More funding needed to avoid schools shortage and budget blowouts, say independent schools

Australia faces a schools shortage and education budget blowouts unless governments accept more responsibility for funding building works in Catholic and independent schools, the non-government school sector warns.

School enrolments are expected to surge by 611,000 between 2012 and 2020 – a 17 per cent increase – according to the federal government. This means 1550 new schools would be need to be built to maintain current average school sizes. On current trends, 294 of these new schools would be independent, 315 Catholic and 943 public.

But funding shortfalls and anti-development councils were impeding the expansion of existing independent schools and the construction of new schools, Association of Independent Schools of NSW executive director Geoff Newcombe said.

“I can’t understand why governments aren’t getting more edgy about this – there is a lot of inertia,” he said.

“This will come home to roost if governments aren’t careful.”

AISNSW wants governments to lift their contribution to capital works spending in independent schools from the long-term average of 20 per cent to 35 to 40 per cent. This would leave taxpayers better off by preventing a flood of students into the public school system, the association says.

Demand is booming for low-fee independent schools in western Sydney such as Al Faisal College at Auburn and Thomas Hassall Anglican College at Middleton Grange. Unlike elite private schools, which receive little to no direct capital funding, these schools depend on federal government funding to build new classrooms and other facilities.

Dr Newcombe said a lack of funding was compounded by councils which “make life as difficult as possible for schools to enrol more students on existing sites”. Fairfax Media reported earlier this month that Woollahra Municipal Council is likely to block The Scots College’s bid to increase student numbers at its Bellevue Hill campus by a third.

National Catholic Education Commission executive director Ross Fox said a lack of capital funding was a concern. More than 30 new Catholic schools would be needed each year to keep up with demand yet government capital funding per student had been falling, he said.

"Capital funding from the government needs to keep pace with the dramatic growth in the student population in Australia," he said.

The Coalition’s election platform included a promise to create a school capital infrastructure fund when the budget is brought back to "strong surplus".

A spokesman for Education Minister Christopher Pyne said Labor had abolished the Howard government’s school establishment grants and left the budget in deficit.

“These are not the conditions allowing a large Commonwealth investment in school capital expenditure,” the spokesman said.

Australian Council of State School Organisations chief executive Dianne Giblin said government funding for capital works in non-government schools was already too high. New public schools in western Sydney and extensions to existing schools in the northern suburbs were needed, Ms Giblin said.

NSW independent schools spent $2395 per student on capital works in 2012, with Catholic schools spending $1074 and public schools $747, according to the latest My School data.

This story More funding needed to avoid schools shortage and budget blowouts, say independent schools first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.