The case for smarter public school planning in the ACT

Kim Fischer 19 April 2016 3


The ACT’s public school system is one we can be rightly proud of. However, as Canberra’s housing density increases, many of our city’s public schools are struggling to meet demand.

In the last few years, Belconnen and Bruce‘s populations have increased by a quarter. The number of 0-4 year olds in the area has increased by over 220 – nearly an entire primary school, yet there is no public primary school in either of these suburbs.

While parents should always have the option to educate their children outside of the public system, the priority for government must be on ensuring that local families have access to a public school in their area. Parents should not be forced to consider private schools for convenience’s sake alone.

The University of Canberra has already received approval for ambitious expansion plans including whole-of-life education strategies and integrated teacher training.

The Bruce campus could easily incorporate an additional primary school, giving parents an additional local option instead of the locally available private option.

With the 24-storey Wayfarer apartments already under construction, the increased population in Belconnen and other town centres means a significant and permanent change in how families are living in Canberra. We simply cannot assume that the next generation of parents will want a suburban home with a backyard.

There are many fierce defenders of public education in the ACT, but Canberra actually has one of the lowest percentage of students attending public schools in the country (under 60 per cent).

In 2013, controversy arose when the ACT Government approved three new private schools to be built on the north side of Canberra. The ACT branch of the Australian Education Union (AEU) claimed the decision was made with insufficient consultation and that the new private schools would poach students from existing public schools.

Subsequently the ACT Government held a review into the decision-making processes and adopted new provisions that provide community groups and unions with a formal right to raise objections to any proposed new schools.

In Gungahlin, almost every school is operating at or over capacity, while Belconnen and Woden/Weston schools are 90 per cent full. Schools in the Tuggeranong are, on average, barely 60 per cent full.

As school-age populations can fluctuate over time, school planners do have a difficult job. Capacity planning is important and it is best done with input from all stakeholders.

In an era when governments are committed to open data, the current and projected enrolment data for schools needs to be open and easily available.

If this data was published annually, along with the ACT Government’s five-, ten- and 20-year plans for managing expected changes in school capacity requirements, parents and citizens would feel more engaged in the ACT’s plans for delivering a sustainable and high quality education system.

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3 Responses to The case for smarter public school planning in the ACT
JC JC 10:16 pm 24 Aug 15

So what’s wrong with Aranda or Kaleen primary schools?

Both close enough to Bruce and Belconnen Town centre.

Simple fact not every suburb can have its own school. You have choose. Stats to group two suburbs together and say he it needs a school. But (for example) link Bruce east of Heydon Drive to Kaleen and south and Belconnen to Aranda and voila those kids make the schools there viable. In other words remove Bruce and Belconnen kids from those schools and they may become marginal.

As hard it is to admit maybe, just maybe ACT education knows what is going on and is doing what they think is best.

sepi sepi 5:42 pm 24 Aug 15

I don’t think the govt do too much forward planning. Inner north schools are all full to bursting, and yet they wanted to close hackett preschool about 5 years ago. Now it operates two sessions a week and is full.

Downer primary would have been perfect to rebuild to ease capacity in the inner north schools, but instead they are building units on that spot as we speak, and next year we will be using demountable classrooms on the oval for the primary kids.

watto23 watto23 3:25 pm 24 Aug 15

I’m not sure how long the OP has been in Canberra but shifting population is always a big issue. The fact that Bruce and Belconnen are not really aimed at young families and there has never ever been a school planned for the area, would make you think people with young families would think twice before moving there.

I don’t know what a solution is, but there will be a time when Gungahlin schools will be underutilised and Tuggeranong schools start to fill up again. Its the nature of how each towncentre was built one after the other. Woden schools were underutilised a fair bit at one stage as well.

You can only build so many physical schools. Many of the older schools have been repurposed into cheap offices for community groups and small businesses, which seems to be a good use, althoguh often a waste of land.

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