22 March 2021

Census reveals which schools are thriving, and where the empty seats are

| Ian Bushnell
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School enrolments are unevenly spread in some areas of Canberra.

The latest ACT school census reflects the demographic changes that the Territory has been going through but also the familiar Canberra practice of parents shopping around for the best education, with clusters of high enrolments around schools perceived to offer better programs than those nearby.

It also shows non-government school enrolments have remained relatively steady over the past four years, while the number of government school students has grown by 13 per cent over the same period, particularly in the primary and high schools.

In February when the census was taken, there were 77,115 students enrolled in ACT public and non-government schools, an increase of 1,707 students (2.3 per cent) since February 2017. From February 2014 to February 2018, enrolments increased by 6555 students (9.3 per cent).

Government school enrolments in 2014 were 42,211 and are now 47,945. Primary school enrolments have surged over the past four years, from 21,429 to 25,570, while high school numbers have risen from 9841 to 11,062. College numbers have also gone up, from 6258 to 6524.

Non-government enrolments were 28,349 in 2014 and are now only marginally stronger at 29,170. In fact, in the high school and college sectors, traditionally strong areas for Independent and Catholic schools, enrolments have dipped slightly.

For the first time, the capacity figures have been included, revealing an uneven spread of enrolments.

This reflects population changes but also the fact that many parents send their children out of area to schools that are perceived to have a better reputation for particular programs such as music or languages. It poses the question whether the ACT education authorities will eventually have to force parents to send their children to the school in their local area to spread enrolments more evenly.

The directorate has reaffirmed no child can be turned away from their local school.

Tuggeranong, with its ageing population, has taken the biggest hit in enrolments, recording 18 per cent of public primary school enrolments, with significant under capacity in some schools. For public high schools, it garnered only 14 per cent, and colleges 17.7 per cent.

Unsurprisingly, the north of Canberra, with the booming suburbs of Gungahlin, took the lion’s share of public primary enrolments (30.4 per cent), followed by Belconnen (26.2 per cent) and South/Weston (25.2 per cent).

The north also had the highest proportion of public high school enrolments at 34.4 per cent, but South/Weston, with its prestige schools of Telopea Park and Alfred Deakin, was close behind at 29.5 per cent, followed by Belconnen (21.9 per cent).

In the college sector, South/Weston (32.5 per cent), with high-achieving Narrabundah College and the increasingly popular Canberra College in Phillip, ranked highest, followed by North/Gungahlin (31.0 per cent), Belconnen (18.9 per cent) and Tuggeranong (17.7 per cent).

The census reveals many schools in Tuggeranong are seriously under capacity. Wanniassa School, a combined primary/high school has capacity of 1153 but only 266 primary students and 190 high school students. The relatively new Namadgi School in Kambah, also a combined campus, has a capacity of 1240, but 464 primary students and only 246 high school students.

In South/Weston – that takes in the Inner South, Woden Valley and Weston Creek, where the Government closed several schools – most primary schools are nearly full. Red Hill, with a capacity of 700, has 725 students, many of whom would be from out of area.

In Belconnen, several primary schools (Hawker, Fraser and Miles Franklin) are over capacity and Aranda and Kaleen are practically full, while others such as Charnwood-Dunlop, Evatt, Mcgregor and Maribyrnong are struggling for enrolments.

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Also struggling is University of Canberra High Kaleen, which is at half capacity with 340 students, showing how many students in Canberra will move out of their local area for high school and college.

In the inner north, Campbell Primary is at half capacity while other schools are holding their own. Yet, Campbell High, with a capacity of 868, has 719 students. Lyneham High is over capacity with 1119 students, reflecting the popularity of its specialist programs.

Despite the nearly full primary schools in Weston Creek, Mt Stromlo High, with a capacity of 1113, only has a student cohort of 661. The area’s demographics have changed but it is also a victim of out-of-area enrolments and parents choosing non-government schools.

In the growth areas of Gungahlin and the Molonglo Valley, schools such as Charles Weston in Coombs are well under capacity in anticipation of enrolments to come.

Among the public colleges, Hawker, with 482 students and a capacity of 890, and Erindale (438/1015) are struggling for enrolments.

The ACT school census can be found here.

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Key tuggeranong schools will get less attention because they have less students . That’s not because happy valley grew up. Most of the schools were poorly managed. Principals past have put families offside. And the need to have special ed kids mixed into classes means that average students are left behind.

Few of those in charge live down south. Make like the dual citizenship you should need to live in the electorate you represent

I am a Rabbit™7:44 pm 23 May 18

The problem with Tuggeranong is that it has an epidemic cultural issue that is drawing the good kids away from local schools, and that is only being compounded by the increasing disparity in socioeconomic status across Canberra. I don’t blame the intelligent parents at all from going to all lengths to keep their kids out of Tuggeranong schools – I would do the same if I were in their situation. We’re not talking about private schools either… it’s hard to miss the children wearing out-of-zone uniforms moving out of Tuggeranong every morning.

The only way this problem can be dealt with if people are honest about the source of the issue in the first place. The government needs to start coming up with a plan to isolate the feral tuggeranong children from the rest of the population… Either throw them in some sort of special school that’s better equipped to deal with trouble students, or double down and start having those families investigated and acted upon by child services.

People can advocate that the government should continue throwing bad money into more resources, but the problem will never be eliminated unless you can remove the cultural aspect of it. The shameful aspect about this whole saga is that most families in Tuggeranong are perfectly well-adjusted and have good kids, it’s just that sizeable (in contrast to the rest of Canberra) group that ruins it for the rest.

There are some really key messages in this data which are conveniently being ignored by the ACT Education Minister and the Education directorate. Stay with me here, these are important issues for Canberra kids struggling to get a good education.

The Namadgi Superschool (that replaced 3 Kambah Primary Schools and 1 High School) has very low attendance, decreasing education performances and has quite frankly proven to be an unmitigated disaster at many levels (after being sold that it was going to be the best thing since sliced bread, by Andrew Barr when he closed the 6 Kambah schools and built the new Superschool to replace them).

Now it starts to get interesting, because the remaining original Kambah School called Taylor is up at 92%capacity. ‘Hello, does this tell you something’. Did ACT Labor’s school policies of the 2000s have a detrimental effect on Tuggeranong students and West Belconnen students and their families?

Lots of Kambah kids are attending Chapman and Warramanga Primary instead of Namadgi Superschool, ‘hello again’, are these combined ‘dollar saving’ primary/high schools having issues?

The article states Wanniassa School, like Namadgi a combined primary/high school has capacity of 1153 but only 266 primary students. CENSUS-Quickstats show Kambah/Wanniassa have 4,300 school aged residents (that’s big numbers, but not reflected in the local Public School enrolments).

The ACT Governments education decisions encouraged parents to send their kids to better schools outside the area and also to private schools.

The Education department and the ACT Politicians are too scared to call a spade a spade, they think the more they highlight the issue, the more kids will go to another school. These issues and the demographic effects they cause were highlighted by experts such as Trevor Cobbold, but he was dismissed by Andrew Barr and the ACT Education directorate.

Totally agree. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors and the definition of “capacity”. No where in the article was it mentioned the Education Directorate some 12-18 months ago reclassified the definition of a schools “useable space for educational purposes”. Presto, capacity rates increased yet class rooms in most Gungahlin schools, as in most high density places, were at capacity or worse.

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