Overcrowding is a continual issue facing our WA government schools with populations expanding faster than our facilities can develop. For instance, according to ABS data, government school populations in Western Australia have experienced an increase of just over 13.8% between 2010 and 2015. Another factor contributing to the swelling of secondary schools is the transition of Year 7 from primary to secondary in 2015. The move resulted in shifts in the number of students across those levels and the consequential changes to the counts of each school type required to meet the changing need.
Such a significant surge must be supported by equally significant action across all fronts, starting with, but not limited to, the introduction of new and expanded schools. A step in the right direction when the 2015 the State Treasurer's budget allocated $191 million over four years for new and expanded schools. School expansion often comes at the expense of specialty spaces, for example, music, art, drama and science classrooms. When allocating funds for school expansion, all planning must consider the preservation and construction of specialty spaces.
Throughout the state, issues have emerged with schools being filled beyond capacity. The Department of Education attributes this growth to the success of the government education system and a significant growth in demand for secondary student places. As a result of the government education system catering for more and more students, there has been an increase on the reliance of transportable classrooms as populations outgrow existing facilities – Churchlands Senior High School now holds a state record of 42. New schools are needed in the outer-growth corridors of Perth, such as Joondalup and the Southern River region. These areas require accurate population projections in order to account for future need.
Conversely, there are a number of schools in the state that are afflicted by shrinking populations, particularly regional and secondary. More funding is needed to support schools with low student populations in providing optimal education opportunities for all students. Where low student population is an issue, schools sometimes struggle to provide the most basic of ATAR programs. This has numerous flow on effects, which extend beyond the most obvious (educational disadvantage of the individual) and into the disadvantage of the local community, a negative feedback loop which results in increasingly dire circumstances. Outcomes include students being sent away for schooling which means an age gap in local populations, an inclination to move out of the region post-secondary school and an overall declining trend in regional populations. By strengthening regional education, particularly secondary, the local community is also strengthened.
WACSSO calls for:
- greater transparency in the planning and communication of school population projections;
- new schools to have funds committed to ensure optimal levels of school resourcing at inception and in line with projected growth;
- the State Government to fund the development of specialty spaces so that students have access to a diverse and optimal education.
For referencing and the full report, click here.