From the President: The three certainties of life

Various authors tell us that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. While that is hard to argue with, there is, however, another certainty in life: that, come the end of January each year, students will pour through the gates of Queensland state schools to begin a new year of education.

Based on current projections, the Queensland education system will experience a doubling of growth in student enrolments in the second half of the second decade of the 21st century. The Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) has predicted that Queensland schools will enrol 106,320 extra students over the course of this decade. The first five years have seen state school enrolments grow by 33,364, leaving about twice as many students to begin schooling over the next five years. An increasing proportion of these students are attending state schools, reversing trends of previous years.

This growth in student numbers is unlike anything experienced in living memory. Schools are living the experience in the blossoming of class sizes in the early years of primary school, with significant numbers of those classes at higher than acceptable levels. As the growth spurt in enrolments moves through the education system we will see the climactic conclusion with the exit of half of the cohort of preps who started their schooling journey in 2007, in 2019

The implications for the state education system, and the government responsible for delivering the money to run it, are very significant. That same ACER report predicts an average of 443 additional classes each year in Queensland schools over the course of this decade. That means more teachers and more classrooms to accommodate these students. It is also clear that demand is unevenly spread and the biggest change is yet to come.

What is critical is that the Palaszczuk government begins to plan for this change now. The previous LNP state government identified the same issues but foolishly obscured the real implications by planning to rely on private schools and commercial principles to provide the stop-gap. This was a short-sighted attempt to avoid the responsibility of the state government to provide adequate space in state schools.

While acknowledging the tyranny of distance and isolation, every child in Queensland must have the right to attend a state school in their local community. Any lack of focus on planning and building new schools or expanding current facilities will see a dearth of spaces for students seeking enrolment.

Recent experiences in Europe and the United Kingdom have seen massive growth in demand for school places. In some cases, the lack of places available has seen as many as 8 students applying for each place available in a school. The commercialisation of education explicit in the policies of conservative governments around the world has led directly to this outcome, and Australia must act now to avoid a similar calamity.

Finding a place in a school is one thing, but finding a teacher to teach the class is another potential hurdle. The massive growth in Queensland schools over the next five years will create huge demand for teachers. It generally takes at least four years to train a teacher, and the spike in enrolments just around the corner clearly creates pressure on the system to produce the necessary teachers, particularly those in specialist teaching areas.

All of these problems can be resolved, and, with goodwill and commitment, state education in Queensland can be well placed to meet the challenges of this future. We look forward to working on those solutions.

by Kevin Bates

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 121 No 1, 5 February 2016, p7