Saved school struggles with numbers as neighbours spill over

An Adelaide high school kept open despite a recommendation it be closed due to low enrolments has 220 students and a $10m upgrade underway – while nearby campuses reach overflowing point.

Feb 14, 2023, updated Feb 15, 2023
Supporters of Springbank Secondary College rally to keep the school open in 2020. Photo: Facebook

Supporters of Springbank Secondary College rally to keep the school open in 2020. Photo: Facebook

Springbank Secondary College was first flagged for a merger with Unley High School in 2016 and then closure in 2020 when student numbers were the lowest in SA at 167, but the former Liberal Government kept the school open.

Families living in suburbs near Springbank Secondary College were then zoned for Unley High School, six kilometres away.

The Education Department said that Unley High School had 1560 students enrolled last year and forecast that it will spill over its 1700 student capacity by 31 students next year – despite a $32.5 million expansion designed to cater for new year seven students and growing enrolment demand.

Other nearby campuses include Adelaide High School where Education Department data forecasts the campus to be 32 students over its 1900 student capacity in 2024, while Glenunga International High School is forecast to have 105 students over its 2200 capacity.

Mitcham Girls – an unzoned school – had 760 students enrolled last year and Urrbrae Agricultural High School, 1189.

The rise of the “super school” over the past 10 years has led to South Australia now having 11 schools with more than 1500 student enrolments. In 2012 there was only one school with numbers higher than 1500 students, rising to five in 2021.

Education Department figures provided to InDaily showed Springbank College – previously named Pasadena High and before that Daws Road High School – has grown its numbers from 174 students in 2020 to 207 last year and 220 this year, well below its 450-student capacity. It forecasts this to rise to 252 next year.

Principal Wendy House previously said numbers were boosted by more year eight students plus two new year seven classes starting as that cohort moved from primary to high schools last year.

Former Liberal Government Education Minister John Gardner stands by his decision to overrule the three-month review finding to close the school, saying the process revealed a passionate community group wanting “something a bit different in public education”.

Gardner recently raised concerns about data showing a mix of 29 primary and secondary schools cross the state were predicted to be over capacity in the next school year.

He was critical of the government delaying further school upgrades “as capacity concerns continue to mount”.

Gardner said that the state government failure “to demonstrate any interest in education priorities has left us in a situation where schools will be scrambling to fit students who live in their zones next year”.

“If we hadn’t delivered our $1.5 billion program of school works, including five new schools, the move of year 7 to high school, and upgrades to more than a hundred public schools, this situation would be drastically worse,” he said.

An Education Department statement said there were no merger plans for Springbank Secondary College and that the school was not zoned, meaning students could attend from anywhere in the state.

Education Minister Blair Boyer said the “Labor Party stood with community to ensure Springbank Secondary College remained open” and that the closure would have “impacted on capacity pressure across the area”.

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A spokeswoman said the college’s capital upgrade was funded and allocated for in 2017, when Susan Close was the Education Minister, and in relation to the $1.5 billion, more than $1 billion was allocated by Dr Close during her tenure, not the former liberal government.

“We have made a significant investment of more than $10m in infrastructure that includes a major refurbishment to the main building, a refurbishment of the gymnasium and upgrades to the courtyard and learning area,” Boyer said.

“We look forward to a long future with more students enrolling and able to enjoy these incredible facilities to learn in a modern and flexible way.

“We have also just announced that Springbank Secondary College will be one of 65 public schools that will receive a mental health specialist as part of our commitment to deliver more mental health and learning support for our schools – showing the Malinauskas Labor Government’s continued support to this fantastic school.”

Refurbishments are underway at Springbank Secondary College . Photo: Facebook

The potential merger of Springbank with Unley High School was voted down by parents at Springbank in 2016, and at the start of 2019, the school rebranded.

It has since announced a five-year renewal plan to fill its 450-student capacity with a focus on partnerships with the Australian Science and Mathematics School, Flinders University and Basketball SA.

Gardner said the Springbank Secondary College review committee vote to close the school “reflected the view that the status quo of Springbank continuing as a regular zoned school was unsatisfactory”.

“The review provided two sets of recommendations – the top set in the event that we kept the school open, and the second set in the event that we proceeded with closure,” he said.

“The Act requires any school review committee to take a vote on a yes/no question, which they did, and that vote reflected the view that the status quo of Springbank continuing as a regular zoned school was unsatisfactory. 

“However, the body of text and the structure of the recommendations reflected the opportunity for the third option, which we took, as was suggested by some of the submissions too, of changing the zone to Unley High School but keeping Springbank open as an unzoned specialist school.”

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