Local schools forced to get creative as they near capacity

6 minutes read
Posted 14 May, 2024
Fast growing Shotover Primary School wth children at play 1

Local schools are mostly growing faster than projections

With Ministry of Education plans to purchase land for a second high school seemingly on hold, Wakatipu High School’s board needs to “get creative” with an anticipated influx of new Year 9s students in 2026 likely to put the current six-year-old school near capacity.

School principal Oded Nathan says the roll has grown by nearly 60% since the school opened in January 2018 with 912 students. His last email from the Ministry said things were on hold amid a changing landscape, Nathan says. “The new government is revisiting all building projects so there’s been a pause on projects and we’re simply not a priority at the moment.”

Wakatipu High School Principal Oded Nathan

 

Negotiations for a new site don’t seem to have progressed.” Even if they did, Nathan says there isn’t enough time to procure a site, design, and build a new school so the school board is looking at its own short and medium-term solutions. “We’re looking at what we can do as a school and a board to ensure we’re not too cramped in two years’ time,” he says. “We are discussing options like bringing back temporary classrooms, building our own buildings, or an arrangement with different education providers such as SIT or Otago Polytechnic.” Historically, the school has used SIT teaching facilities for trade and construction in Glenda Drive.

Capacity is fine at present with this term’s roll just under 1450. “We have capacity for 1625 students and are fortunate to have three gyms.”

“We’ve been told we’re not a high priority as we’re not in dire need,” Nathan says.

While he knows he’s fortunate to have what one visitor likened to ‘a private school in Switzerland’, we want to stay ahead of the growth curve. Pre-Covid, the student population grew 3% annually on top of what was already in the basin. Now that additional growth looks to be between 4% and 5%. “We’re just trying to plan three to four years ahead.”

WHS’s predicting around 300 Year 9s to start next year and with 383 Year 7s in the basin now the high school is expecting 95% of those, to arrive at the start of 2026. “That’s a large cohort and that’s when we start to approach capacity, especially if you add growth of 4% to 5% annually as well.”

 

Shotover School

Shotover School principal Ben Whiteford says the current Year 7 and 8 base is “pretty large” at 81 Year 8s and 88 Year 7s. “Last year we had 57 Year 8s. There’s quite a big bulge coming through,” he says.

At Witheford’s last meeting with the Ministry he was told it was in the market for land “in the general vicinity” of his school to build another primary school.  Money had been allocated for land for that school just to buy land for that school pre-Covid, but he’s unaware of what will happen now. Shotover School finished last term with 582 pupils and its roll is expected to peak at 625 this year.

 

Te Kura Whakatipu O Kawarau

Te Kura Whakatipu O Kawarau deputy principal Cameron Beer says the two-year-old school’s roll is already at 340 after starting with 90 when it opened in February 2022. The first stage has capacity for 450. “We weren’t expecting this many at this stage,” Beer says. “We’re in communication with the Ministry and hoping to get a new build (Stage Two) sooner rather than later, as we could be at capacity by the end of Term One or Term Two next year if we continue to grow at 100 a year.” The roll has grown from 290 last year.

Ten new pupils started this week, and the roll grew by about 30 last term alone, with a lot of migrant families coming in from South America, India, Fiji and the Philippines. “In some cases, one parent has been working here and sent for the family to join them,” he says.

With quite a few families living in attached units on house sites in his zone – so two families to one section, even more families are able to come to the school.

“We’d just like confirmation that Stage Two will go ahead (300 more capacity) in the next Budget as there’s so much growth coming in that Southern Corridor with subdivision and building plans.”

 

Remarkables Primary School

Kawarau School’s taken the pressure off Remarkables School which is now comfortable with 436 and principal Tim Young says it could take another 125 to 150 kids before feeling the pressure. The roll reached 630 at one stage prior to Kawarau School opening. “We were bursting at the seams.” Growth is still steady with five to 10 new enrolments every six weeks. 

In some cases, two families are living together in one house with housing in high demand. “Depending on apartment development I suspect more families will be moving into the Five Mile area within our zone.” Meanwhile, the school is at a really desirable size.

Queenstown Primary School

Queenstown Primary School principal Fiona Cavanagh is seeing “a significant number” of English as a Second Language pupils arriving. She has about 85 currently and uses Ministry funding to employ a full-time teacher to meet their needs.

“We’d have one of the highest numbers of Ministry-funded ESOL enrolled students in Southland,” she says. She ended last year with 700 pupils, and is expecting the same this December, and likely up to 100 at the end of next year.

Arrowtown Primary School

Principal James Rasmussen sent 93 Year 8s to the high school last year and currently has a roll of 426 down from 500, due to zoning changes. “New families to the area are probably looking for more affordable places to live than Arrowtown now,” Rasmussen says.

 

Government defends its review – New school plans not halted

Local MP Joseph Mooney says he’s “strongly advocating” to Education Minister Erica Stanford on the need for a new high school in the
Wakatipu.

He says the Ministry hasn’t halted its plans for new school projects but is conducting “a review of the affordability of current school property projects” to ensure it can afford to deliver as many as possible, while prioritising need.

The Ministry review doesn’t mean that any projects will be paused and for most it will be undertaken alongside ongoing planning and design activities, with each school’s specific needs and circumstances considered, he says.

Ministry leader for the South Island (Te Tai Runga - South) Nancy Bell says they’re working closely with Wakatipu High School around roll changes and anticipated enrolments and will continue to do so.

“We are not forecasting rolls to exceed capacity before 2027 but will continue to monitor closely because we know rates of growth can fluctuate,” Bell says. 

“The Ministry has identified potential sites and has been engaged in confidential negotiations to protect the landowners and Crown’s commercial interests.  We are not able to provide an estimate of when those negotiations will conclude.”  

Investment in Wakatipu High School is not subject to the current value for money reviews being undertaken by the Ministry of Education, she says.

Mooney says the government has inherited a school property system bordering on crisis. “There is a clear need to review the school property system to ensure we can deliver the school property our children deserve, while protecting taxpayers from further cost blowouts,” he says.

“The Minister has been clear about her expectation that the MOE identifies more efficient and sustainable ways to maximise the benefit of investments in school projects while providing quality learning spaces and facilities when and where they are needed most,” he says. This includes responding to roll growth pressure in schools across the country.

He says he appreciates the “incredibly difficult property portfolio” that Stanford has inherited from the last government, which has necessitated a Ministerial Inquiry. This is focused on why around 350 projects in various stages from design to pre-construction had expectations that far exceeded what could be delivered. It’s looking at how the funds for those projects weren’t managed well enough to deliver them.


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