27 Aug 2019

How will growth and infrastructure projects be impacted by election promises on education in our eastern states?

With the recent Federal election, state elections in Victoria and New South Wales, and the election in Queensland next year, education has emerged a winner when it comes to funding commitments from Government. What are the key promises and how will they impact Australian students and schools?

The eastern states are focused on delivering education infrastructure and using this as a mechanism to create change in educational outcomes. This is bolstered by strong links in the evidence between education, social and economic outcomes.

How will these decisions meet the demands of future students? Have our governments prepared and paved the way for the kind of growth and infrastructure we need when it comes to delivering quality education across the country?

Drawing on our extensive experience in facilitating development across all areas of education – including planning, social policy, property economics and design – Urbis reviews the initiatives.

Across all three states, funding has been allocated to tackle the issues of mental health in young people. While it’s heartening to see an investment into the minds and lives of children, young people and families, the evidence suggests more needs to be done.

Schools are in a unique position to identify and support children and young people with mental health disorders, including those who may be falling through the cracks and not receiving the support they need at home.

We welcome a broader perspective, where our education and health systems work more closely together to identify and support young people at risk of mental health disorders. After all, it’s not only an issue of health – Australia’s education outcomes depend on it.

How funding is being invested into mental health state-by-state.
How funding is being invested into mental health state-by-state. Click to enlarge.

In NSW, the Government announced an increase of up to $6.7 billion over the next four years towards 190 new and upgraded Government schools. This commitment includes $917.4 million to build eight new schools and significantly upgrade and expand a further 32 schools.

This “once in a generation infrastructure program” of a “historic scale” shows a sincere commitment to addressing the 21% growth expected by 2031 in NSW state school enrolments.

Population forecast for students in NSW. Click to enlarge.

For private, independent and Catholic schools, $500 million has been allocated towards building facilities for more students in growing communities – presenting an opportunity to take stock of current facilities, set growth and improvement targets and map out the future.

While we applaud this funding commitment, there are concerns in the public and private school sector that the current schools infrastructure funding pipeline and planning approvals process may not be equipped to meet this new demand, with these two bottlenecks already slowing things down.

Is there another way to deliver schools faster?

In new communities, developers could fund the building of schools directly and without delay, so social infrastructure is in place when residents move in.

If developers of new communities were able to fund school infrastructure upfront and seek reimbursement from the Government once the school is built, this could alleviate some of the pressure placed on the process of releasing funds for new and expanded schools in NSW.

Does the planning framework work?

While creating significant opportunities for the development industry during the next four years is a win, there is concern the current planning process may not be able to support demand.

In 2017, a key piece of NSW legislation (Education SEPP) was introduced to make it easier to deliver school infrastructure – by raising the threshold for State Government determination of applications and by expanding pathways that don’t require development consent from State Government or local councils.

We applaud the Government’s commitment to funding the growth and infrastructure required to meet the demands of future student populations.

Eighteen months on, the industry suggests this well-intended policy needs to be reviewed in the context of expected student enrolment growth. With a policy review scheduled in four years’ time, is too late to benefit this funding? This already bottlenecked process may struggle to manage new opportunities mandated by the Government.

We applaud the Government’s commitment to funding the growth and infrastructure required to meet the demands of future student populations. It would be a shame to see this compromised due to planning red tape and over regulation.

Boost regional connectivity

Working with schools in regional New South Wales, Urbis is pleased to see a commitment for digital connectivity in the regions. With $518.8 million over four years from the Regional Digital Connectivity Program, the Government has shown its commitment to the whole state.

With many of the new schools and upgrades likely to occur beyond metropolitan Sydney, it appears both state and federal governments are dedicated to improving students’ lives in all areas. This trend is similarly reflected in funding initiatives in Victoria and Queensland.

In Queensland, the State Government has allocated $1.3 billion towards the Building Future Schools Program – an initiative designed to deliver brand new primary, secondary and special schools in growing communities and greenfield developments.

Most of these works are to be tackled now, with these new schools opening in 2020 and 2021. Similarly, Queensland’s Renewing Our Schools Program is designed to enhance facilities in existing schools to meet growing demand and provide better learning environments for students.

Improving facilities for all students in Queensland

With a state election due next year, Queensland’s current education funding is directed towards ensuring its foundations are intact. There’s an element of transition and catching up as Queensland moves to a national system alongside New South Wales and Victoria.

Along with building and refurbishing current school infrastructure, including early childhood and childcare facilities, other commitments to increase funding in Queensland include:

  • State schools experiencing challenges in adapting to growth of student populations.
  • Schools needing enrichment and enhancement of current facilities.
  • $100 million allocated to providing or upgrading air conditioning facilities to give Queensland students the best possible learning environment.
  • Extending the universal access to early childhood education.
  • Advancing schools towards clean energy, improving solar and energy efficiency measures.

