INVESTIGATION

Which schools are the biggest on the beaches?

Schools booming in the beaches as intake areas to get smaller

Schools across the northern beaches are booming, as growth in families in the area leads to increased enrolments.

As a result, a further 10 primary schools have been added to the restricted enrolment list. This means that from the start of 2023, new enrolments can only be accepted from residents living inside new, smaller local intake areas. Schools affected include: Beacon Hill Public School, Brookvale Public School, Curl Curl North Public School, Dee Why Public School, Harbord Public School, Manly West Public School, Manly Vale Public School, Narraweena Public School, Allambie Heights Public School and Cromer Public School. Students can still enrol in the current intake area school if they have a sibling there.

Last week, the NSW government officially opened the upgraded Curl Curl North Public School (838 students), after upgrades to Brookvale (355 students) and Killarney Heights (656 students) primary schools last year.

There are several more school capital works projects slated for the next two years, including for the biggest primary school in the beaches, Mona Vale Public School (1087 students), as well as a new education precinct in Narrabeen, which is in the early planning stages.

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The Department of Education said the new intake requirements on the northern beaches could be attributed to "exciting school upgrades, growing enrolments and population shifts".

"The Department of Education monitors population and development trends so it can meet enrolment needs in schools across NSW and regularly consults with relevant departments and agencies such as the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and local councils," a spokesperson said. "Intake area adjustments only occur after consultation with demographers, senior school executives and school principals and after careful analysis of relevant indicators and data. In cases of sustained and stable enrolment increases, the department provides additional permanent facilities, or new schools, as necessary."

NEW SCHOOL: Curl Curl North Public School was recently launched after an upgrade. Picture: Geoff Jones

NEW SCHOOL: Curl Curl North Public School was recently launched after an upgrade. Picture: Geoff Jones

Utilising demountable buildings to manage enrolment increases was a viable solution in the short to medium term, the spokesperson said. "Demountable classrooms provide schools with the flexibility to accommodate any fluctuation in student numbers. These are modern, air-conditioned rooms that provide students and teaching staff with excellent quality temporary facilities."

Last year, NSW experienced what Education Minister Sarah Mitchell described as a "once-in-a-generation spike in school enrolments", with about 497,000 primary school students and 318,000 high school students enrolling and 71,000 starting Kindergarten. "For more than 30 years, student numbers have been relatively stable in public schools across the state, but now, NSW is facing the first major increase in the school-aged population since the Baby Boom of the 1950s," she said, adding that they forecast for an extra 130,000 extra students in NSW public schools by 2036.

There are also hefty secondary school enrolment numbers, with the northern beaches hosting some of the biggest high schools in the state, with 10 per cent numbering more than 1000 students and almost all above 500 students. The combined total of the five Northern Beaches Secondary College campuses is 4608, with Mackellar topping the list with 1296 students. The girls' school was the highest-placed comprehensive (non-selective) public school in the 2020 HSC and Mackellar Girls' Principal Christine del Gallo has said that she places a premium on hiring conscientious, knowledgeable and dedicated teachers.

BUSY: Northern Beaches Secondary College Mackellar campus is the biggest school in the beaches, with 1269 students. Picture: Geoff Jones

BUSY: Northern Beaches Secondary College Mackellar campus is the biggest school in the beaches, with 1269 students. Picture: Geoff Jones

There are plenty of papers on large versus small schools, with varying findings and the ultimate outcome depending on the child and their fit, say experts. Some say small schools can build strong communities, offer more dedicated care and curb disruptive behaviour, while others report that the collegiate environment of larger schools can lead to increased collaboration and networking, especially where there is a successful mentoring system in place.

An analysis of recent research suggests that small schools outperform bigger, but beaches' results seem to be bucking this finding. As well as Mackellar, large beaches' schools are also performing well academically, with almost all improving their HSC rankings last year. The selective Northern Beaches Secondary College (Manly), which has 795 students this year, was top ranked at number 13, the same as last year.

St Luke's Grammar School, which has a combined Pre-K to Year 12 total of around 1200 students, was the second ranked beaches' school, at 24th in the state.

NBSC Mackellar (1296 students) and NBSC Balgowlah Boys (1143 students) were next, at 43rd and 91st, followed by St Augustine's College (about 1200 students from Year 5 to 12), Oxford Falls Grammar (about 1300 students from K-12), Davidson High (886 students), NBSC Freshwater (631 students) and Pittwater House (about 850 students).

In the latest Census, 74.9 per cent of people in the Northern Beaches Council area aged over 15 years had completed Year 12 schooling (or equivalent), which was greater than the NSW average of 52.1 per cent.

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