Education Directorate defends planning of Gungahlin schools, hires ANU to help

Education Directorate defends planning of Gungahlin schools, hires ANU to help

The Education Directorate has defended its modelling for Gungahlin as schools in Canberra's fastest-growing region grapple with capacity issues.

Canberra Liberals James Milligan and Andrew Wall questioned the Education Directorate at length about capacity in Gungahlin schools during annual report hearings on Tuesday.

The ANU is examining the Education Directorate's modelling.

The ANU is examining the Education Directorate's modelling.

Photo: Quentin Jones

Neville Bonner and Ngunnawal primary schools are full, according to 2016 capacity figures and February enrolment data, while Amaroo and Palmerston schools are inching close to their limit. Harrison and Gold Creek schools are several hundred students from full.

While insisting past modelling was accurate, Education Directorate head Natalie Howson and planning and analytics director Robert Gotts said the Australian National University was now helping better forecast the future needs of Canberra families.

This included better accounting for families living in apartments or travelling to other regions for school, Ms Howson said. Mr Gotts said about 1400 students who lived in Gungahlin attended school in central Canberra or Belconnen.


" ... we've recently been working with the ANU to modify the modelling process that we've been using and ... making adjustments to the assumptions that inform that model about how people in Canberra are now living their lives, for example apartment living and so on," Ms Howson said.

"They're the adjustments I think that are reasonable for all policy departments to be making on a continuous basis but I'd still go back to the general premise that we're meeting demand.

"There is no student in Gungahlin that is turned away and we have a multifaceted approach to meeting the needs of our community in the north."

Mr Gotts added: "When Ms Howson says we're getting better at [modelling], it's not that we weren't good, it's that we're going into it in ever-finer detail."

Ms Howson said the directorate was managing growth in north Canberra "effectively" and pointed to significant expansion works planned at Neville Bonner Primary, Harrison and Gold Creek schools and Palmerston District School. New schools are also planned for the region.

Asked by Mr Milligan whether the directorate agreed Gungahlin schools were over capacity, Ms Howson said the directorate was meeting the community's needs.

"Of course there is a growing population and there is a need to increase capacity for students to be able to select their local schools and the government is investing significantly in expanding the capacity of schools and investing in new schools in north Gungahlin," she said earlier.

" ... schools follow the ebbs and flows of demographics across many years in any context of any region in Canberra, and we need to ensure that our schools can be augmented if you like in order to respond to the peaks in those demographic profiles, but at the same time as the demographics change we can adjust our school configurations so that we have really optimally functioning schools."

Capacity has been an issue at a number of Canberra schools this year, with some forced to use libraries and community rooms as classrooms and at least one campus asking parents to stay away from whole-school assemblies due to space constraints.

Priority enrolment areas have been redrawn for North Ainslie, Mawson and Aranda primary schools due to "critical enrolment pressure".

Emily Baker is a reporter for the Sunday Canberra Times. She previously reported on education for The Canberra Times.

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