Urgent action demanded as inner suburbs cry out for new schools
Reviews into the need for new schools in South Melbourne, Yarraville, Coburg and North Melbourne-Docklands are due to be released this year by Education Minister Martin Dixon.
Port Phillip mayor Rachel Powning. Photo: Justin McManus
PRESSURE is mounting on the state government to meet inner urban demands for more schools, with parents waiting anxiously for it to release its reviews on education shortages in their areas.
Another feasibility study for a new secondary school in Prahran is about to start, after the go-ahead in the budget this month.
Long-running community protests about school shortages, mainly at secondary level, prompted the government to set up the studies.
”I’m contacted on a weekly basis by people concerned about school issues, particularly about where they will send their child after primary school,” says Clem Newton-Brown, state Liberal MP for Prahran, whose electorate does not have a year 7-12 government high school. ”Of all my policies that I went to the last election with, the campaign for a new high school has been the most popular one.”
Booming birth rates, rapid growth in apartment developments and a tendency for young families to stay in the inner suburbs to raise children, has left government schools unable to cope with rising demand.
In the Prahran electorate the nearest co-educational government high school is Elwood Secondary College, five kilometres away.
”My students would have to catch public transport two or three times to even get to Elwood,” says Peter Clifton, principal of South Yarra Primary School. ”The feasibility study is a step in the right direction but it needs to be completed as soon as possible. I have about 50 families in grades 5 and 6 who are effectively disenfranchised from direct access to a local, co-educational secondary school.”
Port Phillip mayor Rachel Powning has written to the minister warning that growth in the number of young children in the area is much higher than estimates, based on 2006 census data, the education department is using as part of its feasibility study for a new primary school.
A more recent study commissioned by the council found a new primary school should be built much sooner than the five to 10-year time frame suggested.
On Thursday Cr Powning and Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews will speak at a public meeting in South Melbourne to discuss community anger about the area’s overcrowded schools.
Many families who campaigned for the reopening of the local high school, Albert Park College, face the prospect of being excluded from the new school’s enrolment zone. Last month the school, rebuilt in 2011, announced plans to shrink its intake zone to cope with soaring demand for places.
”Families are feeling very anxious and some are devastated that their children will not be given the same opportunity as others for a good-quality public education,” says Cr Powning, who is seeking an urgent meeting with the minister to discuss the need for a junior campus of the high school and build a new primary school.
A spokesman for Mr Dixon said the minister was willing to meet the mayor and community groups. ”The minister is aware there will need to be additional schooling provision in inner urban areas because of the population growth,” he said.
Progress in other hot spots:
■Docklands-North Melbourne: Review on the need for a new primary school to be handed to Mr Dixon next month.
■Coburg: Parent action group High School for Coburg appears close to a breakthrough. Mr Dixon is considering whether to expand Coburg Senior High to include years 7-9 students. It has room for 900 students but only 230 are enrolled.
Another option being considered by the government involves building more facilities at nearby schools – a move likely to be unpopular with those whose playgrounds are already cramped.
■Yarraville: The Education Minister is awaiting updated census figures on the need for a new high school in the inner west, before making decision on the review’s findings. Parents from lobby group SKY High, have been campaigning for 10 years to get Yarraville High school reopened. It was closed in the early 1990s by the former Kennett government