One of Sydney’s newest schools, The Ponds High, is full just three years after it was built and before it even has years 11 and 12, prompting concerns that the NSW Department of Education has underestimated swelling enrolments in public high schools.
The north-west school was designed for 1200 students when it opened to its first cohort of 180 year 7 students in 2015. But enrolments have been soaring and when school returns at the end of the month, The Ponds High will get 320 year 7 students.
Enrolment figures show that the school grew from 180 students in 2015, to 453 in 2016 and 815 last year. The oldest students will go in to year 10 this year, with two more year 7 cohorts to start before it has its full complement of students.
The school’s P&C president, Roland de Pree, said the school needed an urgent infrastructure plan to deal with a looming overcrowding crisis.
“If nothing is done immediately, by 2023 we will need 50 demountables,” Mr de Pree said.
“With student enrolments potentially reaching 2200 by 2023 and a limited capacity to accommodate any buildings on the school grounds, parents are concerned that the Department of Education is making it up as they go.”
Primary schools have been battling an overcrowding crisis for several years, but the issue is now hitting high schools as the baby bonus generation starts secondary school.
A Fairfax analysis found at least 10 local government areas in Sydney are facing a boom in their high school-age population.
Mr de Pree, whose son Pascal is going into year 10, said parents wanted a plan for the school and had been urging the NSW education minister, Rob Stokes, the department and local MPs to listen to the community’s concerns.
“This plan must ensure that our limited land is used wisely. It must effectively manage the footprint of temporary demountable classrooms and plan for permanent school buildings to accommodate the future generations of students that we know will be coming through this school,” Mr de Pree said.
A spokesman for the department said the school had 20 vacant classrooms in 2017, and almost one-in-five students were out-of-area enrolments.
“The department is aware of local residential development and is undertaking planning for high schools in the area,” the spokesman said.
“Currently, a project is underway to provide new permanent classrooms at nearby Riverstone High School, which had 25 vacant classrooms in 2017, and this will increase local enrolment capacity.”
Riverbank Public, which shares a site with The Ponds High and was also opened in 2015, is being upgraded “to provide 14 new classrooms, expanded administration areas, a covered outdoor learning area and extra student facilities”.
The Riverbank project is expected to be finished by early 2020, and the upgrade at Riverstone High School by mid-2020.
The Opposition’s education spokesman, Jihad Dib, said the NSW government had been putting “developers before social infrastructure”.
“You should not be thinking about demountables just three years after a school was built,” Mr Dib said.
“We have seen a number of primary schools face severe overcrowding, but the government has not done any long-term thinking about high schools.”
Mr Dib said the government’s “failure” to accurately plan for a boom in enrolments meant schools like The Ponds would struggle to provide specialist classrooms.
“This has massive timetabling issues for a school because you could potentially need to have an English lesson in a woodwork room,” Mr Dib said.