By Victor McMillan
For a number of decades, the primary focus of Melbourne’s infrastructure needs has been firmly fixed on the outer suburban sprawl. Providing these areas with the necessary public services has typically remained the top priority for the State Government.
One of these key government services, public schooling, has been overlooked during this period across many of Melbourne’s inner-city suburbs. Outside of independent and private schools, inner-city families have often been bereft of government schooling options.
All of this, however, is set to change.
Under a new policy, the Inner City Schools Package, the Andrews Government plans to open new public schools in the inner sanctum of Melbourne, as well as revitalise existing schools and other previously unused sites.
Under the plan, an estimated 5000 new student places will be created for inner-city Melbourne residents.
Residents in North Melbourne, West Melbourne and the Docklands will fall into the catchment areas of a number of future schools including a primary and secondary school located in Fishermans Bend (Docklands) and a primary school in North Melbourne.
Although there are some options available in surrounding suburbs, there are currently no government secondary schools located in either North Melbourne or West Melbourne. In fact, the only secondary school currently open in the suburb of North Melbourne is St Aloysius, an independent girls-only college.
Remnants of the Jeff Kennett era, when over 400 government schools were forced into closure, still affect the education sector to this day. Many areas in Melbourne continue to suffer from insufficient public schools.
In order to accommodate the construction of these facilities in the inner-urban environment, the introduction of a new direction in education design, the ‘vertical school’, is now being embraced. Although popular in many other regions of the world, vertical schools have not, until very recently, been a part of the Australian education psyche.
A number of new government schools, currently in either the planning or construction phase, are utilising the vertical model design. Richmond High School, Prahran High School and South Melbourne Primary School, for example, have all adopted this strategy of high-density education.
Richard Leonard is a director at one of Melbourne’s leading architectural firms, Hayball. Leonard is a leader in Australian education design, having recently worked closely on the new vertical South Melbourne Primary School (a six-storey building), located in Ferrars Street.
Hayball Architects were recently awarded the Future Project of the Year for the Ferrars Street school (which is currently under construction) at the 2016 World Architecture Festival Awards held in Berlin.
“The vertical school approach can work providing it has good design applied to it and innovative thinking in terms of how you deliver teaching and learning in those spaces … it’s promoting a rethinking on how education can be delivered and how it can be delivered within dense inner-urban environments,” said Richard Leonard.
“You can get a much closer arrangement of facilities that allow or promote cross-disciplinary teaching and learning, rather than the big spread of schools on many acres of land. I think that is something that is also overlooked. It’s one of those little by-products of what a dense, carefully designed, creative and innovative inner-urban school can achieve.”
Hayball Architect Richard Leonard – Photo: Hayball Architects
The building of these new schools is more than simply a means to an end. Through new design techniques, these schools will provide prospective students and staff with the requisite resources needed to run a modern classroom. The innovations in technology and classroom structure enable the implementation of progressive, 21st-century teaching methods and learning environments.
“These days there is a diversity of teaching and learning methods and I think that is the big shift from the industrial era, where the information was held by the teacher and delivered to the student,” said Leonard.
“It’s much more about promoting students learning in their own ways and using different methods — if you like, the multiple intelligences of students.
“In turn that promotes a diversity of opportunities in terms of learning settings and the need to rethink spaces as not just being a single classroom but also a seamless interconnection of spaces and a variety of opportunities with areas to withdraw or areas to have large groups, small groups, one-on-ones, areas for video conferencing, spaces to do multimedia and external spaces.”
Moving away from the traditional ‘cages for ages’ school structure, the vertical model both allows and encourages engagement between different year levels across a spectrum of cross-disciplinary activities.
The rethinking of the modern inner-urban school is also moving beyond just the classrooms themselves, as these facilities are now being designed to become a greater part of the community infrastructure, outside of school hours.
The new South Melbourne Primary School and others still in planning have been designed to facilitate community use in a variety of different ways. Facilities such as an early learning centre, a maternal child centre, a community kitchen and community meeting rooms, all located on school grounds, will be open to public use.
The new South Melbourne Primary School currently under construction – Photo: Hayball Architects
“I think this is again one of the real positives that is coming out of the reconsideration of schools in the inner city so that they can really provide a community resource and how they can provide that focus as a community hub,” Leonard added.
Leonard believes that if the inner-city school model is to become a priority, the only way it will remain viable will be for the school to assimilate with the local community and vice versa. This includes enabling the shared use of sporting facilities, municipal libraries, art galleries and other collateral available in the inner-city areas.
According to a Docklands School Provision Review conducted by the Department of Education in 2014, the population aged between five and 17 in the City of Melbourne is projected to increase by 15,000 between 2011 and 2031, an increase of approximately 300 per cent.
The suburbs identified as those projected to experience the most significant growth in the primary school–aged demographic include Docklands, North Melbourne, Parkville and Carlton.
On top of this, statistics published by the Grattan Institute indicate that in the period of 2016 to 2026 student numbers in Victoria will increase by 19.2 per cent. In order to accommodate this rise, the institute recommends the introduction of 220 new schools statewide over the next 10 years.
If the current Melbourne population projections are correct, the need for new public education options in the inner city will be critical. In fact, Stage Two of the department’s report found that in the Docklands area “actual enrollments are significantly higher than current/projected local demand, illustrating the urgency to increase provision”.
The demand for these schools has already reached the point at which new portable classrooms recently had to be added to North Melbourne Primary School on Errol Street to cope with the influx of student enrollments.
The exact location of the new North Melbourne primary school has not yet been finalised. The VSBA (Victorian School Building Authority) is currently assessing sites in both the Arden and Macaulay precincts. When details of the State Government’s funding for the project are finalised, the exact timeline for the school’s construction will become known.