From short-term solutions to permanent fixtures: Demountable classrooms on the rise in Peel region

Despite a number of new schools opening across Mandurah's north, the education system is still feeling the strain with an increase in the use of temporary classrooms throughout the Peel region.

Figures obtained from the Education Department reveal there are 125 demountable classrooms currently being used in Peel schools.

A demountable classroom, also known as a transportable, is a type of portable building installed at a school and used as a classroom, that can be removed or relocated.

Meadow Springs Primary School tops the list among both primary and high schools in the region with 23 demountable classrooms this year, up slightly from the figures released in 2015.

Lakelands Primary School has 16 demountable classrooms, North Dandalup Primary School has eight while Dudley Park, Oakwood and Pinjarra Primary Schools all have six.

While demountable classrooms are only supposed to be used temporarily to relieve pressure and ease overcrowding, the numbers have not subsided at many new schools across Mandurah.

Unfortunately due to budget constraints the demountable classrooms end up becoming a more permanent fixture.

State School Teachers' Union of WA president Pat Byrne

The State School Teachers' Union of WA president Pat Byrne said insufficient funding was to blame for demountables becoming more long-term solutions.

"A demountable is not supposed to be a permanent substitute for a bricks and mortar classroom," she said.

"The government's purpose is to utilise them as a backstop for an unanticipated influx of enrolments, particularly for new schools during the phases of new builds.

"Unfortunately due to budget constraints the demountable classrooms end up becoming a more permanent fixture.

"In some schools we've seen them remain for almost 50 years and as a result, the community develops a sense that the government doesn't value its public schools because it has failed to commit to a solid investment over a long period of time."

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Ms Byrne said it was particularly disappointing that many of the new schools in Mandurah were home to the highest number of demountable classrooms in the Peel region.

"Far too often we see stage two of a new school build delayed and demountable classrooms brought in because of a failure to invest properly in the early stages," she said.

"It is disappointing that new schools are very quickly requiring additional classrooms to cater for enrolment growth. This indicates that either the enrolment predictions are underestimating population growth or that the government, despite knowing that it will need to add classrooms, is taking deliberate budgetary decisions to provide only the minimum level of infrastructure.

"The problem with the latter approach is that there is always a lag between needing the accommodation and the rooms being provided and that's why we're seeing relatively new schools with lots of demountable classrooms.

"The government should take a longer-term view when budgeting for new schools and invest in real classrooms based on future student population."

It would not be practical or sustainable to build new learning areas or whole new schools every time a school experienced an increase in student numbers.

Education minister Sue Ellery

But WA education minster Sue Ellery said Peel region schools should expect to see a drop in the number of demountable classrooms soon.

"Oakwood Primary School has now opened as a Kindergarten to year 6 school this year, which will relieve the pressure on Meadow Springs Primary School and Lakelands Primary School, and so we expect the number of transportables needed at these schools will reduce very soon," she said.

"It would not be practical or sustainable to build new learning areas or whole new schools every time a school experienced an increase in student numbers."

Figures from the Department of Education show enrolments have already decreased by 41 full-time students at Lakelands Primary School and by 151 full-time students at Meadow Springs Primary School since the opening of Oakwood Primary School in 2019.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said it was evident the new school was already having a positive impact.

"As a consequence, we expect the number of transportables needed at these schools to reduce in the near future," she said.

Ms Ellery said demountable classrooms had their own significant place in a school learning environment.

"They allow the department to respond quickly to student population fluctuations," she said.

"New transportables are air-conditioned, well equipped and are no different to permanent classrooms."