There’s an overall allocation of $711.7 million in state recurrent funding and $100 million in capital assistance for independent and Catholic schools from 2019 to 2020, to ensure students at state, Catholic and independent schools benefit from improved facilities.

We are looking forward to seeing these commitments come to fruition as Queensland heads to the polls next year.

It’s reassuring to see that both state and federal funding has been allocated to Victoria’s education sector. The challenge is, however, for the delivery of schools in both Victoria’s growth and inner areas to keep up with a rising population. While new Government schools are promised, the private sector can be expected to continue to contribute, provided it’s not held up by red tape.

State Funding for Victorian schools.
State Funding for Victorian schools. Click to enlarge.

How will new schools be delivered?

Urbis is pleased to see the pre-election commitment of “the first tranche of 45 new schools” between 2019 and 2022 being delivered by the School Building Authority. More than half of these new schools are to be located in growth areas.

The private sector will support the delivery of these new schools. A recent example, the Growth Area Infrastructure Contribution / Works In Kind (GAIC-WIK) agreement between Mirvac and the State Government, signed in 2018. This provided the land to deliver Rockbank North Primary School, due to open in 2021.  

In 2018, we saw the opening of two inner-city Government schools, South Melbourne Primary School and Richmond High School. These schools, along with Haileybury’s CBD campus, are the first vertical schools in Victoria. This demonstrates how school delivery is changing to meet land constraints and population growth.

We look forward to seeing more of these delivery initiatives eventuate, noting success is reliant on the collaboration of the Government and private sector.

Projected growth in Victorian school-aged population. Click to enlarge.

What about non-Government schools?

Non-Government schools make up more than 30% of schools in Victoria. Unlike Government schools, which are not regulated by the planning system in Victoria, independent and Catholic schools need planning approval in Victoria.

Urbis has provided feedback to the Government on ways to reduce delays and improve planning process for schools.

One of the State Government’s election commitments was to streamline planning approvals for schools. Urbis has provided feedback to the Government on ways to reduce delays and improve planning process for schools.

We were expecting an announcement in the first half of this year, which has come and gone. However, we understand the Government is considering various options and expect an announcement in due course.

We would welcome planning reform that fosters the success of non-Government schools’ contribution to educating Victoria’s growing school population.

Early learning for all three-year olds

One of the most impressive joint initiatives, is the investment in subsidised kindergarten for all three year olds, to be accessible by 2022. This is the first program of its kind in Australia, and “the largest social, economic and educational reform ever undertaken in early childhood learning in Victoria’s history.”

This funding includes:

  • $473.2 million for new and upgraded early childhood infrastructure.
  • $27.6 million for the Children’s Facilities Capital Program to build, upgrade and improve existing early years facilities.
  • $6 million to improve playgrounds and buildings and provide equipment to help kindergartens be more inclusive and accessible to children with additional needs.
  • $33.6 million for local councils and eligible providers to construct, expand and improve local kindergarten and other early childhood facilities.

This multi-faceted approach to engaging vulnerable and disadvantaged children, who are less likely to attend three year old kindergarten, includes the co-location of kindergartens within the same site as new primary schools. This will help ease the burden of multiple drop-off points for parents and provide a more cohesive learning environment for children.

We understand the priority on regions is based on the ability to roll this out where there are existing facilities.

Our map analysis shows the program will initially be rolled out across regional Victoria, with metropolitan Melbourne forecast to have funding for five hours a week of early learning education by 2022 – with the full 15 hours a week provided by 2029. Current ABS births data reveals there are 70-80,000 three-year olds in Victoria in any given year – without forecasting population growth. As 75% of Victorians live in Melbourne, we will need to find kindergartens for many three-year olds much sooner than 2029.

Map of three-year-old kindergarten roll out schedule in Victoria
Map of three-year-old kindergarten roll out schedule in Victoria. Click to enlarge.

For independent schools, many of which are already developing master plans for the next 10 years, the need for additional early learning spaces must be considered now. Schools and early learning centres need to create the infrastructure to welcome more children in the coming years. This infrastructure includes accessible spaces for play based learning. Our design team works with educational providers to ensure children of all ages have play spaces that cater to a diversity of activities and abilities, while promoting safety and accessibility.

With more early learning centres needed across Victoria, it’s a good time for providers to consider the next evolution in early learning play spaces. Using evidence Evidence-based research, will help to achieve best practice when it comes to designing spaces for children.

There are many education initiatives proposed and underway around the country. Numerous factors will determine the success of which, including the effective collaboration of Government and private sector.

Drawing on our extensive experience in facilitating development across all areas of education – including planning, social policy, property economics and design – Urbis is well placed to support both Government and the private sector in shaping a better future for Australia’s youth. Contact our expert team to discuss how.

When we invest in education, we also invest in the next generation of city shapers.

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