SCHOOLS in Bendigo's booming suburbs are feeling the pressure of rising student numbers, with one principal forced to turn families away.
Suburbs such as Maiden Gully, Epsom and Strathfieldsaye have been among the fastest to grow.
Marist College Bendigo opened in Maiden Gully five years ago to target the western area of Bendigo that was experiencing growth.
Principal Darren McGregor said the school is now oversubscribed for foundation, year 5 and year 7 levels.
"We have a waiting list and recommend strongly to families to try and find somewhere else," he said. "When families get in here, they tend to accept and stay rather than not accept the position.
"When I was principal at Catholic College Bendigo, enrolments got up to 2000 (students), which was just far too big."
White Hills Primary School principal Andrew Schaeche said his school has been at capacity since he arrived in 2017.
"Our growth started in 2014 and 2015 well before I started here," he said. "We grew by about two classes a year for three years and have been at 650 students for the last few years.
"You can see from the advertisements on TV that there's lots of land sales in this area. More in the Epsom and Ascot areas but it did put pressure on our school (for a while).
"Epsom filled quickly but they have a new school now which has helped them."
High enrolment numbers come as real estate agents say families are targeting certain property pockets in to ensure they fall within a school's specific zone.
Regional Land Sales manager Kellie Wilson said she changed her marketing strategy for The Avenue estate in Flora Hill when she found families targeting the new lots.
Ms Wilson originally targeted empty nesters and investors for the properties.
"There have definitely been more first-home buyers and families looking to get into Bendigo South East College," she said. "It changed the way we decided to market."
Barry Plant Bendigo sales agent and property manager Reecy Owins specialises in Strathfieldsaye property.
"Strathfieldsaye is a very fast growing suburb," she said. "Out here I know the Catholic schools are very popular. Everyone asks about schools, public transport and medical facilities."
Of the 48 lots for sale in Flora Hill's The Avenue estate, Ms Wilson has seen about a third had been purchased since the start of the year.
"It's about where we thought we'd be, maybe a touch better, it's just to a different demographic," Ms Wilson said. "It is mainly families looking at the years 7 to 10 school based on the age of the parents I meet."
Ms Owins said the reputation of nearby schools was often important to prospective buyers.
"People want to know the good areas, whether they are safe," she said. "(Strathfieldsaye) is still only eight or nine minutes to the city centre, so it's close to where people work."
The Department of Education has launched a website - findmyschool.vic.gov.au - to show the school zone maps for 2020.
Mr Schaeche said the school's enrolment policy guarantees a place for all students within their catchment zone.
If an application comes from outside the school's zone it depends on if a prospective student has a sibling at the school and, following that, the closest residence to the catchment area.
"We apply (that policy) through the year when people make inquiries," he said. "We want people to inquire and discuss it. We can take as many as we can take. If you live in our zone you'r entitled to go here. You do get some people saying 'we're going to buy in the area' and we tell them to come back when they have and they'll be entitled to come to the school."
Catholic schools in Bendigo aren't zoned to specific areas meaning Marist accepts students from a number of towns and suburbs.
"Mostly they are from Maiden Gully and Marong but we have students from Maldon, Castlemaine and some from Junortoun and Strathfieldsaye," Mr McGregor said. "My experience would be that all the parents who apply here do because it is their first preference."
Bendigo South East College, Weeroona College, Eaglehawk Secondary College and Crusoe College were contacted for comment.
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.