East Coast apartment boom drives inner-city schools shortage

By Leith van Onselen

The lack of planning and foresight to cope with the never-ending population (immigration) influx into Australia’s big cities never ceases to amaze.

The latest example of negligence comes from Brisbane, where the unprecedented boom in high-rise apartments (see next chart) has driven a shortage of inner-city school places.

ScreenHunter_17062 Jan. 23 09.19

From The SMH:

Queensland governments sold land set for “education” to developers until 2013 to build thousands of apartments in West End and South Brisbane without considering the impact on local schools in 2017.

Now “pissed off parents” and one school’s Parents and Citizens Association worry where their children will play as the schools – which cannot physically expand – cope with hundreds of extra students.

The 2014 study by the West End State School’s school council – never before made public – shows the region needs 700 new primary school places.

“The families enrolling at WESS are from an increasingly diverse national background, with increasing representation from countries in Asia and the Middle East where it is very normal for families to reside in compact apartments in high-density areas,” the WESS August 2014 School Council report reads…

West End Community Association president Dr Erin Evans said the emerging situation was a planning failure.

“It’s a canary in a coal mine for just how poor the planning has been in the area,” Dr Evans said…

Dozens of apartment complexes in West End and South Brisbane are now housing families that are sending their children to crowded local schools.

Sadly, this situation is playing-out across Australia’s big cities, with inner-city schools in Sydney and Melbourne also becoming crush-loaded by the population influx and unprecedented high-rise apartment construction.

Back in February 2016, Peter Goss, School Education Program Director at the Grattan Institute, penned an excellent article in The Conversation assessing the upcoming shortage of schools across Australia’s capital cities as the nation’s population balloons. This article estimated that the number of school students would balloon by 650,000 (17%) by 2026, which would require the building of an additional 400 to 750 new schools (up from 9,400 currently). NSW (mostly Sydney) would need an additional 220 schools to cope with an additional 19% of students over the next decade, whereas Victoria (mostly Melbourne) would require an additional 220 schools to cope with an additional 19% of students (see below graphic).

ScreenHunter_11161 Jan. 22 08.29

Inner city areas would be worst affected by the schools shortage, according to Grattan:

In the inner city, the big issue is the cost and scarcity of land… Governments have been much worse at planning for the booming number of inner-city children…

Worse is to come, especially in Melbourne. Melbourne’s five most central local government areas will each see a 30% to 60% increase in student numbers over the next decade… Inner-city parents in urban redevelopment zones are the most likely to have problems getting their children into a government school.

All of this, yet again, highlights Australia’s dysfunctional population ponzi in action.

The Federal Government massively ramped-up immigration from 2003 which, when combined with the mini baby boom encouraged by the baby bonus, is leading to surging demand for schooling.

However, the states have been unable to accommodate this growth – due in part to incompetence, but also through lack of funds courtesy of Australia’s famous vertical fiscal imbalance, whereby the federal government collects most of the revenue.

This dysfunction is arguably most apparent across inner city areas. The states have been successful in forcing urban consolidation and infill development, as evidenced by the proliferation of apartment development across our major cities. However, they have been totally unsuccessful in providing the necessary infrastructure to accommodate this growth, be it schools, hospitals or transport infrastructure.

To make matters even worse, the Turnbull Government recently relaxed visa rules to allow 6 year-old foreign students and their guardians visa entry into Australia’s primary schools, thus adding to the demand pressures.

It’s an epic planning fail across Australia’s various tiers of government.

[email protected]

Latest posts by Leith van Onselen (see all)


  1. Yes there has been very large failures against planning, but in Sydney but there is some blame that has to be put on the states. In the Sydney Metro Area, there have been very little building of new class rooms at schools with massive play ground which are generally ‘out of bounds’ for school children because teachers can’t supervise.

    The land current schools sit on is not being utilised to its maximum potential. So either the State government should be spending money building more class rooms or be calling out the Federal Government about population growth. They have done neither so I put the blame on the State for this one.

    • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

      “there have been very little building of new class rooms at schools with massive play ground”

      We are surrounded by Schools that could be greatly expanded, My kids go to Ermington Public (oddly in WestRyde) and is where I went from 76 to 82 and they have a large oval but at over 400 students the place feel crowded compares to when I was there due to the addition of demountables and a New Hall (thanks Gillard)
      Eastwood public is Maxed out at over 900 students (couldnt believe the adjoining servo was allowed to be developed into appartments, should have been aquired for the School as the area has an exploding Chinese population with old federation houses on 1000m2 being knocked down for appartments, the old brick yard alone has got over 1000+ residents.)

      But the lovely Melrose Park public (in Ermington) with less than 200 students (mostley in composite classes, thats the only reason our kids dont go there) has enough land for 1000 students, as does the oddly named Rydalmere East Public also in Ermington and Ermington West public,(locals like to call it Ermington Heights) both of those with only around 2-300 but with heaps of land.

      The High School next to my kids Primary School, Marsden high (where I went) has got enough land to build another Primary and High school!.
      A huge chunk of dirt Im sure political donating developers would love to get their hands on.

      I cant think of many public Schools East of Gladesville though, sitting on large chunks of land.

      • Ermo, i saw another similar situation to the Eastwood Public adjacent land sale the other day while i was on the train.

        There’s a pile of land right next to Burwood Public school on Railway Pde that is now being redeveloped into apartments as well. I can’t believe the Government lets this happen while the school also has visible demountables. We need to get a list of these situations like Eastwood and Burwood, get FOI to see if the State tried to purchase these lands.

        PS I’m sure the developers would love to get their hands on the land at Riverside Girls…

    • Strange Economics

      Tell Gladys here’s something she can do (“to avoid the Trump like rebellion of the ripped off workers”. ) In inner west Sydney all the schools are crowded out. The population ponzi’s great for the big boys, who go to private schools anyway, but it would not be so good if the GDP increase had to be used to pay for all the losses (or “externalities”) borne by the clogged public transport, schools, unaffordable housing, etc.

    • A decade ago they didn’t. I have a friend who works for planning at Brisbane City Council, she says they and the QLD Government are hopeless at getting up to date information and she described it as “A group of silly old men who earn too much making decisions for ten years ago”.

      It’s farcical, as the lower level workers can see the stupidity of decisions made further up and are always quietly lampooning them at lunch breaks.

    • Build it and they will come, they said.

      Well Docklands (Vic) has been promising a school since it began and still nothing. Albert park keeps shrinking their school zone and the others are doing the same. More a case of: Come, and we might build it.

  2. I lived in Brisbane from 1997 to 1999. The West End was a fantastic place to hang out – quiet, great restaurants, funky cafes, and easy to park anywhere you want to go. Visited last year and didn’t recognize that place. This is called “progress”.

      • Touche. I think Simone de Beauvoir said the problem with growing old is that you reach a point where anything new and surprising is likely to be bad (I am paraphrasing). Until now, I always assumed she was talking about what happens to your own body as you get older. It didn’t occur to me she might be talking about the places you used to live, and how they have changed.

  3. We also live in Brisbane, and our children go to another ‘in demand’ school, called Ironside. The school now has 1,000+ students for infrastructure that was designed for about 600. They have placed demountables over the tennis courts and started building new buildings that encroach onto the oval. They schedule lunch breaks between class levels in order to manage the volume of kids. This year they are also implementing stricter checks to ensure parents aren’t gaming the catchment area … but this will take time to play through.

    Talk to the parents and they are ‘pissed off’. They do recognise that it is due to the large influx of the international community that is attracted to UQ which is down the road. Not many have taken the leap to the immigration policy being pushed at the Federal level.

    Sadly we are also in a very safe Liberal seat, so it is unlikely there will be a call to action. There is a lot of blind trust in the Federal MP.

    • Schools in inner city, previous government had been busily closing them and selling off the land for high density housing development. Very common to see dongas (demountables) in outer suburbs growth areas. Now may need to have high rise dongas for inner city schools due to their small footprint. How sustainable or workable this solution is open to question.

