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Bursting at the seams

PHOTO/FILE

Schools at risk of overcrowding from population boom
Ministry estimates fall short of reality

ELISA VORSTER
[email protected]

Population growth in Wairarapa has seen overcrowded primary schools bursting at the seams, forcing children to learn in cold, noisy halls and staffrooms before the government will step in.

Some primary school principals are now questioning the Ministry of Education’s formula for future roll growth projections, calling it outdated and broken.

But the ministry says there is no set formula, and it considers several variables when working with schools to understand how many children may be in the future schooling network.

Principal of Martinborough School Craig Nelson said schools tended to overload classrooms and use halls, libraries, and staff rooms as classrooms before getting action from the ministry.

He said the time lapse between raising the issue of overpopulated classrooms to finally getting a resolution made life difficult for schools.

“It’s not giving schools access to the resources they need to cater for today’s learners and today’s society and obviously the formula that’s in place to allocate funds and resources for schools is not working.”

Information from early childhood centres in Martinborough shows its school roll will increase by up to 15 pupils every year for the next four years, leaving the school in need of an additional classroom by 2025.

In Masterton, about 1550 known lots are on the cards in new housing developments over the next 25 years, leaving school principals asking where they will put all the children.

Primary school principals around Masterton have met the Ministry of Education to seek solutions for their overcrowded classrooms and plan for future growth.

Principal of Fernridge School Janine Devenport said her school roll in Term 1 was about 198 pupils compared with 165 five years ago.

The roll sits at 213 and continues to grow as families move into the area from Wellington, Auckland and Australia.

“We’re not just taking people from across town,” Devenport said.

Primary schools in Masterton currently have zoned enrolment schemes in place which means children living within a school’s zone cannot be turned away.

However, the Ministry of Education reviews the surplus spaces across the entire Masterton school network when reviewing a school’s ability to house its pupils.

Its figures indicate there are surplus spaces at primary schools across the network, which creates a roadblock for schools at full capacity when applying for additional classrooms.

But if a school with surplus capacity accepts out-of-zone pupils one year, it can face questions from the ministry if it later receives an influx of additional in-zone pupils.

“The reality is people are moving out of the cities and the location of these new subdivisions mean they’re going to be family homes,” Devenport said.

“If they’re in zone, I’m not allowed to turn them away.”

The ministry has estimated Fernridge School’s roll will increase by 95 pupils in the next 15-20 years despite plans under way for up to 728 residential lots at known developments in its zone within the next two-25 years.

Devenport said the ministry had underestimated the effect the housing developments would have on her school roll.

“I think it’s clearly indicative there’s going to be more children coming through.

“Their formula is something that is kind of a mystery to everybody.”

Spokeswoman for Ministry of Education Katrina Casey said it had been regularly working with up-to-date policy projections and council information, as well as using the 2013 census information which showed an average of 2.2 people per Masterton household.

Some of the factors considered for future roll growth include the number of children living in similar developments, population projections for the area, purchase history for houses around a subdivision, the size and prices of the houses and the density of the development.

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