INNER Sydney has become the new school-bag belt as gentrified generation X-ers shun the outer suburbs in favour of raising their families close to the city.
The Department of Education’s Sydney region has outstripped western Sydney and south-western Sydney in public school enrolments over the past five years.
Some inner-city primary schools have almost doubled their enrolments between 2006 and 2011. The inner west shows similar growth, with enrolments at Erskineville Public up 81 per cent between 2006 and 2011, Leichhardt up 89 per cent and Rozelle Public up 73 per cent.
And the inner-Sydney family trend shows no sign of declining, with the number of preschool-aged children in Leichhardt growing by 83 per cent between 2001 and 2011, by 51 per cent in Paddington and by 50 per cent in Annandale over the same period.
The city and inner west have shown the strongest population growth in Sydney over the past decade, according to figures from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics released this week.
It’s part of what demographers call the return-to-the-city movement as wealthy professional couples eschew the long commute for convenience and stay put once they start families.
”It’s a very interesting phenomenon and it’s almost as if nobody really thought it through,” said Bill Randolph, of the University of NSW’s City Futures Research Centre.
”The return to the city was probably seen as a movement by singles and couples, not people who might produce families. But that’s exactly what has happened,” Professor Randolph said.
The increasing acceptance of apartment living and inner-Sydney gentrification are fanning the trend, according to Andrew Wilson, the senior economist for the Fairfax-owned Australian Property Monitors.
”It started closer to the city and now it’s spreading out,” he said. ”It’s that generation of business couples who are becoming family couples.” The inner west is tracking ahead of Sydney overall, with price growth of about 2 per cent to 3 per cent, Dr Wilson said.
Professor Randolph believes there will be increased demand for secondary school places as the baby bubble of the early 2000s moves through the system.
”People who plan education systems tend to look at what’s happened in the past rather than what’s going to happen in the future so I think there will be some real pinch-points in the system in a year or two,” he said.
Community for Local Options for Secondary Education, a lobby group formed by inner-city parents last year, is campaigning for Cleveland Street Boys High School in Surry Hills to re-open as a comprehensive public school. It is being used as an intensive English high school for 232 students.
The independent candidate in the Sydney byelection, Alex Greenwich, said the reopening of the school could avert potential overcrowding in inner-Sydney secondary schools.
”Families are increasingly living in the city and it’s important that they are provided with the educational facilities they need to stay here,” he said.
The opposition spokeswoman on education, Carmel Tebbutt, said the O’Farrell government must plan for the growth.
”The last two budgets for education have reduced the capital funding and my fear is that they’re not investing in the infrastructure for schools which are going to be needed to accommodate future demand,” Ms Tebbutt said.
A spokesman for the Department of Education said secondary schools in inner Sydney still had capacity for more students. ”The Department of Education is constantly monitoring demographic trends and plans ahead for future needs,” he said.
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