Sydney’s inner city residents have announced unequivocally that the area needs a new public high school to accommodate the influx of school-aged children moving into inner city suburbs.
Following continuous calls for a new public inner city high school from local community groups, the Department of Education and Communities (DEC) convened a large-scale consultation on the issue.
The consultation involved meetings with teachers, principals, parents and community members in order to ascertain what the community wants from the public education sector in terms of the growing inner city population.
The series of consultation meetings held by the DEC concluded this month.
“The Inner City Schools Working Party is currently considering the community feedback as part of the consultation process,” a DEC spokesperson said.
Skye Molyneux, Co-Director of community group Community for Local Options for Secondary Education (CLOSE), said the results of the consultation are indicative of the desperate need for change to the provision of public education in the area.
“The results that have come out of the process are really interesting and they tell a story about what’s actually going on,” Ms Molyneux said.
Independent Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich agreed the consultations results were indisputable.
“The community response to the department’s consultation reinforces what we’ve been saying – a new inner city high school is urgent. The government must find a site and begin construction now,” he said.
Data collected from the consultations indicates that inner city families need more public schools in their local area to operate as alternatives to sending their children to local private schools.
“Find a site for new high school immediately,” was one comment from an unnamed community member.
“We want and need comprehensive school or schools in the city and inner east.”
Parents, teachers and principals cited issues such as transport and traffic congestion currently created by moving children outside of inner Sydney each morning in order for them to attend a public high school, as well as the broader issue of inner city children no longer being accepted into local public schools due to oversaturation.
The complaints centred around inner city suburbs as well as the inner east and eastern suburbs, such as Surry Hills and Paddington.
Suggested solutions included building a new public school at sites such as Barangaroo, Paddington Barracks or the land currently occupied by Sydney Girls and Sydney Boys High School.
Along with the demand for provision of more public high schools in the inner city, the consultations produced consistent recommendations to abandon the selective schools system in the interest of making all public education more comprehensive.
“Combine Sydney Boys/Girls into one co-ed selective school, with additional buildings and use remaining school for local enrolments,” suggested one community member.
“We believe there are too many specialist schools and not enough general public schools in the area,” said another.
One issue that created controversy both between consulted members of the community and between the community and the DEC is the proposal to re-purpose the Cleveland Street Intensive English School.
Some community members see this as an opportunity to create a new public high school in a central location, while others feel the intensive English school needs to remain operational.
According to Ms Molyneux, the DEC is reluctant to consider this possibility.
“One of the sites CLOSE as a group has always questioned and wanted the Department to re-purpose is the Cleveland Street site because it is really well situated,” Ms Molyneux said.
“For some reason, the DEC is adamant this site not be touched. Adrian Piccoli (NSW Minister for Education) has written to us directly saying he is not considering re-purposing the site.”
While Ms Molyneux was pleased the community was consulted on the issue, she said the consultations could have been better handled.
“The destination was positive but the journey to get there was very arduous,” she said.
“It was conducted in such a way that really displayed that the Department of Education doesn’t understand the communities they are dealing with.”
Ms Molyneux also said that the consultation has put considerable pressure on the DEC to act on these demands.
“The department will have no choice but to act,” she said.
Mr Greenwich has urged NSW Parliament and the Minister for Education to act on these findings immediately.
Based on the results of the consultation, the DEC is expected to make a formal recommendation to the Government in coming months.