Parents at St Columba’s Primary at Adamstown question enrolment policy

Growth: St Columba's has 239 students, up from 191 in 2016. Diocese chief executive Sean Scanlon said there was unprecedented demand for its inner city schools and the diocese was looking for new sites. Picture: Simone De Peak
Growth: St Columba's has 239 students, up from 191 in 2016. Diocese chief executive Sean Scanlon said there was unprecedented demand for its inner city schools and the diocese was looking for new sites. Picture: Simone De Peak

PARENTS at St Columba’s Primary in Adamstown are in a state of “panic” about whether their children will be accepted as expected for enrolment, after the school halted its plan to expand to two classes in each grade.

Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle’s Director of Schools Michael Slattery has written to parents to explain that despite a decision in 2015 to increase its intake from one to two kindergarten classes in 2017 and 2018, only one kindergarten class of 30 will be offered in 2019. Current kindergarten and year one students will continue in two classes, or streams, until they leave the school, which is located next to the church.

“Recently in consultation with the parish it became apparent that the school cannot expand to two streams without taking over the present open parish land, thus foreclosing future possibilities for its use,” he wrote.

“I have discussed this situation with the Bishop and we have decided it is therefore not possible to extend St Columba's to a full two stream school.

“The present footprint of school land, excluding the parish block, is too small.”

Diocese chief executive Sean Scanlon said the diocese had treated the past two years of kindergarten enrolment at one of its smallest school sites as a “bubble” and expected numbers to drop off. 

“We need to step back from this and have a better look at how to address the demand,” he said.

“We need to take a long term view and while we didn’t do it sooner, we’re going to do it now.”

Mr Scanlon said the diocese was working with the parish on a masterplan for the best use of the St Columba’s site, in conjunction with a broader plan for all of its school sites.

But a community member who declined to be named said this didn’t provide immediate answers.

“[Parents are reacting with] panic about where to send the kids,” they said. 

“They were so confident there would be another class and now we don’t know what will happen.

“Parents who already have kids there [are] worried [their subsequent children] won’t get in too.

“We’ve been told the school has to follow the enrolment policy, but we don’t know how that will work for each person.” 

The policy specifies a responsibility to provide education to children who are baptised, poor, marginalised and “whose need is the greatest”.

Mr Scanlon said the school has already received 29 applications for kindergarten in 2019, including 19 from siblings of current students.

He said the diocese would try to keep families together, but some may be encouraged to apply to other schools.

Mr Scanlon said there were no plans to sell or develop the land behind the church currently used as play space. 

He said demountables, on the land used as a parish carpark between the church and school, would be moved closer to the school.