‘There’s barely space for kids to play’: One year after it opened, this Sydney school has 13 demountables

Last year, when a brand new school Gledswood Hills Public opened in Sydney’s south-west, there were eight kindergarten classes. This year there were 12. When year 2 student Azalea returned for term one, she found 13 new demountables on her playground.

“It used to be a whole field of grass, and the kids could freely go wherever they wanted to,” said her mother Charelle, who did not want her last name used. “Now they seem so boxed in. Driving into school in the morning, it’s like a car park.”

Charelle with her daughters Azalea and Isabella in front of Gledswood Hills Public School, which has 13 demountables despite only being opened a year agoCredit:Dominic Lorrimer

New communities in western Sydney are growing so quickly, schools are filling up within a few years of being built. Last year, nearby Oran Park Public, which opened in 2014, had 27 demountable classrooms and support spaces.

Demountables are not the tin cans of the old days; they are insulated, air conditioned and come with more high-tech equipment than many fixed classrooms. But critics say they take up children’s play space, and are relied upon when enrolment forecasts are faulty.

There are plans to build more permanent classrooms at Gledswood Hills – and for a new school up the road at another new community, Gregory Hills – but they are in early stages. Locals fear that by the time those classrooms are finished, they’ll need even more.

“Last year [Gledswood Hills Public] lost half a year six class, and gained 12 kindies [classes],” said another Gledswood parent Hanna Braga. “Next year they’ll gain another 12 or more. There’s barely any open space for the kids to play.”

They’re not the only new schools to run out of space. Ballina Coast High, which opened in 2019 with a capacity of 1000 students, had eight new demountables this year. Numbers are growing in the Northern Rivers region due to sea changers from Sydney and students switching from the private system.

Back in Sydney’s north-west, Northbourne Public, a pop-up school made up of demountable classrooms and toilets to house students before a new school at Marsden Park opens later this year, had predicted 500 students in 2021. More than 700 enrolled.

Over the next 15 years, the school population will grow fastest in western Sydney, driven by higher fertility rates and new Greenfield developments drawing young families.

Labor education spokeswoman Prue Car said the government had failed to ensure infrastructure kept pace with development.

“We have brand new schools overcapacity with demountables filling playgrounds,” she said.
“The NSW Liberal government approves developments left, right and centre but where is the infrastructure?”

“We have brand new schools overcapacity with demountables filling playgrounds.”

Blacktown Mayor Tony Bleasdale is worried about the demand for schooling in his district, arguing that demountables took away the sense of community in newly-built schools.

Mr Bleasdale said The Ponds High School, which opened in his electorate in 2015, was now 800 students over its capacity and had 32 demountables last year.

“They’ve known for years what the growth is going to be by rezoning these areas, and [they are] really panicking like hell to provide the basic schools to these incredible new communities that are developing,” he said.

Tamara Smith, the Greens MP for Ballina, said authorities were waiting to see if demand for Ballina Coast continued before they built more classrooms. “They’re erring on the side of financial conservatism,” she said.

However, Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the government had built or upgraded more than 100 schools in the past two-and-a-half years, and there were more to come.

“The new school in Ballina has attracted students out of the independent sector,” she said. “This is a trend we are seeing across the state. Public education is growing, and that is due to the success of our system.”

Ms Mitchell said Gledswood Hills’ second stage had been approved, while a new school in Gregory Hills was in “advanced planning stages”. She said 19 new or upgraded schools were being built in the north-west, and 11 of them had been delivered.

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