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Sydney needs a high school

June 27, 2012

This opinion piece was publised in City News on 24 June, 2012.

Our inner city public primary schools are bursting and more than 2000 more kids, aged between four and fifteen years old, are expected to push capacity even further by 2016.

But the NSW government’s demographic planning hasn’t been keeping up with how families live and until very recently made the assumption that most families left the city for outer suburbs when the oldest child turned four. (and that women had their babies in their 20s).

When I lived in Potts Point in the late 90s everyone knew the local kids as there weren’t many around. Now hundreds of kids pile out of the apartment buildings on Macleay everyday to join the community’s diverse parade, their parents having replaced Soho party nights with five-year-old parties and play-dates – and all without leaving this locale.

Darlinghurst Public Primary once under threat of closure now has more than 200 students and it is a similar story for Crown Street Public, Paddington Public and other primaries across to the eastern beaches. Data shows the growth is not stopping with Randwick, ranked tenth last year in Australia for its number of newborns.

Families thrive on local primary school life: there’s the walking to and fro, the local friends and a new community engagement. But for parents wanting to send their child to a local public high school in the inner city Sydney suburbs there are few options and these are fast reaching capacity.

In May NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli said existing inner-city high school facilities would reach capacity in 2016. Children due to enter high school then are already half-way through year 3 and last year local parents and supporters formed the community group CLOSE (Community Local Options for Secondary Education) to campaign for improved public secondary school options for families living in inner city Sydney.

Currently just five public high schools serve a population of more than 400,000 people across the four NSW state electorates of Sydney, Vaucluse, Coogee and Maroubra. In the state seat of Sydney there is not a single non-selective public high school, the local option for kids living in Darlinghurst, Surry Hills or Paddington is across the city in Rozelle. If you live in Woollahra your local High School is Rose Bay Secondary College. Then there’s Randwick Girls, Randwick Boys and South Sydney High in Maroubra. 

The community group CLOSE wants the government to share its plans on how it is going to fill the inner city void. One option is to transform Surry Hill’s old Cleveland Street High on the edge of Prince Alfred Park back into a co-ed high school. Currently it is used to teach short term English courses to newly arrived overseas students. Another idea is to make Sydney Boys and Sydney Girls local again and only partially selective thus reducing the number of students who travel vast distances to get there.

Alternatively I’m wondering just how big a piece of land in Wolloomooloo would be needed to build a vertical high school that could use the domain as its green space?

Just imagine if as much of the planning and government money allocated to supporting Barangaroo went into local Public High School education. CLOSE has asked Minister Piccoli and Lord Mayor Clover Moore MP to attend a community meeting of concerned local parents in early August. Meanwhile the year 3 children move another term towards high school.

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