State secondary schools in Bendigo need to be structured differently to meet the rise in enrolments, one high school principal says.
Bendigo Senior Secondary College principal Dale Pearce said the growth of the region's four years seven to 10 state schools would put greater pressure on the largest VCE provider in the state in the coming years.
"In time, there is definitely going to need to be some change," Mr Pearce said. "We've had the same structure of years seven to 10 schools and one years 11 to 12 school for close to 40 years.
"If nothing else, the population growth is going to outlive that model.
There are about 1,756 students enrolled at Bendigo Senior Secondary College in 2019. That enrolment figure has stayed steady for the past ten years, according to data from the Victorian Department of Education.
But year seven enrolment numbers in the four other government secondary schools in Bendigo have risen steadily.
The four schools - Crusoe Secondary College, Weeroona College Bendigo, Eaglehawk Secondary College, and Bendigo South East Secondary College - all provide an education to students in years seven to 10.
BSSC is the sole government VCE provider in Bendigo.
The latest Department of Education figures showed there were 207 year seven students enrolled at Crusoe Secondary College in 2019, compared to 150 students last year.
At Weeroona College Bendigo, there was an increase from 167 students in 2018 to about 184 students this year.
Meanwhile, Eaglehawk Secondary also saw a rise from 170 year seven students last year to 176 in 2019.
Bendigo South East Secondary College also had 384 year sevens enrolled in 2019 compared to 360 last year.
Mr Pearce said there could be a range of factors for that increase, including consistent population growth in the region and more parents choosing government schools rather than private colleges.
"The enrolments at year seven have increased next year and those numbers will flow through in the coming years," Mr Pearce said.
"In the long term, we know that enrolment numbers will continue to increase. The reality is there will need to be changes in the future."
Mr Pearce said he was aware of the large cohort of year nine students at the four schools this year. He said that could cause enrolment issues for BSSC in the coming years.
"There is some pressure in terms Bendigo South East because they have a big group in this year's year nines," he said. "The other schools are pretty much on par with other years.
"But we've known about it for the past two or three years. We can see that group coming through. We need to look at that for how we plan for the future."
The school had already made adjustments to allow for the rising enrolments, Mr Pearce said.
"There are two levels we're working on - the short and medium term," he said. "We have adjusted the way we block and timetable in the coming years to create additional space.
"We've always had one day for a late start and an early finish, but we will be taking that out of the timetable to allow classes to be spread more evenly and to create more space for enrolments.
"In the much longer term, we need to look at the provisional model that we use for government secondary schools in Bendigo.
"We have a working party under the Bendigo Education Plan and their role will be to look at what is happening."
The state government's Bendigo Education Plan 2018 - 2028 was launched last year and aims to help more students in Greater Bendigo achieve excellence.
The plan addressed lower than expected levels of achievement and retention in the City.
It came after the 2005 education plan, which focused on secondary school renewal including infrastructure and reform. The new plan broadened the scope to early childhood and higher education, skills and training.
"I have been, and our school has been, quite clear that it is important that we plan for the future," Mr Pearce said.
"It would be worthwhile to consider what those different models will be. Whether that is more years seven to 12 schools or two years 11 to 12 schools. There are a whole range of different models."
"What's important for us is to plan and identify those options early so government can respond in terms of the facilities and the way schools are organised.
"We're quite open to those discussions and I think the other schools would be too."
A Victorian Department of Education spokesperson said the government was not prepared to change the state secondary school structure in Bendigo.
"Enrolments across Bendigo secondary schools have shown a small increase in recent years," the spokesperson said.
"There are currently no plans for a new secondary school in the area.
"The Department will continue to monitor population changes to ensure appropriate provision of schools."
Crusoe College, Weeroona College Bendigo, Eaglehawk Secondary School, and Bendigo South East Secondary College were contacted for comment.
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