Auckland schools bursting with too many students

RORY O'SULLIVAN/Stuff.co.nz

Rowandale School principal Karl Vasau says his teachers are being pushed to their limits with the school operating well beyond capacity.

Auckland schools are struggling with overcrowded classrooms due to population growth and an influx of residents into areas with more affordable housing.

At one south Auckland school, chronic overcrowding is putting pressure on students and driving staff out the door.

Rowandale School in Manurewa is bursting at the seams, with every class over its allocated capacity.

Rowandale School principal Karl Vasau says the school is in desperate need of help, with more than 30 kids in 10 classrooms.
Laura Walters/Fairfax NZ

Rowandale School principal Karl Vasau says the school is in desperate need of help, with more than 30 kids in 10 classrooms.

One classroom has 38 children - one of 10 of Rowandale's classes to have more than 30 children.

Rowandale is an extreme example of overcrowding due to its lack of a zone, meaning it can not legally close its roll.

However, other schools in south and West Auckland are facing similar problems due to families rushing to areas with more affordable housing.

Rowandale is a decile 1 primary school, with a roll of 593 students but its buildings only have the capacity to accommodate up to 491 students.

Principal Karl Vasau said the overcrowding issue made it hard for students to achieve to the necessary levels.

Rowandale's students came from some of the country's poorest families, with the median annual income for families at the school sitting at about $21,000.

Rowandale will be getting six new classroom to help with its growing roll in 2017.
Supplied

Rowandale will be getting six new classroom to help with its growing roll in 2017.

Vasau said a lot of students were already "behind the 8-ball" when they started school and large class sizes made it hard for teachers to concentrate on lifting student achievement.

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"As a school we're in a very, very desperate situation and we believe it's having a detrimental effect on our students' achievement and staff morale."

At the end of last term, six teachers left the school.

The teachers cited the pressure of large classes as the main reason for their departure, Vasau said.

"We believe that the over-crowding issues at our school are beyond concerning."

The school was forced to convert its old dental clinic into a classroom to make way for the growing number of new entrant students.

"The ministry is working hard to try and address our needs and then there's the reality and I need to share the reality."

The ministry had promised Rowandale two relocatable classrooms as a temporary measure, which would be in place by term four.

On Wednesday, after media approached the Ministry of Education about the issues at Rowandale, the school was granted approval for six new classrooms.

These are expected to be in place at the start of 2017. In the meantime, the school's roll is expected to keep growing.

The head of the ministry's education infrastructure service, Kim Shannon, said she appreciated Rowandale was under real pressure from an influx of students, adding that the school's 21 classrooms were not enough to accommodate its growing roll.

Shannon said the ministry was happy to provide more relocatable classrooms if needed.

Vasau said Rowandale was in a difficult situation as it did not have a zone, which would allow it to close its roll legally through an enrolment scheme, similar to other schools in the area.

The school wants a zone but would not be allocated one until the current ministry review of Manurewa schools has concluded.

However, the head of the Auckland Primary Principals' Association said the school might be forced to close its roll.

Frances Nelson said a prudent board, a brave principal and a pragmatic ministry would allow the school to stop enrolments until it had greater capacity.

"You either cram them into classrooms and disadvantage the students that are there or you actually say no…

"My gut sense is that if I was in his place, I'd be saying in the best interests of the health and safety of the existing students and the staff we are going to stop enrolling until we get our classrooms in place and then just hold your breath and hope that no one wants to make an issue of it."

Nelson said it was hard to predict roll growth at schools; a job made more difficult due to the transient population in low socio-economic areas like Manurewa.

More families were moving to the area thanks to affordable housing and some people who were struggling to cover rent in the heated Auckland market were moving in with family in the area, adding to population growth, she said.

Meanwhile, in a more affluent area of Auckland, St Thomas's School and Glendowie College have also seen their rolls skyrocket.

St Thomas's School has seen its roll increase by around 200 children in the past three years.

And Glendowie's roll has increased by more than 200 students since 2010.

At the end of July Education Minister Hekia Parata and Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye announced it would deliver 230 new classrooms to Auckland schools during the coming 18 months.

Last year the government announced it would spend $350 million over four years to get ahead of demand in New Zealand's biggest city.

In the meantime, schools bursting at the seams will have to make do with what they have until they get what Vasau calls "the magic phone call".

 - Stuff

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