Hunter schools top NSW for overcrowding

Full: Rutherford has 15 demountable classrooms, the most in the region. The government said it will need to build another 3518 high school classrooms and 3682 primary school classrooms before 2031. Picture: Simone De Peak
Full: Rutherford has 15 demountable classrooms, the most in the region. The government said it will need to build another 3518 high school classrooms and 3682 primary school classrooms before 2031. Picture: Simone De Peak

THE Hunter has topped the state for its number of high schools that are either full or exceeding capacity, a report has found.

Shadow Minister for the Hunter and Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said the overcrowding had forced many schools to rely on demountables to accommodate their burgeoning populations, which were projected to continue to rise.

“We urgently need new schools to be built,” Ms Washington said.

“In Port Stephens we’ve been calling for a new school for many years and in the absence of any secondary schooling we’ve now got Tomaree High bursting at the seams, with no wriggle room and nowhere else for students to go.

“Government planning does not seem to have happened – we’ve got no indications there’s additional schooling underway.”

The Department of Education has projected the Hunter will see the biggest student population growth to 2031 outside of Sydney, equivalent to an increase of 5950 primary school enrolments and 4350 high school enrolments.

The NSW Auditor General’s Planning for school infrastructure report said there had been “chronic under-investment in NSW government school infrastructure and deficiencies in asset planning” over the past decade.

It branded the department’s new plan to accommodate the projected 21 per cent increase in the NSW student population to 2031 as “good”, but said it included “several potentially controversial changes to the way schools are planned, designed, built, managed and funded”. 

It also flagged “many risks to effective implementation”, reporting the department will “need to spend much more than it has been receiving to date” and the government “had not committed to make available the funding needed to implement the plan”.

Ms Washington said many schools could not wait any longer.

Department data showed 41 per cent of the Hunter’s public high schools are at or over capacity based on their number of permanent classrooms.

This figure was the state’s highest, outstripping the South East and Tablelands at 40 per cent.

A NSW Opposition freedom of information request showed 10 Hunter schools have installed at least five demountable classrooms, in the absence of permanent infrastructure. Rutherford Technology High has 15.

A spokesman for the department said it was working with Newcastle City Council, the Department of Planning and Environment and UrbanGrowth NSW to finalise a strategy for “educational needs within the Newcastle CBD area”.  

“There is currently significant secondary school capacity and planning is underway to address longer term demand for primary school capacity.”