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.
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.
“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.” CLASS SIZE IMPACTS
A significant amount of new schools were needed by 2026.