Private schools in Sydney are warning students will be turned away if enrollment caps are not raised

“The school provides excellent education and excellent student outcomes and we hope that the council and planning department will want to support, not hinder, a reasonable increase in numbers,” she said.

Townsend questioned whether strict caps were in the best interests of students when schools turned families away. More parents were enrolling their children in 5th grade to secure a spot, leaving little room for new students in 7th grade, she said.

Barker College Principal Phillip Heath

Barker College Principal Phillip Heath

In a master plan development application currently under review by state planning authorities, Upper North Shore School Barker College said its growth has been constrained by a student and staff cap introduced in 2017.

The school is seeking to increase its existing cap to a maximum of 2850 students and 480 staff, up from the current limit of 2420 students and 339 staff.

Headmaster Phillip Heath said the application was in response to an ever-increasing demand in the Sydney area for “quality co-education”.

“Barker College has continued to attract strong interest from families since completing the transition to a fully coeducational school in 2022, with most year groups fully enrolled for the next decade,” he said.

“That [development application] is prepared to handle increased student demand and will improve traffic management in and around the school, provide a water sports and tennis center to replace outdated facilities, improve pedestrian infrastructure and incorporate a new center for performing arts and alongside the curriculum.”

Trinity Grammar School principal Timothy Bowden said raising enrollment caps was a frustrating and costly process. Trinity recently received government approval to increase the number on the Summer Hill campus from 1,500 to 2,100 as part of its $127 million building upgrade.

“There is a strong demand for enrollment that has increased since the pandemic and we are responding to that,” Bowden said, adding that more than a hundred students on the waitlist miss 7th grade enrollment each year.

“It’s a broader infrastructure issue, schools across all sectors are in high demand and need more planning and long-term infrastructure development.”

In south-west Sydney, Macarthur Anglican School’s student cap has been 1120 as of 2003, despite being in one of the fastest growing regions in the state. It wants to raise its enrollment limit to 1,400.

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Director David Nockles said demand from parents far outstripped the places available.

“We know this has been a problem for years. Council knows there is significant enrollment pressure,” he said.

“Given that state schools do not impose a cap, I question the rationale behind caps for independent schools.”

Meriden School, an Anglican all-girls school in Sydney’s inner west, is also among private colleges trying to lift their enrollment cap.

As part of a development proposal to expand the senior school, currently under consideration by the NSW Planning Department, the school aims to increase student enrollment from 1080 to 1224, plus further capacity for 20 additional enrolments. The principal declined to comment.

The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows that enrollments in independent schools in NSW rose to record levels in 2021, outpacing systemic Catholic schools. Newcombe said the 3.5 per cent growth in 2021 to 221,744 enrollments was largely due to continued demand from schools in Sydney’s western suburbs and regional NSW.

“We just want fairer framework conditions,” he said.

“All we are asking is that permitting agencies such as local councils must follow the advice of the Department of Planning to consider other measures, rather than a mandated, numerical cap as with state schools.”

Requests for increases in enrollment caps are processed by local councils unless the new development or original development has been treated as a government significant development, in which case the Department of Planning decides.

The ministry was asked if it had seen an increase in requests to change caps and whether it was considering making it easier for schools to lift enrollment caps, but did not answer the questions directly.

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Joel McCord

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