This column was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on July 27 2018. Although descriptive of the Northern Territory situation, I believe it paints a picture of the priorities surrounding the issue of new school construction in other parts of Australia.
SCHOOLS SHOULD BE FIRST, NOT LAST
Planning for and construction of schools in the newer Darwin and Palmerston suburbs is long overdue.
When suburbs for Darwin and Palmerston were being planned in the 1970s and early 1980s, the provision of schooling was one of the first priorities taken into account.
In Darwin, schools were built in Karama and Leanyer as soon as suburbs were gazetted. The residential areas developed around their new schools. The same applied in Palmerston. Gray and Driver had Neighbourhood Centres which included schools and childcare facilities available as residents purchased blocks and built their nearby homes.
This policy reassured residents that schooling would be available for children.
Guaranteed local schooling encouraged people to buy property and settle in these new suburbs.
Over time, this policy has changed. Rather than schools (and other necessary community facilities) being among the first constructions, provision is left until all residential blocks are purchased and homes built. Lyons and Muirhead in Darwin are overdue for schools. Hundreds of families have to transport their children to schools at distance from where they live.
This has resulted in Nakara, Wanguri and Leanyer primary schools being oversupplied with students who are living outside their catchment areas.
This policy change has also impacted upon Palmerston. People living in Johnson, Zuccoli and other developing residential areas have to take their children to distant schools. In Palmerston , this has resulted in huge numbers being enrolled at Bakewell and Roseberry Primary Schools. Many of the students are being enrolled from out of these schools catchment areas.
Undoubtably, economics have driven this change. Developers are in a hurry to sell land and construct housing. However it leaves people with limited options for their children.
When families have children being enrolled in schools out of area, their attention and focus is elsewhere. They are not able to contribute to the development of their suburb’s character.
The present policy is leading to our suburban schools, particularly primary schools, becoming larger and larger. Historically, school planning was done with the expectation that schools would grow to a population of 300 to possibly 350. In the schools mentioned, these numbers are being substantially exceeded.
It would be in the interests of community for government and developers to revisit the benefits of making schools one of the first facilities constructed in new residential subdivisions. Leaving schools until the absolute last is socially and culturally depriving for those living in our newest suburbs.