12 May 2023

Government urged to get on with building new schools in growth areas as overcrowding worsens

| Ian Bushnell
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Primary school cupboards

Densification is putting new pressures on existing schools, says the ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations. Photo: File.

New schools in Woden and Belconnen, a college for the Molonglo Valley and a renewed call for vertical campuses to address increasing overcrowding are part of the peak school parent body’s ACT budget submission.

The ACT Council of Parents and Citizens Associations has criticised the Territory government’s planning for building new schools and expanding others, saying it is too slow and placing unreasonable pressure on existing schools and compromising the education of students.

This is being felt keenly in urban infill areas where populations are surging such as the Inner North, Belconnen and Woden.

“Many of the surrounding primary schools are already at or near capacity,” the council says.

“Council believes that by building new primary schools in these areas it will reduce pressure on already full schools as well as encouraging active travel and building social capital in communities.”

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The council has been warning the government for years about the Inner North and has again called on the government to purchase land close to the light rail corridor and consider innovative solutions such as a vertical, multi-storey school close to and linked with existing open spaces.

In fast-growing Molonglo, older students have to commute to Canberra College but it too is reaching capacity, the council warns.

“Council calls on the ACT Government to build a new college in Molonglo as a matter of priority to reflect population growth in the region and reduce capacity pressures on Canberra College,” the submission says.

Gungahlin College is also under pressure and the council has called on the government to fast-track measures to provide more demountable classrooms, relocate Gungahlin CIT so it can be refurbished for college use and complete refurbishments within the cafe area of Gungahlin Library to create additional classrooms and dedicated library space for the college.

The council has also called for the appointment of family engagement officers in each school to forge closer community relationships, be an alternative point of contact and help de-escalate conflict.

They would also reduce teacher workload and assist P&Cs in organising and promoting events.

The council also believes they would be an important resource for families where children are refusing to go to school, a growing phenomenon.

“We have heard that having a supportive and flexible approach from the school to addressing issues related to school refusal is critical to getting the young person back to school,” the submission says.

“Family engagement officers would have the time to work with families on a one-on-one basis to provide this type of intensive support.”

It also believes schools data can be used to identify children at risk of school refusal, and supports a shift from compliance to student wellbeing and addressing individual need and expanding flexible school options such as online learning.

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The council has made a number of recommendations on making schools more inclusive and supporting the education for students with disabilities.

It calls for upgrades to make schools fully accessible, including the addition of sensory/quiet spaces and assistive technologies to ensure that all schools can provide an inclusive physical environment to support all students with disabilities.

“Consideration of the overall sensory environment across the entire school site also needs to be taken into account with lighting, colours of walls, soundproofing, flexibility in design and layout of classrooms all important accessibility considerations,” it says.

It urges a continuous professional learning program on inclusive education for all school staff to develop an understanding of the needs of students with disabilities, the development of Individual Learning Plans before students start school so they are ready from day one, and the appointment of an executive teacher in each school to oversee the disabilities program and support teachers.

The Council also wants the government to revive the school canteen, which has been in decline in recent years.

It says the government should reinstate funding through ACT Health to the ACT Nutrition Support Service to provide canteen menu assessments and support for public school canteens.

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Or think outside the usual Canberra urban planning box and try and encourage families to move near schools with low enrolments by putting in family focused infrastructure, services, activities, facilities and entertainment.

That’s how they successfully did it in parts of London and Copenhagen when I lived there. Canberra urban planning certainly doesn’t live up to their rhetoric.

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