On the weekend our two main political parties held conferences where they started to discuss ideas and policy for the upcoming election. I certainly wasn’t following events closely but I one discussion that caught my attention was about schools.
On Saturday it was revealed that the government are looking at setting up urban schools as a tool to help deal with Auckland’s growth.
A new type of school will be considered to help cope with Auckland’s booming population – with land possibly being leased, no playing fields and students using community facilities.
The cost and limited availability of green space downtown means building new schools with normal facilities such as playing fields will be hugely expensive.
However, existing schools in central Auckland are approaching capacity, and intensification will require the Ministry of Education to find space for tens of thousands of extra students in coming years.
In a speech to the National Party northern region conference today, Education Minister Nikki Kaye will outline a set of principles to guide possible investment in a new school model, which could help meet future demand in urban centres like central Auckland.
Similar models are used overseas and can involve locating a school in a smaller site that may be leased.
Such a school could use community facilities like playing fields rather than having its own, and make use of its location to form connections with local businesses to set-up work placements.
While I’m sure the devil will be in the details, on the surface this sounds like an excellent idea and as the story mentions, one used overseas. We all know that Auckland is growing rapidly, and therefore is going to need more schools and bigger existing ones to cope with that growth. Of course, land is an increasingly expensive commodity and so building new schools in the middle of urban area isn’t going to be easy or cheap. At the same time, many community facilities, such as parks, are underutilised, especially during the middle of the day. As such, urban schools that use existing community facilities seems to be a great way to make better use of the resources we have.
I suspect the biggest of those devilish details would relate to the cost of maintaining those community facilities. At the moment the council are the ones who pay for the upkeep of parks and other facilities and so the proposal could be seen as a way of palming off costs from the government to ratepayers. But if some sort of co-funding agreement for use of those facilities was in place it could work out well, possibly allowing councils to upgrade those public facilities which would have benefits for locals.
It’s hard to see what real objections there could be to such an idea, but Labour leader Andrew Little managed to find one.
Labour leader Andrew Little has poo-pooed the idea of ‘metro schools’ without school playing fields in some inner city areas, saying it would be ‘disappointing’ to abandon the traditional New Zealand schooling experience.
Education Minister Nikki Kaye has proposed some ‘metro schools’ in fast growing inner city areas such as Auckland where land was short.
Such schools would instead use nearby community facilities for playing fields and gyms.
Little said most parents would expect a grassed area for their children to play in at school.
“It would be a pity if we lose sight of that. I think one of the great things about the New Zealand school experience is you do have a green space to run around in and kick a ball around or play bullrush in for those who allow it these days.”
Seriously WTF. One of the great struggles Auckland is having in recent years has been getting those who don’t live here that Auckland is actually a city and not just some overgrown provincial town. While they’re by no means perfect or going far enough, we’re finally, and slowly starting to see some urban thinking emerging from a few in the current government. Of course, many are just as bad. Then we get this rubbish which makes me think Little doesn’t have the faintest clue about the where over a third of New Zealanders live.
To put the issue in perspective, I took a look at some numbers. As we’ve talked about before, Auckland’s City Centre (as shown below) has seen some massive growth over the last 15-20 years, going from just over 5,000 people in 1996 to almost 47,000 people in 2016. More than 10,000 of that have been added in just the last two years.
Statistics NZ also happen break their population estimates down by age, so I took a look at the numbers. As of 2016, around 1,900 of those 47k people were under the age of 15. As you can see from the graph below, the majority of those are in the 0-4 age bracket, likely a reflection of the fact that many of the people moving to live in the city centre are young couples. Unless those parents equally suddenly move out of the city, it’s hard to see just how the current schools in the area are going to cope – for example the current Freemans Bay School upgrade underway is designed to cater for 600 pupils. It would be interesting to know where Little thinks we could buy enough land in the area to support a school. Perhaps he plans on capping a few motorways (that would be good).
Land for schools has always been an issue. I recall speaking to someone who, quite some time ago, worked for the Ministry of Education and part of his job was around planning new schools. The policy at the time, after identify the general area where new schools would be needed, was to find the cheapest land available. No effort was put into siting schools in locations that would best serve the community, such as from transport or community place-making perspectives. This is likely why it’s not uncommon to find schools in locations which are difficult to serve with public transport and which helps to encourage even more parents to drive to drop their kids off. Perhaps this urban schools idea could also help us to put schools in locations where they also better serve the community.