effect on the lives of teachers, by changing their training. Academics should not only be researching teacher wellbeing, but acting on it. Academics do not need to ask the minister for permission as to how they train teachers. I suggest getting on with doing what is needed, without apologizing or asking permission, just informing the minister, as a courtesy.

  2. Daniel Harris says:

    Thanks Tom, but unfortunately that is not possible when the Education Minister mandates explicit instruction be mandated in all teacher training programs by 2026. I love your idealism though!

  3. Anna Lian says:

    Thanks, Dan. My three cents below:
    The TEEP report recommends the integration of neuroscience and psychology into education, yet the only persons it quotes are psychologists. Where are the neuroscientists? Why the omission? Furthermore, no neuroscientists are mentioned in the papers of the psychologists cited in the report that I have read, so I presume this is the tendency throughout the field.

    I can think of a few prominent names in neuroscience that would be great to include, such as J. Panksepp, V.S. Ramachandran, I. McGilchrist, A. Seth, A. Damasio, H. Immordino-Yang, E. Maguire. Ian McGilchrist’s two books are a critical summary of thousands of research studies in neuroscience, and yet, he is totally absent in education. What do these neuroscientists tell us? Most of all, they tell us that (a) people do not act on input; (b) people are not machines, (c) memory is least about remembering, and (d) learning is indeed about attention, but least about “attention to input”. I might be wrong, but who can prove it unless we engage in a thorough reading and re-assessment of what matters and why,

    Ania Lian

  4. Daniel Harris says:

    Thanks Ania, I could not agree more. Your post offers great resources to those willing to expand this conversation, and your point is just one of many that make a nuanced approach to teaching and teacher-education so much more effective than the short-term solutions currently being pushed by our current Education Minister. Thank you.

  5. Julianne Higgins says:

    Binary attitudes as usual.

    Education is not confined to a particular definition, particular buildings, particular …meaning exclusive content , place, format etc
    Education is life ….why not take both approaches. It is possible if one has an open inclusive approach .Balance.

  6. Daniel Harris says:

    Julianne, I agree that all of life is education, but it is also a sector which is unnecessarily conservative and controlled by government. That is why we are unable to take non-binary approaches, which I agree would be so much more effective (and fun).

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