“The school provides excellent educational and student outcomes, and we hope the council and planning department will help, not hinder, reasonable increases in numbers,” she said.
Townsend wondered if strict limits were in the best interest of students if schools turned families away. More parents enrolled their children in Year 5 to get a spot, leaving little capacity for new students in Year 7, she said.
In an application for the development of a master plan currently under consideration by state planning authorities, Upper North Shore school Barker College said growth was curtailed by a student and staff cap introduced in 2017.
The school is seeking to lift the existing limit to a maximum of 2,850 students and 480 staff, against the current cap of 2,420 students and 339 staff.
Headmaster Phillip Heath said the application was in response to an ever-increasing demand in Greater Sydney for “high quality coeducational education”.
“Barker College continues to receive a lot of interest from families since the transition to a fully co-educational school in 2022, with most year groups fully enrolled for the next decade,” he said.
“The [development application] is prepared to handle increased student demand and will improve traffic management in and around the school, provide a water sports and tennis center to replace aging facilities, improve pedestrian infrastructure and include a new co-curricular center for performing arts and exams. ”
Timothy Bowden, principal of Trinity Grammar School, said it was a frustrating and costly process to increase enrollment limits. Trinity recently received government approval to grow the number on the Summer Hill campus from 1,500 to 2,100 as part of the $127 million building upgrade.
“There is strong enrollment demand, which has increased since the pandemic, and we are responding to that,” Bowden said, adding that more than 100 students on the waiting list miss out on year 7 enrollment each year.
“It’s a broader infrastructure problem, schools are in high demand across all sectors and more long-term planning and infrastructure development is needed.”
In southwestern Sydney, Macarthur Anglican School’s student limit has been set at 1120 since 2003, despite being located in one of the fastest-growing regions in the state. It wants to increase its subscription limit to 1400.
Director David Nockles said parent demand far outstripped the available places.
“We know this has been a problem for years. The municipality knows that there is a lot of registration pressure’, he says.
“Since government schools don’t require a limit, I question the planning rationale behind limits for independent schools.”
An Anglican girls’ school in inland Sydney, Meriden School is also one of the private colleges trying to lift the enrollment limit.
Under a development application to expand the high school, currently under consideration by the NSW planning department, the school plans to increase student numbers from 1080 to 1,224, plus more capacity for 20 additional enrollments. The headmaster declined to comment.
The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that enrollment in independent schools in NSW rose to record levels in 2021, surpassing Catholic schools. Newcombe said the growth from 3.5 percent in 2021 to 221,744 enrollments was largely due to continued demand from schools in the western suburbs of Sydney and regional NSW.
“We just want a fairer playing field,” he said.
“All we ask is that consenting authorities such as local councils be required to follow the advice of the Ministry of Planning to consider other measures rather than a prescriptive, numerical limit as they do with government schools.”
Applications to increase enrollment limits are handled by local councils unless the redevelopment or original development was treated as a major state development, in which case the Department of Planning decides.
The department was asked if it had experienced an increase in requests to change limits and if it is considering making it easier for schools to lift enrollment limits, but did not answer the questions directly.
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