Teenagers head back to primary school because their high school has no room

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

A high school in Melbourne’s inner north has shifted its students into four classrooms at a nearby primary school as it awaits on a solution from the Victorian Education Department.

Parents connected to the University High School community in Parkville have accused the Education Department of dragging its feet when it comes to addressing a chronic space shortage at what is one of Victoria’s fullest public secondary schools.

The lack of classroom space at the high school’s campus has seen Year nine students pushed back to primary school, with around 80 of the secondary students using classrooms at North Melbourne Primary School’s grade three – six Errol Street campus.

The teenagers have different recess and lunch times than the younger primary students and also use new toilet block, as well as a separate entrance into school grounds.

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North Melbourne Primary School principal Sarah Nightingale told parents in a letter at the start of the year that the students would be housed at the school throughout 2024, “while the Department of Education supports University High School with more permanent arrangements to address the significant enrolment increase it has seen over recent years”.

For students from University High, it’s the second time they have been forced to share space with a local primary school, with some students forced to temporarily attend Carlton Primary after a fire impacted the high school’s campus.

Parental concern around students sharing campus

Melinda Cooke is the mother of a Year three student at North Melbourne Primary School and says the state government has failed to plan properly for the obvious family-driven growth in inner-Melbourne.

Ms Cooke says there was no consultation with parents before the high school students moved in.

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“I’m fairly disappointed to be honest,” she says.

“I don’t think many people would argue that Year nine isn’t a bit of a troublesome year … let’s stick them down at the primary school doesn’t really sound like a good idea.”

Ms Cooke says families had warned the government for years that more public schooling space in inner-Melbourne was urgently needed.

“I don’t want to have to move just because there isn’t adequate schooling in the area,” she says.

No clear solution to growing student demand

Since the state government tripled its enrolment boundaries without consultation in 2016, University High has struggled to meet student demand.

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2022 data from the Education Department’s own Enrolment Pressure Index revealed the school was running at 110 per cent capacity, with University High listed as one of 14 Victorian high schools operating over capacity. In 2023, 1858 students were enrolled at University High. Currently, the state government’s list of new schools being built across Victoria does not include any new school slated for inner-Melbourne.

Opposition education spokeswoman Jess Wilson says the Victorian state government has failed to plan and deliver adequate school infrastructure.

“Whether it’s overcrowded classrooms or too few teachers, Labor’s mismanagement continues to deny students the high-quality education they deserve,” she says.

And with no clear solution being offered, many parents are left wondering what to do to help their children.

“We’re working hard to address current school facility issues that are affecting the education sector across the nation – and we’ll continue to work closely with University High and North Melbourne Primary School to accommodate current and future enrolments,” a Victorian Education Department spokesperson says.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live