Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Big squeeze in Auckland schools

Enrolment zones could also be changed to ease pressure on schools with full rolls, which could in turn affect property prices. Photo / Thinkstock
Enrolment zones could also be changed to ease pressure on schools with full rolls, which could in turn affect property prices. Photo / Thinkstock

Already-full schools face being made to cram in more students as the Government struggles to cope with the growth in Auckland's population.

The Ministry of Education has been told to find space for 150,000 more school-age children in the city by 2040.

It says it will look at building new schools; creating new or temporary teaching spaces, which could shrink play areas; and changing schools' year levels.

Enrolment zones could also be changed to ease pressure on schools with full rolls, which could in turn affect property prices. Houses in zones for highly rated state schools can be worth tens of thousands of dollars more than similar properties just outside the boundaries.

Auckland Council plans to accommodate a million more people in the next 30 years - 700,000 within existing urban boundaries.

The pressure has already come to a head in Pt Chevalier, where the ministry has proposed building more classrooms at the local primary or turning Pasadena Intermediate into a Year 1 to Year 8 school.

Many parents have rejected both options as short-sighted and ad hoc.

"The ministry has just sat there like a possum in the middle of a west coast road, waiting for a logging truck to run over it," said Pasadena principal Tony Walsh. "And now that it has appeared, they've come up with these two ineffectual options."

Mr Walsh said turning Pasadena into a Years 1-8 school would not affect Pt Chev Primary's roll for six years, and by then population growth would have broken the fix. "The ministry simply has to bite the bullet. It's a tidal wave sweeping across Auckland - the infill happens, and this new Auckland [unitary] plan is anticipating high rise ... Now the suburbs are growing from within, not expanding into farmland."

Karen Fraser, whose son Finn attends Pasadena, said the school ceasing to be an intermediate would be a great loss for a short-term solution.

"I see [intermediate] as a good opportunity for kids to be themselves and express themselves and have permission to grow. The unitary plan has come out, and 400 metres back from Great North Rd can all be intensified ... You're looking at maybe 2000 more dwellings."

Pt Chevalier School principal Sandra Aitken said the Pasadena option "wasn't necessarily the right one", but her school did not want more buildings on its 1.7ha.

The school would finish this year with about 750 children but the ministry had assessed the site as suitable for 700. "We are in the unfortunate position of having the children pouring through the gate."

Ministry executive Katrina Casey said other options, including changing the primary's zone, had not been ruled out.

"A new school may well be needed in the long-term but first the ministry needs to keep costs within budget and maximise existing assets."

Pasadena chairman Antony Hobbs said the ministry's consultation process had led him to believe it had no clear plan for dealing with Auckland's increasing rolls.

Without buying land, three- or four-storey classroom blocks could become the norm, he said. "That obviously has issues as to health and safety, the physical wellbeing of kids as to playground areas - a whole lot of other things that haven't been debated, that should be."

- NZ Herald

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