Are Schools Get­ting Over­crowded?

While some schools are cry­ing out for num­bers, a large percentage are drown­ing from a flood of en­rol­ments. With stu­dent num­bers on the rise, prob­lems are only ex­pected to grow if suf­fi­cient ac­tion isn’t taken now to ac­com­mo­date the surge.

The Australian Education Reporter - - NEWS: ACT/TAS - EL­IZ­A­BETH FABRI

IN 2016 3,798,226 stu­dents were en­rolled in schools across Aus­tralia; a 47,253 in­crease on the 2015 year, ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics.

Of this num­ber, 38,672 ad­di­tional stu­dents were en­rolled in gov­ern­ment schools, 7070 in in­de­pen­dent schools, and 1511 in catholic schools.

Yet de­spite a swell in num­bers, the net num­ber of Aus­tralian schools only in­creased by 10, to 9414.

“At the af­fil­i­a­tion level, gov­ern­ment pri­mary schools in­creased by seven, gov­ern­ment sec­ondary schools in­creased by three, while the num­ber of com­bined schools fell by 15,” ABS stated.

“The num­ber of Catholic schools in­creased by one, to 1738, while In­de­pen­dent schools in­creased by 14, to 1042.”

Gov­ern­ment schools now ed­u­cated 65.4 per cent of Aus­tralian school stu­dents, but with only 10 new gov­ern­ment schools brought on­line last year, many schools have been left in the dark, stretched beyond their lim­its with en­rol­ment rates ex­ceed­ing ca­pac­ity.

While de­mount­a­bles have been a short term so­lu­tion in the past, con­cerns are mount­ing that cur­rent strate­gies aren’t enough to house the in­flux of stu­dents.

Aus­tralian Par­ents Coun­cil pres­i­dent Shel­ley Hill was one of the in­dus­try lead­ers of this view, agree­ing more had to be done to pre­pare schools for fu­ture years.

“The Aus­tralian Par­ents Coun­cil is con­cerned that the num­ber of chil­dren en­ter­ing the school­ing sys­tem across Aus­tralia in the next five years will in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly and there doesn’t seem to be a strong fo­cus on how th­ese stu­dents will be ac­com­mo­dated in cur­rent schools and class­rooms around the coun­try,” Ms Hill said.

“Cap­i­tal fund­ing for schools and ad­di­tional class­rooms will need to be a pri­or­ity across all ed­u­ca­tion sec­tors and while bud­gets are lean it is im­por­tant that we start fo­cus­ing on this is­sue.”

Aus­tralian Col­lege of Ed­u­ca­tors pres­i­dent Bron­wyn Pike said for­ward plan­ning of ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions must be done in a more “in­no­va­tive and pro­gres­sive man­ner” and take into ac­count the rapidly chang­ing land­scape of how and what stu­dents need to be taught.

“We must change our mind­sets when it comes to plan­ning ed­u­ca­tion in­fra­struc­ture,” Ms Pike said.

“Ad­dress­ing over­crowd­ing in schools will re­quire more than just greater fi­nan­cial in­vest­ments (as this is a given).

“What it re­quires is an in­no­va­tive and for­ward think­ing ap­proach whereby gov­ern­ments, ed­u­ca­tors, ad­min­is­tra­tors and com­mu­ni­ties work in col­lab­o­ra­tion to de­velop in­fra­struc­ture and ed­u­ca­tional spa­ces that will truly po­si­tion Aus­tralia at the fore­front of pro­gres­sive and ef­fec­tive ed­u­ca­tion on a global scale.”


The most re­cent surge in stu­dents can be traced back to the ‘mini’ baby boom of the

mid-2000s; and as time ticks on num­bers are only ex­pected to grow.

In Fe­bru­ary 2017, Aus­tralia’s pop­u­la­tion was 24.3 mil­lion, which was pro­jected to rise to be­tween 36.8 mil­lion and 48.3 mil­lion in

2061, and reach be­tween 42.4 mil­lion and

70.1 mil­lion by 2101.

In Vic­to­ria, up to 220 new schools will need to be built in the next decade alone to ac­com­mo­date the es­ti­mated 190,000 ad­di­tional stu­dents in the State, ac­cord­ing to Grat­tan In­sti­tute anal­y­sis.

In the Grat­tan In­sti­tute’s 2016 ar­ti­cle Should you worry about a schools short­age? It re­ally de­pends on where you live pub­lished by The Con­ver­sa­tion, school ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram di­rec­tor Pete Goss said the num­ber of school stu­dents in Aus­tralia was ex­pected to in­crease by 17 per cent by 2026.

“To ac­com­mo­date th­ese ex­tra 650,000 stu­dents, some 400 to 750 new schools will be needed; most will be pri­mary schools – about 250 to 500,” Mr Goss said.

