22 March 2021

Record public school enrolments but Tuggeranong struggling

| Ian Bushnell
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Wanniassa School

Wanniassa School is running at 40 per cent capacity. Photo: File.

Enrolments at the ACT’s 88 public schools have reached a record 50,272 students, but many schools in Tuggeranong’s ageing suburbs are well below capacity.

The annual February school census shows public school enrolments have continued their run of rises since 2016, increasing by 1,120 students (or 2.3%) on last year, and by 5,441 students (12.1%) over the past five years.

More parents are sending their children to government schools, with public schools accounting for 62.5 percent of the total student population, up marginally from 62.4 per cent in 2019 and 61 per cent in 2016, with the Independents and the Catholic system virtually splitting the remainder in half.

All up, a total of 80,416 students are enrolled across all school sectors, a 2.1 per cent increase on the same time last year, and 6,905 students (9.4%) more than in 2016.

The ACT’s strong population growth has also boosted non-government school enrolments by 544 students (1.8%) compared with 2019, and from 2016 to 2020, by 1,464 students (5.1%).

Across the three school levels of primary, high and college, Tuggeranong had the lowest proportion of enrolments, at 17.7, 14.3 and 18.8 per cent respectively.

At the primary level, the booming North/Gungahlin (31.6%) was the highest followed by Belconnen (25.5%), South/Weston (25.3%), and Tuggeranong.

At the high school level, North/Gungahlin (33%) again was the highest followed by South/Weston (29.2%), Belconnen (23.5%) and Tuggeranong.

At the college level, South/Weston (31.8%) was the highest followed by North/Gungahlin (28.7%), Belconnen (20.8%) and Tuggeranong.

Gilmore Primary recorded the lowest enrolment in the ACT at 145, less than half its capacity of 314, followed by Richardson Primary at 156, running at 43 per cent of its capacity of 358.

Both the combined primary and high schools of Namadgi and Wanniassia are well below capacity.

Namadgi can take 1240 students but the census shows only 446 primary and 262 high school enrolments, more than 500 below capacity.

Wanniassa’s limit is 1163 but it only had 271 primary and 213 high school students in February, running at 40 per cent capacity.

Erindale College had 604 enrolments, 400 below capacity, while Lake Tuggeranong had 645 students, 351 less than its limit.

Education Minister Yvette Berry

Education Minister Yvette Berry won’t be closing schools any time soon. Photo: File.

The low enrolments at this stage in Tuggeranong’s demographic cycle again raises speculation about school closures but Education Minister Yvette Berry has been quick to quash any such suggestions so close to an election, focusing on the new schools the government is building.

”The ACT Government is expanding and building new schools across Canberra to keep up with this strong population growth and confidence in the public education system,” she said.

Canberra’s newest school in Molonglo is set to open its doors for the 2021 school year for preschool and primary school with the high school set to open in 2023.

Construction will begin later this year on a new primary school in Throsby catering for kindergarten to Year 6 which will open in 2022 and cater for 450 and up to 132 pre-schoolers. Plans are also underway for a new high school in Kenny.

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The permanent capacity at Franklin School (previously named Franklin Early Childhood School) is being increased, now catering for students from preschool to Year 6 to grow its capacity by 400 students. The Gold Creek School Senior Campus will have an additional 200 places by 2022.

Ms Berry said the ACT Government was also investing heavily in high-quality transportable learning spaces that can be moved as needed to respond to the fluctuating demand across schools as suburb demographics change.

These would service schools that are at or over capacity such as Fraser Primary and Mt Rogers Primary in Belconnen; Lyneham and North Ainslie Primary, in North/Gungahlin; and Garran Primary in South/Weston.

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It would be interesting to see the public vs private breakdown for the various different suburbs. There are three private schools (St Anthony’s, Mary Mackillop and Trinity Christian) in the area in which I take my morning walk. At the time the kids are being dropped off all three are going great guns. Maybe poor public school performance in Tuggers is driving people into private education.

Stephen Saunders9:23 am 29 Jul 20

Fond memories of the infamous ACT Treasury paper that tried to shutter Dicko College to send the public-school kids out to Belconnen.

Demographics for a region (such as Tuggeranong) are not just a natural cycle. Governments have to introduce push and pull incentives to best manage demographic shifts. You just don’t ignore things and expect them to magically change.

The report last decade got the demographics and predicted school populations very wrong. Schools that were slated to close (and got a last minute political reprieve) are now bursting at the seams because people moved to suburbs that retained schools.

Not enough young families are buying Tuggeranong houses because there are little facilities and entertainment for kids in the region, they won’t buy because public schools in Tuggeranong are performing well below their benchmarked equivalents (and getting worse) and the ACT government made things like Tuggeranong school bus services much worse.

The ACT Government needs a long term plan and long term funding to increase the quality and performance of Tuggeranong schools and to provide services, play areas, sporting facilities and entertainment etc for the areas kids.

The demographics will change when young families start choosing to buy houses down south. Be proactive for once.

Capital Retro8:12 am 30 Jul 20

Most of the recently cancelled school bus services in Tuggeranong actually took children to and from schools in other parts of Canberra forcing their parents to make other arrangements.

Of course it is a natural cycle and it is a cycle that builders of schools in particular function in.

Greenfields suburbs attract a disproportionate numbers of young first home buyers who then start to breed. They and their neighbours then breed for about 20 years with numbers of babies dropping after 10.

So demand for schools starts in new suburbs after 5 years after first kids, peaks at 15 years.

Of course you get families arriving in new suburbs with older kids and of course even after peaks you still get babies but they are never enough to match the initial first wave.

The solution is simple but is something I know is a bugbear of yours. And that is after the first wave some schools need to close and kids go to other schools.

That is what happened in Belconnen and is what these figures show need to happen in Tuggeranong too. Though of course the politicising of issues like this make that harder than what it should be.

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