Are Hunter schools overcrowded?

LABOR has pointed to new figures showing how Hunter schools are using their classrooms as proof of an “overcrowding crisis”, a claim the government has labelled as “nonsense”.

Shadow Education Minister Jihad Dib said documents obtained through freedom of information laws show 77 Hunter schools –  nearly 40 per cent  of the region’s total –  are at or above 100 per cent “utilisation”, which Mr Dib said was equivalent to being “at or above capacity”.

Tarro Public is at 116.67 per cent utilisation and Abermain is at 109.09 per cent.

Room to move: The state government and opposition disagree whether schools at 100 per cent utilisation are overcrowded.

Room to move: The state government and opposition disagree whether schools at 100 per cent utilisation are overcrowded.

Utilisation is the percentage of teaching spaces occupied by a class as a proportion of the total teaching spaces on the site.

Both permanent and demountable spaces are included.

“This is a crisis,” Mr Dib said.

“The government is really good at making funding announcements, but not at building schools: there’s no time frames or budgets.

“It’s cold comfort for parents to hear about money being spent when they have to send their kids to a school at or above capacity that has demountables everywhere.”

Education Minister Rob Stokes told the Herald a school with 100 per cent utilisation was not overcrowded.

“We want all classrooms to be used for teaching and learning,” Mr Stokes said.

“Only two [Hunter] schools are above 100 per cent utilisation – a figure that equates to about two per cent of local government schools.

“The utilisation data provided is a snapshot at that particular point in time and may change over the course of the year.”

Mr Dib disagreed.

“If you’re using 100 per cent of spaces and that includes demountables then of course you’re overcrowded – there’s no wriggle room for new enrolments and you’re exceeding what the school was built for. 

“The government is moving the goalposts.

“It either needs to build more schools, complete more upgrades or put more demountables in - and that’s not a long term solution.”

NSW Teachers Federation regional organiser Jack Galvin Waight said the Hunter’s schools “continue to be underfunded, and it will be a problem if the government doesn’t act appropriately”.

“It is obvious from reports from our members that there are ongoing issues around; the slow turnaround in regards to the school maintenance backlog, the need for more space, permanent buildings and the building of new schools in the Hunter,” he said.

“This will affect teaching and learning if not addressed, as public school enrolments are projected to increase by 23 per cent over the next 15 years.”

Several schools’ enrolment policies show they already exceed their “enrolment ceiling”, based on their permanent teaching spaces and not including demountables.

Belair has 505 students. Its enrolment ceiling is 502 and includes a buffer of 19, for children who move to the catchment area through the year.

Biddabah has 416 students. Its enrolment ceiling is 392 and includes a buffer of 12.

Hamilton South has 437 students. Its enrolment ceiling is 363 and includes a buffer of 14.

Newcastle East has 240 students. Its enrolment ceiling is 211 but includes a buffer of 14 places.

The Junction has 576 students. Its enrolment ceiling is 548 and includes a buffer of 10 places.

Mr Stokes said the government would start work this year on the Newcastle Education Precinct comprising a new school, as well as major upgrades to Callaghan College Jesmond campus and Speers Point, Wangi Wangi, Nulkaba and Ashtonfield public schools.

Work is continuing on major upgrades to Belmont High, Hunter School of the Performing Arts, Hunter Sports High and Bolwarra, Newcastle East and Rutherford public schools.