Private schools urged to open grounds to public students

Private schools urged to open grounds to public students

Sydney’s top private schools face mounting pressure to open their grounds to public students amid increasingly dense cities and dwindling green space. The clamour for public-student access to sports facilities and open space is especially high.

“Some of the private schools are the largest landholders in the North Sydney area,” North Sydney Mayor Zoe Baker told the Sydney Morning Herald. “We have a lack of green space and 16 schools. Traditionally, there has been a hostile relationship between the local community and some private schools, and we are trying to reset that.”

Baker said she planned to ask the principals of Shore School, St Aloysius’ College, Wenona, Redlands, and Loreto Kirribilli to consider sharing their facilities with locals. She has already written to the principals in her council area, inviting them “to have a conversation” about how the schools could better support the local community.

Sydney Grammar principal Richard Malpass said his school already had plans to open its soon-to-be-completed Weigall Sports Complex – which included plans for a swimming pool as well as facilities for water polo, basketball, fencing, and taekwondo – to local children from nearby public schools.

Grammar recently spent over $50 million on its Rushcutters Bay centre, the latest in a series of high-fee, major private-school upgrades dedicated to performing arts or aquatic centres. Its $50-million upgrade followed Loreto Kirribilli’s $33-million investment in a seven-storey “innovation centre” and Shore’s recent overhaul of its aquatic centre in its Northbridge campus.

Baker was particularly interested in bridging public-student access to the wide playing fields and quality sports grounds currently only available to private school students. She pointed out that occasional or after-school use of facilities could be an option.

“For so much of the year, schools sit unused, and most campuses close at 4:00 p.m.,” Baker said. “We should search for opportunities where space can be shared where it is suitable.”

Back in 2018, when he was the education minister, Cities Minister Rob Stokes fielded a similar idea, proposing that private schools allow public students access to their multimillion-dollar sports and performing arts centres while minimising duplication. The goal was to make sure that the best facilities became available to all students.

“As our cities become denser, we have to be more thoughtful and efficient about the use of space,” Stokes told the Herald. Stokes also pointed out that the NSW public schools had previously and successfully established the ‘share our space’ scheme, which required public school playgrounds to remain open to the public when not in use.

“The success of the ‘share our space’ scheme … has demonstrated a lot of the fears of opening schoolyards to the community are misplaced,” Stokes said.

Former North Sydney Boys High principal Robyn Hughes likewise welcomed the idea of increasing the sharing of halls and fields between schools beyond an ad hoc basis.

“Especially for all outdoor activities, the use of large playing fields would be especially useful,” she said. “Ideally, it works both ways where the local schools partner and share spaces, but there has to be a willingness on both sides.”

NSW Association of Independent Schools head Margery Evans said it was important that school facilities be shared to third parties under mutually reached arrangements that resolved such as child protection, legal liability, and cleaning.

Evans also pointed out that private schools still had to satisfy government requirements before their facilities could be opened to other parties’ use. These requirements were:

  • The facilities are not required by the private school,
  • Opening the school’s facilities to use by other parties will not obstruct the school’s normal activities, and
  • The sharing of facilities does not incur additional costs for the private school.

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