Next year Mt Albert Grammar School is planning to start classes at 7.45 am, an hour before the school day starts currently and giving it an extra period to juggle classes for its bulging roll. Chances are, it will not be alone. Many schools in Auckland are bursting at the seams with the surge in immigration over the past five years.
More prefabs are being parked in their grounds, staffrooms, hostels and assembly halls are being commandeered for extra classrooms, and there appears no end to it. Mt Albert Grammar principal, Pat Drumm, told the Weekend Herald his roll was growing by 100 students a year from infill housing in its zone, and the school's growing popularity against private schools.
In theory it could reduce its zone to fit the population it has the capacity to serve, "but our bordering schools such as Avondale College, Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls Grammar are also bursting at the seams. It needs a holistic Auckland-wide strategy," he said.
There are, of course, schools he did not mention, such as Western Springs College and Auckland Girls Grammar School, within reach of the pupils on the western isthmus. An Auckland-wide strategy would attempt to spread pupils around so that all the taxpayers' buildings are used to their capacity. No teenager would then have to get up before dawn to make it to a class at a quarter to eight, which might be a pity.
Massey University sleep researcher Karyn O'Keefe said teenagers have a different body clock from adults or younger children. "They find it really hard to fall asleep and really hard to wake up and function at their best early in the morning," which many a parent could confirm. In fact schools have been trialling later timetables in Wellington to start lessons as late as 10.15am when students are less sleepy.
No such indulgence is likely in Auckland, where a new Unitary Plan envisages more infill housing in the central and western suburbs and no new schools. The Ministry of Education was contemplating an additional school on land it bought at Alexandra Park but abandoned the idea when Grammar zone residents objected. They want all their kids in the overloaded schools.
So, with declining rolls and spare capacity at perfectly fine old schools such as Auckland Girls Grammar, there can be no complaint to the ministry. If arousing tired teenagers before dawn and cramming them into makeshift classrooms are the price of prestige, parents will pay it.