Stu­dent growth prompts ac­tion

The Australian Education Reporter - - NEWS: VIC/NSW - EL­IZ­A­BETH FABRI

STU­DENT num­bers are ex­pected to rise by

21 per cent in NSW schools over the next

15 years to al­most 1.5 mil­lion, prompt­ing an in­de­pen­dent re­view into the State school plan­ning sys­tem.

On 4 May, the NSW Au­dit Of­fice act­ing au­di­tor gen­eral Ian Good­win re­leased a se­ries of rec­om­men­da­tions to en­sure Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing was best spent to ac­com­mo­date an in­crease in num­bers, par­tic­u­larly in Syd­ney.

“Im­prov­ing ed­u­ca­tion out­comes of stu­dents is a NSW State pri­or­ity,” the Plan­ning for School In­fra­struc­ture re­port stated.

“For much of the last decade, there has been chronic un­der-in­vest­ment in NSW gov­ern­ment school in­fra­struc­ture and de­fi­cien­cies in as­set plan­ning.

“Many schools have more stu­dents than can be ac­com­mo­dated in ex­ist­ing class­rooms, and de­mount­a­bles are widely used for ex­tended pe­ri­ods.”

In re­sponse to the chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tion, the Depart­ment re­cently de­vel­oped a School As­sets Strate­gic Plan to ad­dress ways the State could house an in­crease in stu­dent pop­u­la­tion up to 2031.

“This is the first such plan for the Depart­ment. It is a good plan – it cov­ers the is­sues we would ex­pect and has ben­e­fited from ex­pert in­put and in­de­pen­dent val­i­da­tion of as­sump­tions, pro­posed so­lu­tions, and the likely costs,” it stated.

The Depart­ment plan set out a num­ber of ini­tia­tives, which in­cluded in­creas­ing the max­i­mum num­ber of stu­dents in new and re­de­vel­oped schools; chang­ing and en­forc­ing school catch­ments; in­creas­ing part­ner­ships with the pri­vate sec­tor; bet­ter re­cy­cling of school as­sets to de­liver bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties; and mov­ing to­wards plan­ning on a clus­ter ba­sis, rather than school-by-school ba­sis.

How­ever, Mr Good­win’s re­port stated ad­di­tional fund­ing would be needed to achieve the Depart­ment’s goals.

“Even with these re­forms, the es­ti­mated cost of in­fra­struc­ture needed up to 2031 is sig­nif­i­cantly more than the Depart­ment has been re­ceiv­ing to date,” it said.

“Fur­ther sav­ings be­yond those al­ready iden­ti­fied would be pos­si­ble through chang­ing op­er­a­tional poli­cies on mat­ters such as class sizes, op­er­at­ing hours, and sin­gle-sex, se­lec­tive, sports and per­form­ing arts schools.

It rec­om­mended the Depart­ment look at in­creas­ing max­i­mum class sizes, in­tro­duc­ing dou­ble-shift and stag­gered shifts in some schools, con­vert­ing sin­gle-sex schools into co-ed­u­ca­tional, and con­vert­ing se­lec­tive schools into com­pre­hen­sive schools with se­lec­tive streams.

“A sen­si­tiv­ity anal­y­sis pre­pared for the Depart­ment shows that in­creas­ing the max­i­mum class size by one stu­dent could re­duce the fund­ing gap sig­nif­i­cantly,” it said.

The re­port also found there were cur­rently

242 empty class­rooms in 19 boys-only high schools, 155 empty in 24 girls high schools,

164 empty in 21 se­lec­tive high schools and

153 empty in 15 spe­cial­ist schools which could be utilised.

The large in­crease in stu­dent num­bers was ex­pected in the Syd­ney metropoli­tan re­gion.

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