More than 10 percent of the classrooms in New South Wales public schools are demountables, built and maintained by the state’s growing prison population.
Despite the Government saying they are a temporary fix, its own numbers show the numbers are rising and that there is no clear policy to replace them with permanent buildings.
Indeed, the Government has an undisclosed policy to increase their usage, ensuring they will be a permanent feature of many NSW schools.
The NSW Opposition has obtained a confidential Education Department Request for Proposal (RFP) document through Freedom of Information laws. The RFP says there are currently 6,114 demountables in use in NSW in schools and TAFE sites, with nearly 1000 in storage and ready to be deployed.
“Current planning data identify significant growth in student enrolment numbers in future years,” says the RFP. “Enrolment projections to 2031 show a net demand for 5,796 demountable teaching spaces at NSW government school. Based on these projections, the department estimates that the current amount of fleet will be fully utilised between 28 and 2020.”
The RFP seeks advice from a suitably qualified and experienced consultant to investigate and examine “all possible cost-effective options” to expand the department’s existing demountable fleet based on forecast demand over the next 15 years. KPMG was awarded the contract, worth $300,000 according to ALP estimates.
Internal School Infrastructure NSW documents dating back to 2009 state that there is a long-term plan to reduce the number, but their numbers have kept growing.
The Government has now essentially admitted, at least to itself, that numbers will keep growing, out to 2030. Predictably, the Opposition has seized on the RFP as evidence that the government is breaking its promises and is under-investing in education.
“NSW is the only state where no demountable has ever been removed from circulation,” says Opposition Leader Luke Foley, who held a press conference on the subject on the grounds of Eastwood Heights public school, where more demountables are currently being installed. (He is wrong. Some older buildings have been removed, but only to be replaced by newer ones).
“The school maintenance backlog is now $775 million – and spiralling further out of control. Some children may never receive an education in the school brick walls.” Many have already gone through K-12 only in demountables.
NSW’s fleet of demountables is built and maintained in the state’s prisons, by the government-owned Corrective Services Industries (CSI), which boasts about the work on its website:
“CSI manages, maintains and refurbishes demountable school classroom buildings for NSW Department of Education and Training in business units based at Goulburn and Cessnock Correctional Centres.”
Mr Foley says prisoners do the work because they are cheap labour.
Teachers that Government News has spoken to say that one of the biggest problems with demountable classrooms is that they are away from the main school buildings, and that students and teachers who must use them feel like second-class citizens.
In a response to Labor’s comments, NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes said: “Demountable buildings, that are all air conditioned, will always be a feature of the NSW public school system where every child in the state is eligible to seek enrolment in their local school. They allow the state to manage a system that includes over 2200 schools and 800,000 students.”
This at odds with a statement in 2016 from the NSW Department of Education’s report on demountable accommodation in schools, which said:
“Demountable buildings allow the Department to provide flexible accommodation solutions for peak enrolment periods and to meet changing enrolment patterns; meet emergency needs that may arise as a result of fires or natural disasters; and temporary needs arising from capital works or maintenance projects in schools.”
Flexible. Emergency. Temporary.
The NSW government is dammed by its own statistics. It is obvious from the data that demountables are not regarded as temporary or emergency accommodation, but are an integral part of the Government’s education strategy.
It intends to increase their usage to meet surging demand for classrooms in areas where it has underestimated the growth in the population of school-aged children. This especially a problem in Sydney’s inner city suburbs and in expanding outer metropolitan areas.
We get the usual selective quoting of statistics from both sides of politics, but the numbers speak for themselves.
Continued usage of demountables has been controversial in NSW for some time. Teachers hate them. Now the facts clearly demonstrate the emptiness of the Government’s promises to reduce their number.
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