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Full as a state school hat rack - growth puts the heat on more students

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The Palaszczuk Government is building more schools to deal with surging class sizes but half of its education facilities still don’t have air conditioning.

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The Queensland Government Statistician’s Office has projected the population of school-aged children will increase by 26 per cent over the next 20 years.

However, the increase will not be uniform across the state, with Ipswich set to grow by 78 per cent while outback Queensland experiences a decline of 11 per cent.

The Queensland Audit Office, in a report tabled in State Parliament, acknowledges the government is responding by building new schools in the areas with the largest population growth. But the system is still under stress.

“Another consideration for the construction of new schools is the class size target guidelines provided by the department,” the report states.

“Currently, 97.6 per cent of classes are achieving the targets. The Moreton Bay South region currently has the lowest rate of compliance, with only 93.2 per cent of its classes achieving the targets. This region has seen significant population growth in the last five years, which has contributed to this result.”

Last week, the government announced a new primary school needed in Brisbane’s inner west would be delayed, and other sites considered, after a backlash over its original plan to take over part of Indooroopilly State High.

The government will now also consider the former Toowong Bowls Club and neighbouring Perrin Park.

Education Minister Grace Grace said the later start date of 2024 could be accommodated because state school enrolment numbers this year were “slightly lower than forecast”.

“The community response has been really valuable in raising alternative sites and key issues for locals around traffic and potential loss of green space at Indooroopilly High,” Grace said.

“Locals have also acknowledged the genuine need for a new local primary school and the difficulties in finding an ideal site in a densely developed area like the inner west.”

On Friday, the government has also exercised its planning powers to facilitate school upgrades at Mabel Park, Palm Beach and St Philomena schools in south-east Queensland.

Shortly before the state election, the Labor government proclaimed the success of its school air conditioning program, declaring that all 301 schools identified as needing air-con last year, as well as another 18 schools, had all their installations completed.

But the Queensland Audit Office report points out that the $477 million program was to air condition all classrooms, libraries, and staff rooms by the end of July 2022.

“Based on the last four comprehensive revaluations undertaken for the Department of Education, 41 per cent of its buildings are currently air conditioned,” the report states.

“The department will need to continue to monitor the rollout of this program and the impact it has on its forward maintenance planning.”

The report also recommends forward maintenance planning take into account the recent digital upgrades, required during the pandemic, that have changed how education is delivered.

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