LABOR has pointed to new figures showing how Hunter schools are using their classrooms as proof of an “overcrowding crisis”, a claim the NSW Government has labelled as “nonsense”.
Shadow Education Minister Jihad Dib said documents obtained through freedom of information laws show 77 Hunter schools – nearly 40 per cent of the region’s total – are at or above 100 per cent “utilisation”, which Mr Dib said was equivalent to being “at or above capacity”.
Utilisation is the percentage of teaching spaces occupied by a class as a proportion of the total teaching spaces on the site.
Both permanent and demountable spaces are included.
In the Cessnock electorate, 48 percent of schools are at or above 100 percent utilisation – the highest rate of any state electorate in the Hunter.
Abermain Public School, with 11 classrooms, is at 109.09 per cent utilisation.
Barnsley, Black Hill, Branxton, Broke, Cessnock East, Congewai, Ellalong, Kearsley, Kitchener, Laguna, Milbrodale, Pelaw Main, Edgeworth and Edgeworth Heights primary schools and Stanford Merythr Infants School are all at 100 percent utilisation.
Kurri Kurri Public School, West Wallsend High School, Mount View High School and Bellbird Public School were at 90 percent or above.
Cessnock MP Clayton Barr said high utilisation rates have presented problems for local families, with some splitting children across multiple schools.
“Teachers and parents are regularly talking to me about how poor an environment, for teaching and learning, demountables are,” Mr Barr said.
“We have some schools where demountables are 20-plus years old and still considered by the Department of Education to be ‘temporary’.
“Surely after 20-to-30 years it is time to build a permanent classroom.”
Mr Dib labelled the situation a “crisis”.
“The government is really good at making funding announcements, but not at building schools: there’s no time frames or budgets,” he said.
“It’s cold comfort for parents to hear about money being spent when they have to send their kids to a school at or above capacity that has demountables everywhere.”
Education Minister Rob Stokes told the Fairfax Media a school with 100 per cent utilisation was not overcrowded.
“We want all classrooms to be used for teaching and learning,” Mr Stokes said.
“Only two [Hunter] schools are above 100 per cent utilisation – a figure that equates to about two per cent of local government schools.
“The utilisation data provided is a snapshot at that particular point in time and may change over the course of the year.”
Mr Dib disagreed.
“If you’re using 100 per cent of spaces and that includes demountables then of course you’re overcrowded – there’s no wriggle room for new enrolments and you’re exceeding what the school was built for.
“The government is moving the goalposts.
“It either needs to build more schools, complete more upgrades or put more demountables in - and that’s not a long-term solution.”
NSW Teachers Federation regional organiser Jack Galvin Waight said the Hunter’s schools “continue to be underfunded, and it will be a problem if the government doesn’t act appropriately”.
“It is obvious from reports from our members that there are ongoing issues around; the slow turnaround in regards to the school maintenance backlog, the need for more space, permanent buildings and the building of new schools in the Hunter,” he said.
“This will affect teaching and learning if not addressed, as public school enrolments are projected to increase by 23 per cent over the next 15 years.”
Mr Stokes said the government would start work this year on the Newcastle Education Precinct comprising a new school, as well as major upgrades to Callaghan College Jesmond campus and Speers Point, Wangi Wangi, Nulkaba and Ashtonfield public schools.
The Nulkaba project will include a new two-storey building containing 14 classrooms, along with upgrades to the school’s administration area and amenities for students and staff.
Work is continuing on major upgrades to Belmont High, Hunter School of the Performing Arts, Hunter Sports High and Bolwarra, Newcastle East and Rutherford public schools.