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Overcrowding Looms As ACT Public Schools Reach Capacity

30 September 2014

Almost a quarter of Canberra's public schools could be overcrowded within three years, an internal government report suggests. The document also shows that 10 schools, mostly primary, are already near or over their official capacity.

The ACT opposition says the data shows Labor's decision to close 23 schools last decade was flawed, as some of those schools were in areas now under stress. However, Education Minister Joy Burch said the government had ways to manage enrolment pressures. The Education Directorate also said some of the school capacity data in the report was dated and did not reflect recent upgrades.

The directorate's enrolment projections show that, in general, schools in Tuggeranong are emptying as the population in the north booms. Enrolment growth is also high in Canberra's wealthier, inner suburbs, although the directorate has ruled out enrolment fraud as a cause of this demand. When combined with 2014 school census data, the projections suggest 10 schools are near or over capacity. The worst affected are North Ainslie, Garran and Ngunnawal primary schools and Lyneham High School.

The former Stanhope government closed 23 schools last decade due to their dwindling enrolments and to save money. Liberal education spokesman Steve Doszpot said the latest data showed many of those "knee-jerk decisions" were shortsighted and might prove costly in the long term."Some of the schools that were closed were in areas like Cook and Flynn, which are now under a lot of pressure [from enrolments]," he said. "In Kambah, too, they felt they could close schools, saying 'it's no longer Nappy Valley', but it's had a resurgence since then. "Those closures had a very big emotional impact on many people in this city."

However, Ms Burch said school populations fluctuated and her directorate had responded with strategies such as reducing out-of-area enrolments, reconfiguring classrooms and adding demountable buildings. "Enrolments continue to grow in ACT public schools, showing that parents have confidence and pride in the quality of the education our public schools are providing," she said.

The government's forecasts, developed last year, estimated that kindergarten to year 12 public school enrolments across Canberra would grow by 9 per cent over the four years to 2017. Growth was tipped to be fastest in the inner north and Gungahlin, where enrolments would rise by 17 per cent, while Tuggeranong schools would lose 8 per cent. The report said Gungahlin's growth and its expansion to the north-east, along with residential development in north Watson, would drive much of the demand for new schools. Although two new schools opened last year – Franklin Early Childhood School and Neville Bonner Primary – extra schools would be required for the suburbs of Moncrieff and Kenny. However, it was possible new private schools would provide some relief. Urban infill in Lyneham, Braddon and Civic was also adding to demand on the northside, the report said.

In Belconnen and Bruce, higher-density living was stressing Aranda Primary School, in particular, while high birth rates across the district suggested primary schools would soon be hit by more enrolments. The construction of townhouses and apartments was also affecting schools in the inner south and Woden. Residential developments in Phillip and Lyons were increasing pressure on the popular Garran Primary, while Canberra College was expected to operate at capacity until a new college was built in Molonglo about 2020.

In recent years, the government has built new schools in Bonner, Franklin, Harrison and Kambah, as well as the Gungahlin College. It also plans to open a new primary school in Coombs in 2016 to cater for children in Molonglo.

 

SOURCE: www.smh.com.au/act-news; September 5 2014.