Are schools keeping up with booming enrolments?

Are schools keeping up with booming enrolments?

Each year, Australian schools see an increase in student enrolments – a natural consequence of burgeoning inner-city populations.

To keep pace, state governments and educational institutions have no choice but to keep building schools, and this year alone there have been strides made towards ensuring the education system keeps pace with this boom.

At the start of this year, NSW Government announced it would open 17 new and upgraded schools in Term 1, adding another 400 classrooms to accommodate 9,000 students.

The state government’s infrastructure plan is expected to yield 2,000 new classrooms to house some 43,500 students.

In 2017 alone, the NSW government pledged $4.2bn towards building new schools and funding significant upgrades over the next four years. The following year, the government increased its funding further, setting aside $6bn for public schools.

The NSW government also recently approved a $125m redevelopment of Cranbrook School, one of the most expensive schools in Sydney. Aside from new facilities, the redevelopment will add another 11 classrooms to the school.

A new secondary school large enough to house 1,500 students in Whyalla Norrie district was also announced last February. Whyalla High School, which will merge three government campuses in the region, is set to have an entrepreneurial hub and STEM facilities.

And in June, it was reported that a Catholic Secondary school will be built in James Cook University, considered a historical moment for Catholic schooling.

The Education State
Since 2018, Victoria announced it will be are building 100 new schools by 2026, an ambitious project the state government refers to as a ‘school building boom’.

ABS data shows that Victoria has posted the fastest population growth at 2.1% year-on-year at the end of March.

Victorian Education Minister, James Merlino, said the state will upgrade the existing facilities to catch up with the growing population in Victoria. This coincides with memo to the state’s public schools not to accept any more international students.  

Meanwhile, the state’s government has poured in more than $6.1bn to build new schools and renovate some 1,4000 existing sites

“We know that Victoria’s population is booming, which is why we’re building and upgrading schools across the state to meet the needs of our growing communities,” Merlino said.

On Wednesday, the Victorian Government announced it is another step closer to its educational infrastructure boom with construction taking place at McKinnon Secondary College’s second campus.

The new campus, which will open in 2022, can house up to 1,100 students and “new state-of-the-art facilities.”

So far, some 11 schools are already in the pipeline and are set to open in 2020.

Are schools prepared?
While it seems that Australia’s education sector is witnessing a boom in infrastructure projects, the question remains: do schools have enough teachers to accommodate the growing number of students?

A recent investigation by NewsCorp revealed that Catholic schools have the worst student to teacher ratio with an average of 14 students per teacher, while Independent schools scored the best at an average of 11.7 students per teacher.

Meanwhile, enrolments at Catholic secondary schools have been on a slight downward trajectory from 2016, with a loss of 1,798 students in the last two years.

Zoran Endekov, an education policy Fellow at Victoria University, said data indicates that enrolment patterns may be driven by broader demographic and social trends.

“The key factors influencing parents when choosing a particular government primary school is the convenience of its location and whether other family members are at the school,” Endekov wrote in The Conversation recently.

“Research on school choice shows parents of children attending an independent school most frequently referred to academic results as the motivating factor behind their decision to send their child there.”

For Catholic schools, Endekov said, it was the religious values.

“More Australian families are identifying as having ‘no religion’. Since 2006, students in the “no religion” category have increased, and those with a Catholic affiliation have decreased, from 30% to 27% respectively,” he explained.

“Of course, many families choose schools based on financial considerations. Recent analysis by the ANZ shows mid-tier private schools saw a drop in enrolments in 2017 and 2018.”

Endekov said these families may be opting for so-called “magnet schools” which are high performing government schools where parents move to the catchment area to increase their chances of admission.

“This shows parents make strategic choices within school sectors as well as between them,” he said.