Canada Bay LGA needs a new public high school
By Councillor Charles Jago
Updated July 2023
Concord High School currently operates at more than 40% over capacity, with approximately 1,300 students attending a school built for 900. In response to extended lobbying and complaints by members of the Parents and Citizens Association (P&C) of Concord High School (see a statement on their key concerns and the past state of disrepair of the school) the previous Coalition government committed to an upgrade which will replace the demountables, increasing capacity to 1,340 students. A completion date has not been provided, but the work might take four or five years to complete.
Recently I visited Concord High School and was pleasantly surprised to see the upgrades that have been done in the last couple of years. I saw a new multi-use playing area, a new COLA (Covered Outdoor Learning Area), upgrade to the school tuckshop, new seating and tables, new toilets and much more. I was also very pleased to hear that the school is currently fully staffed with qualified teachers across the different disciplines covered by the school. Great to hear, with credit to the staff and the school Parents & Citizens.
That’s good for Concord High School, but still leaves a major gap in numbers of places at local public high schools. I also saw in the news that the new Labor government will in future give parents an option to choose co-education schools for their high-school students. This will good for our area with single-sex schools close by and constricting parent choices, but will no doubt take time to work through.
At 25%, the percentage of students attending Concord High – their only local public high school – is far lower than the NSW statewide average of 65% of students who attend public high schools in their local area. There are anecdotal reports of unmet demand, including a substantial number of would-be attendees of Concord High going to local Catholic High Schools.
However, local population growth will create far greater demand, with recent data showing that the number of students in the Concord High catchment area will grow by nearly 2,000 students within 15 years. Despite the new high school scheduled to open in Wentworth Point close to the Canada Bay LGA and a reported planned expansion of Concord High by 240 places by 2031, an additional secondary school must be built in Canada Bay LGA by 2030 to meet the increasing need for high school places.
Planning for increased numbers of students is especially important because the NSW government is forcing a rapid increase in the housing density of Canada Bay LGA without ensuring additional high school places and other infrastructure and services.
Explaining catchment enrolment numbers
Figure 1 shows the Concord High catchment and those of some surrounding high schools. The Concord High School catchment area is shown in light green, extending from Russell Lea and Chiswick in the east to Silverwater Road in the west, with a small overlap with the area for Granville Boys/Auburn Girls. Strangely, students from Newington, Sydney Olympic Park and Wentworth Point have Concord High School as their designated high school, but not students in parts of Concord West, North Strathfield and Strathfield. However, those students are also close to other schools.
The catchment map does not apply to private schools. Two Catholic high schools exist within the catchment: Domremy College and Rosebank College. They take up 36% of catchment enrolments although they draw some of their students from outside areas. It should be noted that Canada Bay has a comparatively high proportion of Catholic residents: 33.2%, 9% above the Sydney average of 24.2%. Another private independent school is situated within Canada Bay close to the catchment: the McDonald College, most of whose students come from across Greater Sydney.
Rapid population growth drives greater student numbers
Table 1 shows the overall population and number of students in the Concord High catchment area, using figures from forecast.id.com.au as of July 2021. The last line shows overall population and student numbers for given years in the catchment area, including forecasts.
Student enrolment figures
The pie chart below (Figure 2) shows enrolments of all students living within the catchment of Concord High School. Out of a total of 5,280 students, 3,200 (61% of the catchment) attend local private and public high schools, including the 1,300 students (25%) attending Concord High School. However, a significant proportion, 2,080 (39%) students attend schools outside the catchment because the three local high schools are already at capacity. Of course, a small number of local students attend other public high schools, notably selective schools like Fort Street High and Normanhurst Boys.
Many students are currently forced to attend schools outside their local area
Anecdotal evidence indicates that many local families want the option of a local public high school for their students, but are discouraged by the lack of facilities compared to private schools exemplified by the 17 demountable classrooms (rising to 22 in 2022). Consequently, many parents and students want higher standard facilities and send their secondary age students elsewhere. These problems aren’t the fault of the principal or the teachers; it’s because the NSW Government doesn’t provide sufficient funding.
The question then arises: when Concord High’s current upgrade gets completed, what will happen? The school may well face a large number of families who now view Concord High as a suitable choice for their family. Reasons to reconsider include:
- Not wanting or able to continue spending tens of thousands on private school fees.
- Wanting to improve their connections to the local community.
- Less stress in students commuting to school. Many could walk or cycle to school.
- A belief in public education. Offering another high school and fixing Concord High’s problems would mean that families with a belief in public education would have a strong option for acting in accordance with their views.
The question arises – how many more students would attend Concord High School if there was sufficient space, improved facilities for more students and the school was properly funded? The expectation that a substantial number of students would attend the school is supported by a several facts:
- Compared to the 65% attendance at public schools across NSW, only 25% of local students attend Concord High. That means that over 70% of students are attending private schools (including both Catholic and independent schools), compared to the NSW figure of 34% and a substantial proportion of local students attend schools outside the catchment.
- There are anecdotal reports that a substantial number of would-be attendees of Concord High are attending local Catholic high schools, because they have no other alternative.
