Student growth prompts action
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.