By: Simon Collins

An overcrowded Auckland school plans to start some classes at 7.45am next year because it can’t fit its burgeoning student numbers into its current classrooms within a normal school day.

Mt Albert Grammar School also has 32 prefab classrooms and is looking at converting its staffroom into classrooms and running lessons in the dining hall of its student hostel.

It’s not the only school struggling to cope with the growth that has added 121,000 people to Auckland’s population in the past three years. Waimauku Primary School in West Auckland is now running two Year 5 and 6 classes in its hall.

Mt Albert Grammar principal Pat Drumm said his roll was growing by 100 students a year through a combination of infill housing in the school zone and the school’s growing popularity against private school rivals.

“We are not able to control our growth,” he said.

“We could look at reviewing our zone, but our bordering schools such as Avondale College, Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls Grammar are also bursting at the seams. It needs a holistic Auckland-wide strategy.”

The school told Year 12 students this week that “a few courses” next year would run in a new “Period 0” from 7.45am until the current first-period starting at 8.45am.

Year 12 student Isaac Munro, 16, said he could get in by 7.45am because he lived nearby, but he was worried for other students.

“We have a lot of students who live out west and have to catch trains and buses,” he said.

Hannah Houghton, also 16, already gets to school early for orchestra and hockey practices.

“So I personally would probably find it hard to make some of those classes,” she said.

But Amelia Jack, also 16, said she was “a morning person” and wouldn’t mind starting early.

Massey University sleep researcher Dr Karyn O’Keeffe said most teenagers operated on a later “body clock” than both adults and younger children.

“They find it really hard to fall asleep and really hard to wake up and function at their best early,” she said.

Wellington High School worked with Massey’s researchers to set a later starting time of 10.15am for Years 12 and 13 in 2006, and the researchers found that Year 12 students were less sleepy in school after the change.

The school’s principal Dominic Killalea said student achievement improved after the change but it was hard to say whether that was due to the later start.

About 60 per cent of Wellington High’s current Year 12 students and 40 per cent of Year 13 students still start at 10am, but the rest start earlier because they choose to take six subjects instead of five.

Drumm believes Mt Albert Grammar students will cope with an earlier start.

“We adjust to daylight saving, don’t we?” he said. “Young people adapt and respond to your expectations.”

Mt Albert Grammar’s roll has doubled from 1425 to 2874 in the past 17 years and it is now New Zealand’s second-biggest school behind Rangitoto College.

A big part of its growth has come from its decision to admit girls from the year 2000. Girls now make up 48 per cent of the roll, a factor partly explaining a declining roll at Auckland Girls Grammar School which has dropped by about 200 students since 2010.

Population growth drove up total enrolments at the eight state secondary schools in the central-west Auckland isthmus by 4000 (31 per cent) in the 15 years to 2015, but the total has levelled off at just under 16,900 in each of the past three years.

The new Auckland Unitary Plan provides for 270,000 new homes through intensification within the existing urban area out of a total of 400,000 new homes across the region by 2041.

The Ministry of Education bought 3ha at Alexandra Park 15 years ago for a new secondary school for up to 2000 students, but canned the project in 2004 after residents objected. Many wanted to keep their children at high-decile Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls Grammar.

Drumm said land was also available at Unitec which could have been used for a new school, but that land is now being developed for housing.

Instead, Education Minister Nikki Kaye suggested recently that new urban schools might be built with no playing fields, but using community facilities.

But Education Ministry deputy secretary Katrina Casey said yesterday that ministry planning now “does not indicate the need for a new secondary school in the Auckland isthmus”.

“Rather, we expect schools to reduce their out-of-zone enrolments first, then we will add capacity as required.”

She said about a third of the 16,900 students in the isthmus secondary schools came from outside the school zones, including 23 per cent of Mt Albert Grammar students.

Drumm said out-of-zone students were now “less than 20 per cent and falling”.

“We expect our out-of-zone percentage to be in single figures within three years,” he said.

The ministry has approved four new prefabs for the school next year and a 12-classroom science block to be completed by early 2019.

The new block will be designed to add four more classrooms in the future and Drumm has asked the ministry to build all 16 classrooms at once. Casey said the ministry would go ahead with the first 12 rooms “with an option to extend that once consideration is undertaken”.

Source: NZ Herald

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