Given the above average Catholic population, it is not surprising that demand for public schooling in Canada Bay would stand below the NSW average. It is also reasonable to expect that relative local affluence would be consistent with some increase in private school attendance, although many poorer communities also have significant rates of private school enrolments.
Taking these factors into account, it is entirely possible that 40% or more of catchment students would attend Concord High if it met reasonable expectations, an increase of 15%, amounting to an additional 800 students or more. The unmet demand for local public high school education could well be more than that.
What about the new high school at Wentworth Point?
No doubt the government is hoping that the residents of Canada Bay LGA will wait patiently until the new high school in Wentworth Point (“Sydney Olympic Park High School”) opens. Approved in 2018 and proceeding slowly, it will eventually have a capacity of 1,500 students, but is due to open in 2024 with an expected capacity of 700 students. Upon opening, it will absorb students from the western side of the Concord High catchment especially Wentworth Point, Sydney Olympic Park and Newington. In the medium term, it will absorb additional students from Sydney Olympic Park. However, Concord High School will still be crowded. Apparently, the catchments will be updated when it opens.
It’s currently not clear when the Wentworth Point school will actually be able to accommodate 1,500 students. However that capacity will be needed as soon as it can be delivered. As shown in the discussion below, population growth will continue to suck up the remaining capacity across the current catchment. The future need for capacity is so great that it can only be met with another high school in addition to Sydney Olympic Park High School.
Right now, the State government is pushing for very large increases in high density dwellings across the Canada Bay LGA. The plans being implemented by the NSW government in East Rhodes will generate a population increase of 55% in Rhodes over 10 years, amounting to some 10,000 people. In addition, the government is pressuring Canada Bay Council to support new high-rise in precincts along Parramatta Road including a number of developments over 20 storeys.
Even an expanded and improved Concord High School and the new high school at Wentworth Point won’t be able to handle this level of population increase.
Figure 3 illustrates the anticipated unmet demand for student places across the catchment for Concord High School over the next 20 years, compared to new places expected through extra capacity at Concord High and the new school at Wentworth Point. The graph assumes that the NSW Department of Education implements its plan to increase enrolments at Concord High from the current 1,300 up to 1,540 students by 2031. (This information was provided to Canada Bay Council in 2018.) The graph assumes that Sydney Olympic Park High school will open in 2024 with capacity for 1,500 students.
Figure 3 also shows two levels of unmet demand at Concord High, by students from families who were interested but remain discouraged by the 17 demountables, constricted school funding and relatively poor facilities in comparison to surrounding private schools. The first tranche of 400 students (shown in red in Figure 3) represents a conservative estimate of the number of students who would be extremely likely to respond to additional places at Concord High or another nearby public high school. The second tranche (shown in yellow in Figure 3) represents an additional 400 students who would be likely to respond to additional places at Concord High or another nearby public high school. Each of these tranches represents only 7.5% of students in the catchment based on 2021 figures. It is quite possible that unmet demand stands higher than modelled in Figure 3.
Figure 3 demonstrates an immediate shortage of high school places, even based on a conservative view on the level of unmet demand. By 2026, with the opening of Wentworth Point, a significant part of that demand has been met. Yet demand continues to rise while supply remains constant. By 2041 the unmet demand exceeds 1,700 places.
These figures demonstrate a growing and unmet demand in the Concord High catchment for another public high school, which will remain hidden while Concord High is underfunded with poor facilities. The only requirement to unleash that demand is for the NSW government to properly fund Concord High School. Concord High and any other public schools in the catchment will then have to admit those new students.
Parents have a right to expect a good public education for their children
Concord High School, the only public secondary school in the catchment now, already does not meet existing demand. Concord High opened in 1980, ten years after the government purchased the property. The school in Wentworth Point is due to open in 2024, six years after being funded by the government in 2018. On those precedents, action on a second high school within Canada Bay LGA is now urgent.
Planning for a new local secondary school must begin now in order to meet the additional educational need that we know is coming. Because of NSW government inaction, Council must act to commission an independent study surveying residents to determine the level of public school places that residents will need for their children.
Public education is a right, not a privilege. Local residents should not be forced into sending children to private schools to receive an adequate education.
The Greens believe that parents will want their children to be able to attend local public high schools with modern facilities and adequate staffing. That requires proper, increased funding of Concord High School and action on an additional public high school in Canada Bay LGA. These can only be achieved through strong Council and local resident lobbying of the NSW government.
The staff and the students are doing good work. They deserve the support of the community and the government.
There is no time to waste.
The NSW Upper House Inquiry “Building better schools: Improvements to NSW school infrastructure – Planning and delivery of school infrastructure in New South Wales” has been completed as of October 2022. It offers a damning assessment of school infrastructure planning by the previous NSW Coalition Government.
Also, here is my Notice of Motion asking Canada Bay Council to take a leadership role on this issue, which was passed by Council on 28th September 2021. Since then, Council has worked with Concord High School P&C in a very positive way, but has not taken any significant action to press for greater high school numbers in the area.