Sorry to point out the obvious, but the Department closed schools and sold sites through the 1980s and 1990s. The most obvious and notorious example was the sale of the Beacon Hill site ten years ago. Most of the disposals were do to catastrophically falling enrolments in a bevy of underperforming schools. I was there.

Where the state government chose to spend money, enrolments stabilised (again, on the North Shore and around the Western Suburbs). The situation regarding sectoral enrolments is far more complex and usually does not involve schools in direct competition at the local level. Parents choose of all sorts of reasons.

This article is from the June 23 issue of The Sydney Morning Herald Digital Edition. To subscribe for $4.50 a week, visit http://smh.com.au/digitaledition.

Andrew Stevenson

EDUCATION EDITOR

SYDNEY’S wealthier suburbs have largely abandoned government high schools, according to the latest census data.

Across the greater Sydney area the percentage of students attending public high schools rose slightly in the five years since the last census, creeping from 55.7 per cent to 56 per cent and arresting a long-term downward trend.

But in areas such as the lower north shore and eastern suburbs public high school students are in a tiny minority. In the North Sydney-Mosman area only 22.7 per cent of high school students attend a government school. There are more (23.5 per cent) at Catholic high schools, with a majority of high school students (53.8 per cent) now enrolled in independent high schools.

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‘‘ Think about it; the population has been increasing and the density has been increasing with the policies adopted in the last 10 years but when was the last public high school built in inner Sydney, eastern suburbs or the north shore?’’ asked Mr Pound. (Answer: Turramurra High in 1968.)

Public high schools remain the most popular option in much of Sydney. Two in every three high school students in Bankstown are at government schools. Public schools also dominate enrolments in Parramatta (62.6 per cent), Sutherland (62.3 per cent) and Liverpool (61.9 per cent).

In the inner west less than half of high school students (45.3 per cent) are in the government sector. Yet in Penrith only a bare majority of students (51.5 per cent) now attend a public high school, with Catholic schools (33.9 per cent) the most popular option.

The president of the NSW Secondary Principals’ Council, Lila Mularczyk, pointed to an increase in student numbers in northern Sydney this year. ‘‘ The current data we have actually shows there are increases in many of the regions around NSW,’’ she said.

‘‘ I applaud and respect the parents who continue to enrol their children in the rich and embracing public education system.’’

edu@smh.com.au

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