Australia: Rich school, poor school: Australia’s great education divide

From orchestra pits and on-site baristas to ripped carpets and leaking roofs, this is the “infrastructure arms race” between Australia’s schools.

These 8,500 schools are ranked from highest to lowest on the income ladder, according to their average yearly income between 2013 and 2017.

Circles are sized by total spend on new facilities and renovations in that peri40,000,000$35,000,000$30,000,000$25,000,000$20,000,000$15,000,000$10,000,000$5,000,000$0

Wesley College, VIC
Income $104.6m
Cap. exp. $96.7m
Cap. exp. govt. $30,747

Extensive redevelopment includes a $21m music school, $16m boarding facility and $2.3m visual arts and design precinct. Currently fundraising for $2.5m refurbishment of Wesley Boathouse.
Haileybury College, VIC
Income $98.1m
Cap. exp. $103.5m
Cap. exp. govt. $455,466

New campus Haileybury City features an indoor sports facility, a dedicated floor for music, art and drama and two terrace gardens. Classrooms with floor to ceiling windows offer 180-degree views of the city.
Caulfield Grammar, VIC
Income $95.1m
Cap. exp. $101.8m
Cap. exp. govt. $577,709

Fundraising for a new aquatic centre, featuring an Olympic-sized pool with moveable floors and walls, and wellbeing spaces for dance, pilates, meditation and yoga.
Australia’s four richest schools spent more on new facilities and renovations than the poorest 1,800 schools combined.
Knox Grammar, NSW
Income $83.8m
Cap. exp. $100.1m
Cap. exp. govt. $458,151

$47m performing arts centre includes 750-seat auditorium with adjustable orchestra pit and 160-seat intimate performance space. Senior academy features a cafe with on-site barista.

Enrolments grew 30% between 2013 and 2018.

Wesley College, Haileybury College and Caulfield Grammar in Melbourne, together with Knox Grammar in Sydney, spent $402 million. They teach fewer than 13,000 students.

The poorest 1,800 schools spent less than $370 million. They teach 107,000 students.

Melbourne Grammar School, VIC
Income $69.6m
Cap. exp. $61m
Cap. exp. govt. $14,101

$30m science and technology hub features a rooftop terrace with a weather monitoring station.
Pymble Ladies’ College, NSW
Income $67.4m
Cap. exp. $67.7m
Cap. exp. govt. $420,633

$34m Centenary Sports Precinct features 50m eight-lane pool with multiple diving platforms, fitness centre, learn-to-swim pool and remedial treatment rooms.
Scotch College, VIC
Income $58m
Cap. exp. $70.1m
Cap. exp. govt. $14,569

$32m Sir Zelman Cowen Centre for Science includes a rooftop learning area, 200-seat presentation space and “experiential laboratory”.
SHORE – Sydney Church of England Grammar School, NSW
Income $55.2m
Cap. exp. $50.5m
Cap. exp. govt. $340,895

$52m Shore Physical Education Centre — the largest building project in the school’s history — due in 2020. Includes 11 learning spaces and seminar rooms, a 50m indoor pool and a multi-purpose sports complex.
St Kevin’s College, VIC
Income $48.3m
Cap. exp. $40.9m
Cap. exp. govt. $347,173

The 5.5 hectare Tooronga Fields — “the largest privately-owned sporting facility in Australasia” — includes three FIFA-regulation soccer pitches, an AFL field, 12 cricket nets, 12 tennis courts and an athletics track.
Hale School, WA
Income $45.8m
Cap. exp. $34.9m
Cap. exp. govt. $467,740

Completed $16m Junior School redevelopment in 2018 and aquatic centre in 2014. Existing facilities include 2 pools, 2 gymnasiums, indoor climbing wall, 18 tennis courts and 5 cricket grounds with turf wickets.
Camberwell Grammar School, VIC
Income $39.4m
Cap. exp. $73m
Cap. exp. govt. $293,499

