Drought dries up flow of boarders
THE mass exodus of families from the state’s droughtstricken regions is being blamed for falling enrolments at boarding schools.
The number of students at Queensland boarding schools hit a five-year low last year, the total only increasing slightly this year thanks to the move of Year 7 into high school.
Even with that increase, boarding school numbers in the private and Catholic sectors have dropped 5 per cent since 2011.
Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association vice president Kim Hughes said many were moving out of regional areas and therefore no longer required boarding schools.
“Families will stay until it’s time to send their child to high school and then they’ll move and once they go, they generally don’t come back,” she said. “Rural communities are really declining. Sometimes the only solution for a rural family is sending the child to boarding school and some just can’t afford it.”
The introduction of Year 7 into high school was another consideration for families, who were now faced with six years of boarding school fees instead of five, she said.
Queensland Catholic Education Commission executive director Lee-Anne Perry said boarding enrolments for the 15 Catholic boarding schools had decreased by almost 5 per cent.
“While the decline is relatively small and not consistent across the state, it appears that a combination of factors has contributed. I’m aware that many rural families are facing economic stresses, including those caused by drought,” she said.
“Some schools have reported a shift to the older Years 10, 11 and 12, with parents keeping children at home and in local schools for longer.”
In a recent Independent Schools Queensland report, it was revealed 11 boarding schools experienced growth of at least five students while eight schools had seen a decline of at least five students.
“The drought certainly has played a part but it’s also about the decline in rural population,” Independent Schools Queensland executive director David Robertson said. “There will always be a need for boarding schools as there will always be a rural community.”
University of Queensland school of psychology researcher Julie Hodges said boarding was changing with the times.
“We might start to see more of the weekly boarding rather than those attending due to geographical isolation,” she said. “Technology is allowing students to do more schooling remotely or doing a better job of taking them up to at least Year 10.”
St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School principal Ros Curtis said some families had to make sacrifices for their children’s education.
“Life on the land can be very difficult and uncertain and we understand the strug- gles that result from this for many of our boarding families,” she said.
The Magoffin family, on a cattle property about 120km north of Longreach, have three children at Brisbane boarding schools.
“(Financial pressure) is something we will have to take into account and manage and decide whether we continue down the path we are going,” she said.