    • jc2610

      just so you know I rang Jane Prentice’s office in 2014 to complain about foreign purchases of property and the implications of schools etc

      I was told by the young staffer Harrison that ‘Australia was now open for business’

      when I said the HK doesn’t allow such easy purchases for foreigners of property he said ‘if I didn’t like it I could go and live there’

      he was all of 20 years old talking to me like that

      I made a formal complaint and wanted to go to the media about that, about his unsympathetic nature
      never vote lnp or labour, or greens they don’t have your interests at heart

    • Onya Jeremy, I did the same to our Education minister and she denied there were any issues. Apparently it’s OK to place portables over open playgrounds, stagger lunch breaks because there are too many kids to be out all at the same time and offer places to foreign students whose families have never paid a cent of tax in this country over locals who do. Sadly I also live in a suburb of sheep who haven’t learnt the value of being a swinging voter. Maybe those schools weren’t that flash after all?

  4. Agreed. As someone who was on the P&C for my inner east public primary school I went to one of the NSW Dept of Ed stakeholder sessions for the new inner city high school. The lack of planning admitted to by the Dept was shocking.

    They assume that most families either (a) move out or (b) send their kids private. Both assumptions are changing. Massive amounts of kids in the public primary system in the inner city – there used to be a Paddington High School but that is now the UNSW college of fine arts (dont worry that the national art school is a couple of hundreds of metres away in Darlo). At least Sydney is getting a new high school on the old Cleveland street high school site (it had become a foreign language school which Dept of Ed is now moving).

    The worst thing is it is SOOO hard to get the facts and figures from the department. They know they are dropping the ball but don’t want to let it be known.

    • In NSW it is the Planning department that runs the show and all they care about is housing and getting people to and from their housing to work. That’s where all the money is being made and the government participates via land sell-offs to developers so this is a major profit center for the government. Education OTOH is a cost center so you know what happens to those when government is run like it is a business.

  5. For people whose children are soon to enter high school, don’t worry, it will all be sorted, in about six years.

  6. Those complaining about “new Australians” crowding their children out of schools and lowering their living standards are alt-right racists. /s

    • SJWs calling conservatives who are not comfortable with large levels of immigration Nazis/xeonophobes/rednecks is just wrong. Nationalism is on the rise, I’m hoping Marine Le Pen can land another body blow to the globalists!

      • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

        I want to land a body blow on “the Globalist”,…but im a Lefty,… who is going to be my Champion?


      • Swap sides, bud. There are lefty anti-Establishment candidates but on border policy, most seem to be with the globalists (though I may be wrong!).

        If you look at Le Pen’s economic policy, it’s actually quite leftist in nature. However, her nationalist stance of course gets her labelled ‘far right’ (it’s never just ‘right’ or ‘conservative’ :P)

      • Conservatives suddenly uncomfortable about high levels of immigration because it’s coming from the “wrong” countries, when for decades they’ve been enthusiastic champions of the politicians doing it because otherwise oh noes gay marriage/abortion/renewable energy/multiculturalism/taxes/socialism, is pretty fucken rich.

      • You read in “suddenly” and “wrong countries”. I’ve got nothing against Muslims, in fact, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more terrorist attacks after Obama bombed the shit out of Syria for the sake of an oil pipeline. I’d be angry too.

        It’s so hard to accept for some that anti-immigration sentiment can simply be rational out of a concern for living standards of current and future Australians. The liberal MSM has sought to demonise what was an unchallenged view going back not that long ago? Want to call nationalist parties Nazis? Sure, but F****** show me the intent to harm minorities or the death camps. Until then f&*! off! As someone of Jewish descent it really boils my blood to see the term thrown around so flippantly.

      • think some neolib types people are starting to realise that even porsches, beamers and Mercedes get stuck in traffic too. Not to mention the wasted maseratis out there.

      • You read in “suddenly” and “wrong countries”.

        No, I infer “suddenly” and “wrong countries” from widespread behaviour

        It’s so hard to accept for some that anti-immigration sentiment can simply be rational out of a concern for living standards of current and future Australians.

        Not at all. Hence the reason I vote SAP when I can.

