AAP FactCheck

Restoring confidence in public statements by independently testing and verifying the facts

Are NSW public schools overcrowded and relying on demountable classrooms because of a failure to build permanent structures?

By Louise Evans, James Lane & Tiffanie Turnbull

The Statement

“Demountables are only supposed to be used temporarily but the Liberals have been piling them into schools to try to manage severe overcrowding. They failed to build new bricks and mortar classrooms for eight long years.”

NSW Opposition Leader Michael Daley pledges to replace unpopular demountables with permanent classrooms in public schools. February 24, 2019

The Analysis

With the NSW election looming on March 23, Labor leader Michael Daley has committed $1.4 billion to fixing the state's public schools by building more bricks-and-mortar classrooms. [1]

AAP FactCheck has examined Mr Daley’s claim that since being elected in 2011 the Liberal government has failed to build permanent classrooms in public schools and has been masking “severe overcrowding” by installing demountables.

Mr Daley’s claim the NSW Liberal government “failed to build new bricks-and-mortar classrooms for eight long years” is not true.

In March 2015, a NSW Department of Education spokesman told The SMH: "Since 2011, 18 new and relocated schools and 44 major upgrade projects have been announced. These projects will provide 694 new and permanent classrooms and more than 10,000 student places." [2]

Education Infrastructure NSW was set up by the NSW Liberal government in 2017 to “oversee the planning, supply, and maintenance of NSW schools”. [3]

In June 2018, NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet announced as part of the NSW Budget that 230 new and upgraded schools had been completed since 2011. [4]

According to Education Infrastructure NSW, the state government announced 17 new and upgraded schools would open for the first day of Term 1 in 2019, providing almost 400 new classrooms for students across the state. [5]

Mr Daley’s claim demountables are “supposed to be used temporarily” is supported by a statement NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes made in parliament last December. “The Department of Education uses demountable buildings to manage changing enrolment patterns; provide accommodation to meet emergency needs … and provide temporary accommodation needs as a result of capital works and maintenance projects,” Mr Stokes said. [6]

Mr Daley’s claim the “Liberals have been piling them [demountables] into schools” was unable to be verified by comparative statistics. However in 2017, the independent Government News website reported the NSW Labor opposition, using Freedom of Information, obtained an Education Department document that showed 6114 demountables were in use in NSW schools and TAFE sites. [7]

There was clear evidence supporting Mr Daley’s reference to “severe overcrowding” in NSW public schools.

NSW education department data released in 2018 showed 636 schools in NSW had reached or exceeded capacity - the equivalent of almost a third, or 31 per cent, of all public schools. [8]

Two years earlier, The Sydney Morning Herald reported similar statistics showing more than 800 public schools across NSW were operating at 100 per cent capacity or more, and of those 800, a total of 180 were above capacity. [9]

AAP FactCheck concludes Mr Daley's claim the Liberal government had not built any new classrooms in the past eight years is false, while his assertion the Liberal government was “piling them [demountables] into schools’’ could not be verified. He was correct to say there is severe overcrowding in NSW schools and that demountables are meant to be temporary.

The Verdict

  • Somewhat False - Mostly false, but there is more than one element of truth.

The References

1: ‘School demountables to go under $1.4b Labor classroom pledge’, by Linda Silmalis, February 24, 2019: https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/school-demountables-to-go-under-14b-labor-classroom-pledge/news-story/553d51af6fea210eaa1e22282d3f744b?login=1

2: ‘NSW needs 385 new classrooms every year for a decade’, by Alexandra Smith, March 11, 2015: https://www.smh.com.au/education/nsw-needs-385-new-classrooms-every-year-for-a-decade-20150310-13zzud.html

3: ‘Education Infrastructure NSW will oversee the planning, supply, and maintenance of NSW schools’, NSW Government media statement. April 28, 2017: https://www.nsw.gov.au/news-and-events/news/delivering-school-infrastructure/

4 ‘More new classrooms, preschool places and teachers in $17.3 billion education budget’, NSW Government media statement, June 20, 2018: https://education.nsw.gov.au/news/media-releases/more-new-classrooms,-preschool-places-and-teachers-in-$17.3-billion-education-budget

5: ‘The class of 2019 to take their seats in hundreds of new classrooms across NSW’, NSW Government media statement. January 24, 2019: https://www.schoolinfrastructure.nsw.gov.au/news/2019/01/the-class-of-2019-to-take-their-seats-in-hundreds-of-new-classro.html

6: New South Wales Parliament Question and Answer Paper, December, 21, 2018, page 8197 (23): https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/la/papers/Documents/2018/21-december-2018-questions-and-answers/218-QandA-P.pdf

7: ‘Demountable classrooms here to stay in NSW’, by Graeme Philipson. Government News. October 29, 2017: https://www.governmentnews.com.au/demountable-classrooms-stay-nsw/

8: ‘Public education at breaking point with chronic overcrowding in Sydney's schools’, by Laura Tunstall. Nine News. June 6, 2018: https://www.9news.com.au/national/2018/06/06/14/07/most-overcrowded-schools-in-sydney-revealed

9: ‘There are 180 NSW schools over capacity, Department of Education figures show’, by James Robertson. The Sydney Morning Herald. August 29, 2016: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/there-are-180-nsw-schools-over-capacity-department-of-education-figures-show-20160829-gr3nz7.html.

Revision History

  • First published February 25, 2019 19:05 AEDT