$45m sports and aquatic facility, 200-seat chapel and function centre completed 2016.
All Hallows’ School, QLD
Income $37.0m
Cap. exp. $55.9m
Cap. exp. govt. $2.3m

Opened $7.7m, five-storey ‘Mary Place’ in 2015. Includes 15 classrooms, enclosed courtyard and new tennis/netball court.
Somerville House, QLD
Income $35.5m
Cap. exp. $52.8m
Cap. exp. govt. $2m

Master Plan includes “The Annex” building, offering world-class boarding and dining, an extension of the artistic gymnastics facility, a School Art Gallery and Museum, and expansion of the auditorium from 980 to 1,500 seats.
The richest 1% of schools spent $3 billion. The poorest 50% spent $2.6 billion combined.
The poorest 50% of schools teach nearly five times as many students.
St Aloysius’ College, NSW
Income $31.4m
Cap. exp. $21.1m
Cap. exp. govt. $160,300

Seeking approval for an $80m “revitalisation” of its three campuses, including a new learning precinct with rooftop amphitheatre and subterranean sports facility.
Brisbane State High School, QLD
Income $31m
Cap. exp. $47m
Cap. exp. govt. $46.8m

Enrolments grew 35% between 2013 and 2018. Added 40 new classrooms in 2016 as part of a $35m redevelopment to address overcrowding. By 2017, overcrowding was again an issue.
Willetton Senior High School, WA
Income $28.2m
Cap. exp. $52.3m
Cap. exp. govt. $52.3m

Six public schools in Australia spent more than $50m on capital works. All were part of the WA government’s plan to help public schools meet forecast enrolment growth.

Willetton’s $52m redevelopment included new buildings for art, media, textiles, science and technology. The original buildings were constructed in the 1970s.

Lourdes Hill College, QLD
Income $21.6m
Cap. exp. $32.9m
Cap. exp. govt. $2.9m

$20m “Bernadette Centre” houses a sports centre, 200-seat chapel, 600-seat theatre, science labs, drama workshops, music rooms, classrooms and rooftop play area overlooking Brisbane River and CBD.
Trinity Catholic College, NSW
Income $19.6m
Cap. exp. $2.9m
Cap. exp. govt. $352,153

Received $2.75m federal grant in 2019 for new facilities, including an art annex and staff office, and refurbishment of gymnasium and art studio. Enrolments fell by 3% between 2013 and 2018.
Arthur Phillip High School, Parramatta Public School NSW
$325m redevelopment of Parramatta Public and Arthur Phillip High School sites is the state’s largest public school infrastructure project. New high school for 2,000 students will be NSW’s first high-rise public school.
South Coast Baptist College, WA
Income $11m
Cap. exp. $7m
Cap. exp. govt. $873,707

Enrolments grew 65% between 2013 and 2018. Received $1.5m federal grant in 2018 for construction of 3 science laboratories, STEM studio, materials technology studios, planning studio and machine rooms.
Marist Catholic College Penshurst, NSW
Income $10.3m
Cap. exp. $36.4m
Cap. exp. govt. $5.5m

Opened La Valla Learning Centre in 2016, featuring 12 classrooms, a library and tuition rooms. Other projects include a new admin building, theatrette, and music and drama spaces. Received $3.5m federal government grant in 2018. Constructing a second campus to cope with enrolments.
St Martins Lutheran College, SA
Income $8.3m
Cap. exp. $4.1m
Cap. exp. govt. $890,649

Opened two new classrooms and a new Middle School building in 2018. Received $941k federal grant in 2019 for a new two-storey building with a food and hospitality centre, art rooms and exhibition space.
Wales Street Primary School, VIC
Income $5.6m
Cap. exp. $450,536
Cap. exp. govt. $428,268

Overcrowding and infrastructure issues included leaking roofs, a school hall that accommodates only half the students, and non-compliant toilets, wiring and plumbing. Received $4.1m in the 2019-20 State Budget for an upgrade.
Parramatta East Public School, NSW
Income $4.0m
Cap. exp. $272,298
Cap. exp. govt. $214,034

50% enrolment growth since 2013. Has 10 toilets for more than 500 students and 4 times as many demountables as permanent classrooms. No upgrades planned.
Sheidow Park Primary School, SA
Income $2.8m
Cap. exp. $25,005
Cap. exp. govt. $0

No new buildings or renovations since the Rudd government’s post-GFC school building program.