        But it becomes a bit difficult to swallow when a sizeable chunk of the people expressing it have spent most of the last thirty years voting Coalition (because culture wars), are now voting One Nation (or similar) and are vociferous opponents of what remains of left-wing politics (because socialism).

        The liberal MSM has sought to demonise what was an unchallenged view going back not that long ago? Want to call nationalist parties Nazis? Sure, but F****** show me the intent to harm minorities or the death camps. Until then f&*! off! As someone of Jewish descent it really boils my blood to see the term thrown around so flippantly.

        Right. Because Germany went straight from ‘Jews, meh’ to ‘death camps’. No interim steps at all.

      • I’m well aware of the history. I fail to see the cause for concern, although some will just believe want they want to 😉

    • Uncontrolled migration is a growing disaster that you are obviously unable to comprehend. There is a massive economic downturn coming and then the fun will start. There is nothing wrong with migration if it delivers skills to the economy takes into account that economies operate on fine balance in terms of providing housing, schools, transport, jobs, etc. Many of the comments highlight the emerging issues. Politicians are indirectly exploiting the mess they are creating – they have a combined $300m+ property portfolio.

  7. never send you kid to state high…3500 students plus grades 7-12

    stupid govt and council only thinking of short term

    btw most of these new flats look bloody ugly

    • Brisbane State High has Buckley’s chance of being as selective as it has been in the long run with all the apartments springing up. So far they’ve kept up the intake of high achieving out-of-catchment students by cramming like nothing but short of knocking down some existing buildings and creating high-rise classrooms they’ll have to cut those numbers down.

  8. Freeze the non-humanitarian immigration intake until the school places shortage and educational benchmarks are met and maintained for 12months

    • Ed zackly. It’s my dream. announce the freeze. There’s such a backlog in the immigration pipeline they could have a year just tidying up the files and getting everyone’s paperwork up to date, anyway.

  9. To some extent governments can ignore demand for inner city schools in traditional formats and move to high rise schools, and even do it in rented buildings repurposed for education. To some extent, families with small primary school age children might be forced to move to the burbs for a few years even if that is not their desired housing location. Every home buyer/renter makes compromises in choosing their home. The same undermining of the traditional form of schools is likely in areas where there is massive very high density development. In other cases multi storey schools might be build on single dwelling residential land adjacent to existing parks which then provide room for some sports and other physical activity, and which parks might remain available to the local community outside school use hours eg evenings and part of the weekend.
    But it is not only schools. What about hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, transport, water supply, sewerage? Sydney has to double in 34 years at 2.13% growth rate. That is a huge network of civil engineering projects.

  10. I can recall in the mid 1990s being part of a Property Council move to enhance investment in our inner urban areas. A big part of the argument then was that without urban renewal, our inner city schools would continue to shed students (as they were at that time) and other inner city infrastructure would fall below capacity. How things have changed. The obsession with the inner city (as it has become in the hands of urban planners and infrastructure planners) and the concentration of growth means that all forms of inner city infrastructure are now well over capacity. Schools, roads, utilities – all are now suffering from too much demand. The inner urban areas were forced to grow populations at accelerated rates via very high density housing while nothing was done to support critical infrastructure. Crowded schools and rising congestion, along with inflated real estate prices, are the outcomes. The solution now should be to look to decentralisation to ease this pressure. Remove growth boundaries and lift our planning gaze above the 5 klm horizon.

  11. My sister teaches at a Sydney Inner West High School, public not private, in Burwood catchment, they also have international students, plan to ask her has their been an increase in international student intake, also there should be no locals in that catchment area that should miss out a place

    • Our Education Department guarantees a place for any child within the published zone. Problem is they keep shrinking the zones, so tough shit if you were previously eligible. There’s foreign funds to be milked before looking after the locals.

  12. Lots of comments about the lack of planning (all valid) and the need for commensurate new infrastructure (also valid) but nary a peep about the cost to the public purse of building all this infrastructure and staffing the institutions …. at a time when budgets are under extreme pressure already. Certainly, QLD is as good as bankrupt with state debt setting a path for the moon and around zero prospect of it ever being repaid. Of course, things just tick along fine until the day the states cannot refinance any of this debt and then the chickens come home to roost.