“Be­tween two-thirds and three-quar­ters are likely to be gov­ern­ment schools, with the re­main­der be­ing ei­ther Catholic or In­de­pen­dent.”

Mr Goss said cur­rent costs to build a stan­dard pri­mary school raked in at $15 mil­lion, and dou­ble this for a sec­ondary school.

“State gov­ern­ments will there­fore need to find about $6-11 bil­lion to build gov­ern­ment schools, close to a bil­lion dol­lars ev­ery year on av­er­age,” he said.

“This is on top of the costs of main­tain­ing ex­ist­ing schools.”

He said most of the new schools would be needed in the outer growth cor­ri­dors of Sydney and Perth, Queens­land cities out­side Bris­bane, and in­ner and outer Mel­bourne.

In par­tic­u­lar, Wyn­d­ham in south east Mel­bourne needed 100 new class­rooms each year for the next decade to stay afloat.

“Poor plan­ning is clearly a big is­sue for par­ents who strug­gle to find a lo­cal gov­ern­ment school for their chil­dren,” Mr Goss said.

“Many feel forced to pay non-gov­ern­ment school fees, or travel a long way to ac­cess a school.

“There is also some ev­i­dence that over­crowded schools have a sig­nif­i­cantly neg­a­tive im­pact on stu­dent learn­ing.” An ob­vi­ous flow on ef­fect of in­creased stu­dent num­bers is larger class sizes; a con­tentious is­sue that has raised a whole host of prob­lems for stu­dents and teach­ers alike.

In its Ed­u­ca­tion at a glance 2016: OECD in­di­ca­tors re­port, the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment (OECD) said the av­er­age class size in pri­mary schools was 21 stu­dents.

Class size var­ied sig­nif­i­cantly across the 35 coun­tries, with China record­ing the high­est level with 37 stu­dents, while class size in Latvia, Lithua­nia and Luxembourg av­er­aged at less than 17 stu­dents.

“Class size is one fac­tor that par­ents may con­sider when de­cid­ing on a school for their chil­dren, and the dif­fer­ence in av­er­age class size be­tween pub­lic and pri­vate schools (and be­tween dif­fer­ent types of pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions) could in­flu­ence en­rol­ment,” OECD stated.

“In most OECD coun­tries, av­er­age class size does not dif­fer be­tween pub­lic and pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions by more than two stu­dents per class in both pri­mary and lower sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion.”

In Term 3, 2016 the av­er­age class size in South Aus­tralian schools was 22 stu­dents per class, which ranged be­tween five and

31, with the most com­mon class size be­ing


Al­though there was no strong anec­do­tal ev­i­dence to prove large class sizes were detri­men­tal to a child’s learn­ing, there was no deny­ing higher num­bers had an im­pact.

A 2013 Na­tional Teacher Work­force Dataset-data Anal­y­sis re­port sur­vey­ing Aus­tralian teach­ers found class size to be one of the rea­sons teach­ers left the pro­fes­sion, with 22.5 per cent of pri­mary teach­ers and 19.7 per cent of sec­ondary teach­ers claim­ing size to be an is­sue.

Sim­i­larly, in the Uni­ver­sity of South Aus­tralia’s Be­hav­iour at School Study: Tech­ni­cal Re­port 1 found that 73 per cent of re­spon­dents at­trib­uted class size to un­pro­duc­tive stu­dent be­hav­iour, of which 25 per cent claimed to have done so to a ’great ex­tent’.

Other by-prod­ucts of larger class sizes in­cluded less at­ten­tion given to in­di­vid­ual stu­dents; oc­cu­pa­tional health and safety haz­ards; fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties for group work; lim­ited re­sources; in­creased noise; and dis­en­fran­chised teach­ers that were more likely to be­come stressed and “burnt out”.


Build­ing more schools may be an ob­vi­ous an­swer to over­crowd­ing, but tight Gov­ern­ment bud­gets and reliance on pri­vate fund­ing has made things dif­fi­cult.

The As­so­ci­a­tion of Heads of In­de­pen­dent Schools of Aus­tralia chief ex­ec­u­tive Beth Black­wood said even though non-gov­ern­ment schools could cap en­rol­ment num­bers, and in some cases had a cap im­posed upon them, the big­gest chal­lenge faced was sourc­ing nec­es­sary fund­ing to ex­pand cur­rent fa­cil­i­ties.

“In the in­de­pen­dent sec­tor, most of the fund­ing for cap­i­tal devel­op­ment is sourced pri­vately,” Ms Black­wood said.

“Fees for in­de­pen­dent schools usu­ally in­clude a com­po­nent for re­pay­ment of loans raised for build­ings or re­fur­bish­ments, and schools also fundraise or seek do­na­tions for new build­ings.

“In 2014, some 86 per cent of the costs of cap­i­tal devel­op­ment in the in­de­pen­dent sec­tor were sourced through pri­vate con­tri­bu­tion.”

The Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment con­trib­uted eight per cent and some six per cent was sourced from State Gov­ern­ment grants.

“If the in­de­pen­dent sec­tor is to con­tinue to pro­vide for around 15 per cent of Aus­tralia’s school stu­dents, some gov­ern­ment help with cap­i­tal devel­op­ment will be es­sen­tial,” she said.

“AHISA sug­gests this could be achieved through an ex­pan­sion of the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s Cap­i­tal Grants pro­gram, or a loans guar­an­tee or loans sub­sidy pro­gram.

“A small cost to gov­ern­ments to help the non-gov­ern­ment sec­tor pro­vide the schools and class­rooms that will be needed for in­creas­ing stu­dent num­bers will gen­er­ate far greater sav­ings for the tax­payer over time.”

In In­fra­struc­ture Vic­to­ria’s ALL THINGS CONSIDERED: Ex­plor­ing op­tions for Vic­to­ria’s 30-year in­fra­struc­ture strat­egy

re­port, it pro­posed a num­ber of strate­gies to com­bat the gap be­tween avail­abil­ity and de­mand for school places.

“One way to ad­dress the gap is to make bet­ter use of build­ings to in­crease the num­ber of en­rol­ments schools can of­fer,” it stated.

“One op­tion for bet­ter school cam­pus util­i­sa­tion pro­poses that schools are used more flex­i­bly to make more ef­fi­cient use of the build­ings and in­crease the num­ber of ed­u­ca­tional ser­vices that can be de­liv­ered.

“This is more com­monly known as ‘dou­ble-bunk­ing’, where school ser­vices are stag­gered through­out the day.”

But it said a stag­gered school time was not with­out its is­sues, with con­se­quences flow­ing onto par­ents.

“For most work­ing par­ents there is a del­i­cate bal­anc­ing act be­tween work and fam­ily, ful­fill­ing daily drop-off and pick-up du­ties or en­sur­ing some­one is home af­ter school,” it stated.

“There­fore an un­in­tended con­se­quence of im­ple­ment­ing a pol­icy for school ‘dou­ble bunk­ing’ might be that peo­ple need to re­duce their work­ing hours or even leave the work­force to en­sure some­one is at home, par­tic­u­larly for pri­mary school stu­dents.”

Another op­tion was re­view­ing school zone bound­aries and pro­vid­ing stronger en­force­ment.

“This could in­clude ap­pli­ca­tion of des­ig­nated neigh­bour­hood bound­aries, im­prov­ing per­cep­tions, pro­vid­ing bet­ter in­for­ma­tion about lo­cal schools and/ or tar­geted fund­ing to some schools,” In­fra­struc­ture Vic­to­ria stated.

Another so­lu­tion was a move to ver­ti­cal school­ing.

While Aus­tralia’s first high rise school St An­drews Cathe­dral School was formed in 1976, the idea of ver­ti­cal school­ing was now be­ing re­vis­ited in high-den­sity in­ner cities where ac­cess to large parcels of land was no longer a lux­ury.

In 2015, St Ge­orge’s Angli­can Gram­mar school was built in Perth; and in 2016 the NSW Gov­ern­ment an­nounced its de­sign for the new high rise Arthur Phillip High School.

In Fe­bru­ary this year, Haileybury School opened a 10-storey city cam­pus in the heart of Mel­bourne, with a fit out in­clud­ing an in­door sport­ing fa­cil­ity, con­tem­po­rary floor ded­i­cated to mu­sic, art dance and drama, and two out­door ter­races gar­dens and six ad­vanced science labs.

A ver­ti­cal school was also un­der devel­op­ment in South Mel­bourne, with ca­pac­ity for 525 stu­dents.

Hay­ball, the ar­chi­tec­ture firm re­spon­si­ble for de­sign­ing South Mel­bourne Pri­mary School said the build­ing would con­tain an early learn­ing cen­tre, multi-pur­pose com­mu­nity rooms and in­door and out­door multi-pur­pose sports courts across a build­ing span­ning five storeys.

“In a precinct that is one of Aus­tralia’s largest ur­ban re­newal ar­eas and ex­pected to swell to 80,000 res­i­dents over the next 40 years, fu­ture proof­ing ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties is a crit­i­cal fac­tor in en­sur­ing a sub­urb can evolve and be­have ac­cord­ing to the needs of its res­i­dents,” Hay­ball di­rec­tor Richard Leonard said.

The last model to cope with over­crowd­ing was to send se­nior stu­dents to uni­ver­sity to share build­ings and re­sources.

The strat­egy, while free­ing up space in the school, would also help Year 11 and Year 12 stu­dents’ tran­si­tion from school to ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion.


Im­age: Aus­tralian Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics.

A sig­nif­i­cant amount of new schools were needed by 2026.

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