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Chickens have it better than students in cramped classrooms, says mother

Free range chickens have better rights than students in cramped Victorian schools, according to one Melbourne mother.

Parkville mother Jo Fallshaw said her daughter was allocated just 1.3 square metres in her North Melbourne Primary School classroom last year.

She said there were only 20 chairs for 104 grade 4 students, with most children left with no option but to sit on the floor. Her daughter Akira complained of a sore back.

"It created real social problems," Ms Fallshaw said. "There was a Lord of the Flies-style rush for the chairs at the start of every class."

Space was so tight that the school converted corridors into "learning lanes" for preps, she said.

Ms Fallshaw has joined a growing chorus of parents who are calling for new standards to ensure that students are allocated a minimum space in every classroom.

While these standards exist in childcare centres, there is no equivalent for schools.

"Free range hens have better regulations and protection around minimum space than do our children under this government," Ms Fallshaw said.

Julie McLennan, who is an architect and has two children at North Melbourne Primary, said that the overcrowding was a symptom of not enough schools in the inner-city. She said the Docklands desperately needed a new school.

"That would reduce the catchment area of our school and the population of our school would go back to a sustainable level," she said.

The overcrowding also extends to Port Melbourne Primary School, where one parent said that she worried about the safety of her child in the playground.

"I want my child to be able to safely and confidently navigate the grounds of her school, including playing with balls or sitting quietly with friends," she said.

"How is this possible with increasing numbers of students of different ages and sizes all competing for space for kids to be kids?" But the parent said her school was doing a great job responding to the issue.

An Education Department spokesman said the state government was building 42 new school over the next five years, upgrading schools and investing in portables to meet the demand.

An extra 90,000 students are expected to enter the school system in this time.

The spokesman said that two double-storey portables would open at North Melbourne Primary School in August, and four new schools would be built to service inner-city communities like South Melbourne.

"Schools make local decisions on classroom sizes based on factors such as enrolments, and relocatable classrooms are provided to address fluctuations in student numbers," he said.

He denied that there were just 20 chairs for grade 4 students at North Melbourne Primary, and said the school had adopted flexible learning environments where students could learn outdoors or inside, sitting, standing, or moving around.

Victorian state schools are increasingly relying on portable classrooms to cope with enrolment demands. There are 6345 relocatable buildings being used by the state's schools.

An analysis by the Grattan Institute released earlier this year revealed that 220 new schools needed to be built in Victoria in the next decade to cope with a boom in students. The Institute's school education program director Dr Peter Goss said research showed that overcrowding in schools hampered learning.

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