Is there a looming schools shortage?


key takeaways

Key takeaways

Education is a very big industry that is growing fast in line with predicted population growth.

The government sector is struggling to find new sites for traditional school models.

The legacy sites can struggle to find new uses beyond low-grade storage.

New mixed-use projects and entire renewal precincts could equally benefit from the activation that a school provides.

Our traditional approaches to locating schools will have to change if infill strategies to soak up growth are to work.

As our population grows, so too will demand school places and new schools.

This is going to prove a significant driver of demand for space – especially in suburban centres.

But first, old thinking about schools needs to change to allow for the opportunities that the future presents and to avoid an inevitable shortage of places in suitable locations.

First, some quick numbers.

There are just over 25 million Aussies in Australia.

Of that, some 4,030,717 were school-age students enrolled in 9,581 schools.


Based on that ratio, every extra million people (as for example predicted for each of our major capitals in just a few short years) will mean an extra 160,000 students.

At a rough average school size of 400 students, that’s another 400 additional schools for each million of extra population.

In South-east Queensland, official forecasts suggest another 1.5 million people by 2041, which is another 240,000 school-age kids in need of an additional 600 schools.

That’s the equivalent of 31 new schools in SEQ each year for the next couple of decades.

Sydney and Melbourne will face similar predictions.

It’s not just students.

The education sector is a major employer

It employs 1.153 million people nationally, 62% of whom are full-time workers.

That’s nearly one in ten of the national workforce.

It’s also the third fastest growing industry in the country, predicted to add another 150,000 jobs in the five years to 2026.

Some 93% of those jobs will be in suburban places (the fastest growing industry of all in health care and social assistance, of which 90% will be based in suburbia while professionals are second fastest with three quarters outside inner cities).

The figures in red in the graph below show the percentage of these jobs in suburban areas, against the numbers of new jobs predicted (in blue).


Of those education jobs, the majority will likely be in school-age education, based on current shares:


Government schools account for 65% of enrolments while Catholic schools account for 19.5% and independent schools for 15.4%.

In the independent schools area, there are a plethora of smaller schools providing for particular faiths, cultures, learning needs or other specialisations.

For example, more than half (54.6%) of the independent schools in Queensland have enrolments of under 500.

One in ten have enrolments of less than 50, and a further one in ten enrol between 50 and 100.

One in five have enrolments of 500 to 1000 and only 6% had enrolments above 1500.

So, it’s a very big industry that is growing fast in line with predicted population growth.

It is going to need additional school places and many more new schools, and nearly all of these will be in suburban locations.

Not all will be large schools though, many with smaller space needs.


How do we meet this demand?

How do find the sites?

The traditional school model that comes to mind is the large primary or secondary school with a cluster of low-density buildings and its own sporting fields.


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