Hunter schools are bleeding students in some areas while others are bursting at the seams for reasons ranging from changing demographics to school reputations.
NSW Education Department and Catholic Schools Office figures have revealed the shifting sands of Hunter school enrolments.
Changing demographics were behind some shifts, but in other cases figures suggest parents are favouring certain public or private schools in their area.
Overall, Hunter state schools have lost 1700 students in the past six years, a 2.3per cent decrease, while the Catholic sector has added more than 400 students to its books, a 2.2per increase.
Enrolment drops can be a major threat to schools because they can affect funding and staffing.
In Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens, public and private schools have been bleeding students over the past six years because of ageing populations.
Elsewhere schools such as Ashtonfield Public have experienced massive spikes because of population growth, but in some cases at the expense of pupils at nearby schools.
Closer to the city there are pockets of growth around Hamilton and New Lambton.
In other areas there is a clear shift of students away from one school to others, for example Maitland High has lost 66 students, but nearby private and public high schools have grown.
Similarly, Cardiff Public was standout performer in the face of a suburb downturn as was Lambton Public and St Paul’s Gateshead.
Rutherford High has grown by 254 students as have surrounding primary schools, adding weight to calls for a Greta-Branxton high school.
In Singleton and Muswellbrook, the mining boom has not stopped both primary and high schools losing students – attributed to the commuting nature of the workforce.
In Port Stephens, decreases at Tomaree, Irrawang and Hunter River High will not bolster the campaign for a high school in Medowie.
The struggling high school figures come despite a rise in the school leaving age to 17.
Newcastle and Lake Macquarie District Council of P&C spokeswoman Margaret Bryden said parents would change schools for reasons ranging from bullies to bad reputations.
‘‘Parents will leave a school if they’re not happy or they can’t get a response to their questions,’’ she said.
‘‘Sometimes it will be a group of kids do not get on with another group of kids.
‘‘Or there’s something in the curriculum they can’t explain to them.’’
A NSW Education Department spokesman said enrolment shifts between nearby schools were cyclical and affected by changing demography and parents’ learning preferences.
‘‘For instance, Maitland Grossmann has two special classes designed for refugee students,’’ he said.
The Maitland Newcastle Catholic Schools Office said it was constantly monitoring options, but some schools were land-locked.
School hits winning
A SCHOOL that has ditched some homework is among Hunter schools bucking enrolment and demographic trends in their area.
St Paul’s Primary is the only Gateshead school where enrolments have risen in five years. It turned away nine students this year.
Despite being in a disadvantaged area, its national literacy and numeracy test results outshine its neighbours and national averages.
Principal Wendy McInnes-Fogg says it comes down to everyone in the school community doing their job.
She said teachers focused on every student, whether giving advanced students extra work or taking strugglers for extra revision.
Teachers did away with homework four years ago for students up to year 5, replacing it with ‘‘home activities’’, which include optional any time activities such as reading, watching the news, playing educational computer or board games.