Planning for growth: Fact sheet
Population and enrolment projections help us plan for the near future
We work with the NSW Government, other government agencies, local councils and developers to monitor population and development trends. This helps us deliver educational infrastructure to meet NSW’s enrolment needs.
We use projections to estimate the number of students due to enrol in NSW public schools in the short, medium and long term.
These estimates help us to plan where to build new schools or provide extra spaces at existing schools. Projections are used as a guide for how many students may be in each school intake area over the next 5 to 15 years. Many things influence the projected numbers that can’t always be anticipated, for example, a family’s decision to choose public or independent schooling for their children.
However, we use the best available data to make our estimates as sound as possible. Projections are there to provide guidance and help inform short to medium-term planning.
We use two types of student projections
1. School enrolment projections
- These projections estimate the number of students expected to enrol at each school in NSW over the next 5 years.
- These projections guide our decisions around recurrent funding and demountable buildings.
School enrolment projections are produced using three steps:
- Expected kindergarten enrolments
- Expected progression rates – how many students continue into the next year at their school
- Expected Year 7 enrolments.
We also consider a range of data sources to inform our projections, including:
- Medicare data (via Services Australia): This helps us predict how many future students there will be and where they will live, by postcode.
- NSW Department of Education enrolment data: This tells us the rate at which students progress from grade to grade. It also shows us local trends between primary schools and nearby high schools.
2. Population projections and student intake area projections
- The NSW Government uses an agreed set of population projections across all agencies. This helps us to plan consistently for the people of NSW.
- These estimates predict the number of students likely to live in NSW in 5-year intervals, giving us a longer-term view of school infrastructure needs.
- These projections help us to understand where those students are likely to live, across metro, regional and rural NSW.
Population projections help us to build a profile for local communities. We then allocate estimated student numbers across school intake areas.
We consider a range of data sources to inform our projections, including:
- NSW Government’s Common Planning Assumptions (via Department of Planning, Industry and Environment – DPIE)
- NSW Government’s Sydney Housing Supply Forecast (via DPIE)
- NSW Government's Population Projections (via DPIE)
Our projections are not intended as actuals, because there are many variables
Projections use a number of assumptions and data sources. The data are subject to unpredictable and constant change. Other constraints include:
- A lack of coordinated dwelling supply forecasts for regional NSW.
- The gap between official information collections, such as the 5-year wait between each Census.
Birth, death and migration rates have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The nature and depth of pandemic-related change could not have been anticipated by our planners.
DPIE has been providing quarterly updates on the potential impacts of COVID-19 on NSW’s future population. So far, there has been a significant impact on net migration, due the lack of overseas arrivals. Economic uncertainty is expected to reduce the fertility rate.
At this stage, these estimates suggest NSW’s population will continue to grow, but at a slower rate than anticipated pre-COVID. When the Common Planning Assumption Groups’ projections have been revised, our student-by-area projections will be adjusted too.
We manage fluctuating enrolments with a range of strategies
We use several strategies to manage enrolment demands in NSW public schools.
We balance enrolments across schools
We consider how to use the school facilities we already have to support local students, teachers and school communities. This may include:
- increasing the size, amenity and functionality of existing schools, to best manage growth while providing broad curriculum choices
- updating existing schools to provide contemporary teaching spaces
- using our enrolment policy to ensure each school is able to accommodate local students before Principals consider out-of-area enrolments
- realigning school intake areas to balance student enrolment growth evenly across local schools. Intake area boundaries are updated regularly to ensure every child in NSW has a well-resourced local public school to attend. Find your local school with School Finder.
We upgrade existing schools or build new schools
We look to provide additional permanent facilities or new schools when we see sustained enrolment growth and there isn’t capacity available within existing schools.
In most cases, we need statutory planning approvals to build a new or upgraded school. These requirements ensure we carefully consider complex issues, such as the Aboriginal and European cultural heritage, land development, traffic, transport and the environment.
Time lines vary considerably between projects depending on the planning pathway and construction methodology. School builds and upgrades may take around 1 to 3 years from business case approval to completion.
We are accelerating much-needed school infrastructure in areas of high growth, while providing effective learning spaces to support teaching approaches. Proven school designs are being used alongside a broad range of modern construction methods to stimulate the NSW economy and provide school infrastructure where it’s needed most.
We use temporary facilities to manage short-term enrolment peaks
Demountables have been part of the NSW education system for many decades and will continue to be used across the state.
We retain a stock of demountable classrooms to manage periodic fluctuations in enrolments and to remain highly responsive to school needs by providing emergency accommodation following fires and other natural disasters.
Demountable classrooms are modern, air-conditioned rooms that provide students and teaching staff with excellent quality facilities. The learning spaces have the same range of technology that is available in permanent spaces.
We review school accommodation needs each year, looking at changing enrolment patterns and other factors to prepare for the upcoming school year. This helps to identify schools that need new demountables and schools where they can removed.
Most demountable movement takes place between October and February and is reported in an annual demountable statistics report each April. Additional demountable installations can occur outside this window to support capital works and maintenance projects in schools or emergency responses to natural disasters.
Frequently asked questions
The enrolment projections for this year didn’t match the actual enrolment figures. Why?
Projections are never meant to match actuals. Projections are a potential view of the number of students in a school, based on the outcome of a set of key inputs, such as births and school preferences. We use them to provide guidance only, to help inform short-term school planning.
Is the projection model flawed? Should you attempt to generate more accurate projections?
Projections are never meant to match actuals. Projections are a potential view of the number of students in a school. The best way to improve accuracy is to improve the quality and timeliness of the data that underlies the projection.
We adjust our underlying data frequently, incorporating the most up-to-date information available to us. We also look for new data sources to include in our projections, aiming to improve their overall reliability. We work with other agencies, particularly DPIE, to ensure we are sharing lessons learned and best practice approaches in demography.
Why can’t you just increase the population projections? Wouldn’t planning for extra students make sense?
Like all NSW government agencies, we use DPIE’s Common Planning Assumption population projections for NSW. This helps us to plan consistently for the people of NSW. It’s an important step in distributing government resources equitably and efficiently.
A new school has been recently completed and there are now plans to add demountables already. Why has this happened?
Population projections play a major role during the early planning phase of a project. They help us determine how many permanent teaching spaces to build in a local area. If a school needs demountables soon after opening, reasons for this may include:
- We expect there to be an initial spike in student numbers that is expected to settle down in the short term. Demountables are the best way to manage this temporary demand.
- Housing development in the area may have exceeded what was originally planned for the suburb. For example, there may be higher density than was initially proposed or the households that have occupied the area may be larger than anticipated.
- The new school may have attracted a larger proportion of students away from the non-government sector.
- The school was opened before all the classrooms were completed (for example, a staged project) and it has used the permanent facilities sooner than expected.
In areas of rapid housing development, why aren’t schools built first, like roads and other social infrastructure? Why aren’t areas that have been rezoned included in housing forecasts and projections?
Demand for school infrastructure has to be assessed on a relative-need basis across the whole state. At any given time, we have a finite amount of education funds and we must optimise how we distribute them.
With around 800,000 students and 2,000 public schools across NSW, we provide teaching spaces to our existing students as a priority, rather than providing a new school for a catchment that doesn’t have any students yet.
We use DPIE’s Common Planning Assumption Groups’ population projections for NSW. These projections are based on their Housing Supply Forecasts. For the most part, the projections include all likely future development under current zoning and planning controls.