At the end of each school year, Sheidow Park Primary School principal Jennie-Marie Gorman takes a walk around the school with the finance officer and the groundsman.

They pass windows held together by safety screens. They inspect the playgrounds built 20 years ago. They note the walls that haven’t been painted in 15 years.

And they look again at the patch of exposed concrete in the front office, where the finance officer’s swivel chair has worn a hole in the carpet. That hole will be fixed in about five years, if all goes to schedule.

“We have a plan to carpet two to three classrooms a year, based on need, so the ones with the biggest holes in them or the biggest rips get replaced first,” Ms Gorman says.

“We also need new carpet in the office but we look at what the children need first and we put ourselves at the end of the line — which is just normal teacher stuff. That’s just how we operate.”

Sheidow Park Primary is one of more than 1,300 schools across Australia that spent less than $100,000 on new facilities and renovations while the nation’s four richest schools spent roughly $100 million — each.

An ABC News investigation has revealed for the first time the gaping divide that separates the capital expenditure of Australia’s richest and poorest schools.

It is based on school finance figures from the My School website — a dataset so tightly held that in the decade since its creation, it has only been released to a handful of researchers under strict conditions. Independently compiled by ABC News, it provides a more detailed picture of school income and expenditure than any publicly available data.

The investigation, which encompasses more than 8,500 schools teaching 96 per cent of students, reveals:

  • Half of the $22 billion spent on capital projects in Australian schools between 2013 and 2017 was spent in just 10 per cent of schools
  • These schools teach fewer than 30 per cent of students and are the country’s richest, ranked by average annual income from all sources (federal and state government funding, fees and other private funding) over the five-year period.
  • They also reaped 28 per cent (or $2.4 billion) of the $8.6 billion in capital spending funded by government.

University of Sydney associate professor Helen Proctor described the figures as “extraordinary”.

“Certainly the public investment in private schools, and the public investment in the wealthiest schools, is a factor,” she said.

“They have that security of their operating costs being heavily subsidised — or, for some schools, completely covered — so they can use other money for their building projects.”

Sheidow Park Primary School spent $25,005 over the five-year period. It received no capital funding from government.

“The school has never had lots of money and principals have had to be very careful with what they’ve done,” Ms Gorman says.

“The learning that’s happening is great, we just don’t look as shiny as everywhere else’.”

Sheidow Park Primary is a public school 20km south of Adelaide. Its sits among the poorest 20 per cent of schools on the income ladder.

Despite soaring enrolments — student numbers have nearly doubled since 2013 — the last major capital project at Sheidow Park was a gymnasium completed in 2011 as part of the Rudd government’s school building program, known as Building the Education Revolution.

“At the end of the year, when we walk around the school, it’s not: ‘This needs fixing, so we’ll fix it’. It’s always… ‘What’s the worst of the worst?’” Ms Gorman says.

“It’s tricky because you don’t want to be the poor neighbour down the road. You want to put your best foot forward… But I guess it’s the inequity that annoys me the most.”

You don’t have to look far to find that inequity. About half an hour’s drive north is Saint Ignatius’ College in Athelstone, a Catholic school among the richest 10 per cent in Australia. It spent just over $30 million on capital projects (including $124,000 from the federal government) in the same period Sheidow Park spent $25,005.

Enrolments at Saint Ignatius’ shrunk by roughly five per cent over that period.

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