Experts call for bigger schools, better planning in Victoria’s education squeeze

Supersized schools are being proposed to cater for booming student numbers, with soaring enrolments prompting one school to truck in almost 50 portables and run five staggered lunchtimes.

Hundreds of schools are extending their classrooms and some deploying three-storey portables to cater for more kids.

But education experts say the measures can only work for so long and bigger schools should be built in the first place.

Point Cook’s Alamanda K-9 College is among those dealing with soaring popularity.

The school put almost 50 portables on to an oval to meet demand and runs five timetables to limit the number of students outside at lunch and recess to 500.

Principal Lynette Jobson told the Sunday Herald Sun the school had to “think outside the box” to accommodate the huge number of students.

“The reality is that if you are a principal in a growth corridor school you are serving your community,” Ms Jobson said.

“You can’t afford to have it overwhelm you or defeat you.”

At Doreen in Melbourne’s northeast Hazel Glen College is adding the equivalent of a new school to enrolments each year.

The prep to year 12 institution has 2600 pupils with the figure forecast to reach 3500.

It already has more than 40 portables with space so scare single-storey portables are being replaced with double-decker relocatables.

Principal Darryl Furze said schools were not “one size fits all” and more detailed planning was needed to ensure they opened with enough space.

“There needs to be a very clear understanding that you can’t have kids running over the top of each other,” he said.

McKinnon Secondary College, in Melbourne’s inner southeast, has introduced double-storey portables to add classrooms without reducing the school’s open space.

A newly-built primary school in Melbourne typically caters for about 500 pupils and secondary schools constructed large enough for 1100 students.

But some outer suburbs schools are outgrowing their permanent classrooms within years of opening.

About 5800 portables are scattered across schools with 200 more to be rolled out.

University of Melbourne Assoc Prof in Learning Environments Clare Newton said it could be cheaper to build bigger schools rather than add portables later.

Planning school sites big enough to accommodate portables was a “no brainer”, Assoc Prof Newton said.

“We shouldn’t be in a situation where within a few years of opening, schools have their open space covered in portables,” she said.

Ross White, Head of Data and Analytics at Good Education Media — comprised of education experts — labelled portables “a stopgap measure”, saying said bigger and more schools were needed.

Peter Goss, from the Grattan Institute, favoured more rather than larger schools but said a standard primary school should cater for up to 700 students.

“Melbourne’s population is going to keep growing rapidly for the foreseeable future and the new normal has to be building new schools — year in, year out,” he said.

The government has built or planned 70 new schools with 1300 more to be upgraded and extended.

State Education Minister James Merlino said while schools built today “look and feel different to those many of us attended as kids” the government had “no plans” to dramatically change their size.

Student numbers have skyrocketed from 313 to almost 2400 in just six years.


This article originally appeared in the Herald Sun – Experts call for bigger schools, better planning in Victoria’s education squeeze


Related article: Melbourne’s outer suburbs face ‘alarming’ shortage of secondary schools

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