Melbourne schools bursting at seams

SPECIAL REPORT: Melbourne schools bursting at seams

STATE primary schools are turning into “portable classroom cities” to cope with the population boom in inner-city and outer growth suburbs, the body for state school principals says.

About 70 per cent of government schools in Victoria use portable classrooms, with 6000 in use now.

And as state primary student numbers grow – up by more than 4000 kids in the past five years – concerns escalate about whether high schools will be able to meet demand.

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Frank Sal said the growing number of relocatable classrooms in schools was unacceptable.

“You see these little portable cities growing,” Mr Sal said.

“We need to be letting the Government know where schools are growing rapidly and there hasn’t been adequate capital funding to accommodate them.”

Australian Education Union branch president Mary Bluett said more needed to be done to accommodate students in growth areas such as Casey and Cardinia.

“There is an obvious need for new schools in growth areas such as Berwick, Cranbourne and other areas where the demographics are changing,” Ms Bluett said.

“Portables are supposed to be temporary measures. They can be freezing in winter and boiling in summer.”

Cardinia, Melton, Whittlesea and Wyndham were named among Australia’s fastest growing local government areas by population expert .id.

Education Department spokesman Stuart Teather said it was finishing a feasibility study into primary education provision in the Port Melbourne area and would be providing this to the Education Minister in the coming weeks.

“The department builds new schools to meet long-term enrolments, in some situations – such as when an area has a short spike in school-aged children – relocatable classrooms can be brought in to meet the demand.”

James Martin, spokesman for Education Minister Martin Dixon, said the “vast majority” of students were taught in permanent buildings and that new ‘Mod 5’ relocatable classrooms offered high levels of comfort and high energy efficiency ratings.

But Mr Davis suggested investing in permanent buildings for schools could benefit the wider community.

“Portables are the right way to do it, but you’ve then got some generations of kids who will go through primary schools living in portables,” Mr Davis said.

“You could look at building permanent buildings with an eye to having those modified in the future – once numbers drop – for different purposes such as community-use halls.”

But at Port Melbourne Primary School – among the most crowded schools in Victoria – enrolments jump by an average of 90 students a year and 14 portable classrooms already cover a third of the school’s play area.

With two portable classrooms needed to accommodate every 90 students, principal Peter Martin feared they would soon lose their yard altogether.

Albert Park Primary School was forced to change timetables and split morning and lunch breaks to accommodate its 400 students.

And Whittlesea Council estimates the area needs up to 30 new schools over the next five years to meet with demand.

The council’s advocacy general manager Griff Davis said schools such as Mill Park Heights Primary School were operating at triple their desired capacity.

Yarraville West and Kingsville primary schools, which have enrolment caps, are “bursting at the seams” SKY High spokeswoman Susan Douglas said.

Southbank parents are calling for a new school to accommodate the 500 children under 14 in the suburb, while families living 2km away from Strathmore North Primary School say they are excluded from the tight enrolment zone.