Melbourne’s outer suburbs are facing a high school crush with an “alarming” shortage of secondary schools.
Experts have warned of a classroom drought over the next decade as ballooning numbers of primary students march towards secondary school.
Some schools are already under pressure and have introduced staggered start times and double-storey portables to cope with the ever-growing demand.
Analysis by the Good Education Group, an independent career and school consultancy, shows that more than 73,000 students are enrolled in almost 200 primary schools north of Thornbury.
But they’ll have to squeeze into just 61 secondary schools that currently serve 45,000 students — representing a “whopping 60 per cent increase”.
The burden on high schools in the southeast, from St Kilda to Western Port, will increase 35 per cent, the group said. It predicted a 40 per cent surge in secondary students in Melbourne’s west.
About 7000 primary students attend school in the Deer Park-Caroline Springs area, but there are just 3200 places at six secondary schools.
And in the Pakenham district, seven primary schools have 4800 students looking to squeeze into three secondary schools in this area.
Ross White, of the Good Education Group, said the startling figures, released last year, were a “call to action”.
“It has been an unfolding situation over the last few years,” he said.
“What really struck us is how great the demand is going to be.”
Predictions have warned that the number of Victorian school students will jump almost 20 per cent in the decade to 2026.
And, according to the Grattan Institute, the state will need up to 220 new schools to cope with the boom.
The institute’s school education program director Dr Peter Goss said a mini baby boom in the mid-2000s and interstate migration were to blame for the explosion in student numbers.
He says that while authorities are now “vastly more aware of the issue”, their attention had mostly focused on younger students.
Ten new public schools opened this year, including seven primary schools.
A prep to year 12 college was also opened in Mernda, as well as a prep to year 9 school in Featherbrook.
“I don’t think we’ve yet turned our heads enough to the secondary schools,” Dr Goss said.
“I have been making the point for a little while that primary school students grow up. It will start this year but particularly in 2018, 2019 we will hear stories screaming about shortages in high schools.”
The opposition has lashed the State Government, with education spokesman Nick Wakeling declaring that Victoria couldn’t fix “falling standards in literacy and numeracy with children crammed into old, leaky portable classrooms like sardines”.
The government has splashed a record $1.8 billion across two budgets on education infrastructure.
As well as the schools opened this year, another 32 and more than 1000 upgrades are in the pipeline.
- 220 more schools needed
- 20% more students by 2026
- Staggered start times to cope
Education Minister James Merlino said the former government had dropped the ball, which resulted in no new schools being opened last year.
It takes at least two years to plan for, budget and build a school.
“We’re building the Education State after the Opposition slashed education funding and failed to plan for, or invest in, new schools for our booming population,” Mr Merlino said.
Dr Goss said the millions being spent on new schools and upgrades was just a “catch up”.
“It’s not enough to solve the problem going forward,” he said.
“We need a new normal of ongoing and substantial investments because the population of school-aged children will grow for the indefinite future.”
School principals across the state are attempting to juggle — and prepare for — the growing demand.
Cranbourne East Primary School opened with 454 students seven years ago but now has a cohort of more than 1200. Most of those will likely go to a secondary school on the same site that already has more than 1000 students.
Principal Garry Rolfe said the school — in a growth corridor southeast of Melbourne — was in a good position to expand because it had space.
But schools closer to the inner city are faced with expanding enrolments, but no additional space.
McKinnon Secondary College, in Melbourne’s inner southeast, has introduced double-storey portables to add classrooms without reducing the school’s open space.
Apartment and townhouse developments — placing more students and families in its school zone — have put the high-performing college under pressure.
“We have 2100 students on one small site,” principal Pitsa Binnion said. “We need to continue the investment in infrastructure so we can cater for the growth. It’s not just in the outer regions, but also in the heart of Melbourne.”
This article originally appeared in the Herald Sun – Melbourne’s outer suburbs face ‘alarming’ shortage of secondary schools