Parents worried that rising costs see state schools cut weekly sports programs

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Weekly sport has been cut for students at more than a dozen Sydney state schools, in response to rising costs for sport and extra-curricular activities.

In a single year, the cost of providing the activities has doubled, with the growing cost of bus hire seeing 15 public primary schools on Sydney’s north shore make the difficult decision to cancel weekly sport after the transport bill climbed from $50 a term to $100 a term.

Annual report shows that NSW public school revenue is soaring

NSW public school revenue – the total amount of money brought in to pay for extracurricular activities, including sports – jumped from $43 million a year in 2022 to $83 million in 2023, the NSW Department of Education’s latest annual report shows.

Increases in costs for school sports buses follows the former Coalition government’s decision to privatise the state’s bus system. The move also led to a citywide driver shortage, which has forced existing private operators to offer higher wages in a bid to attract staff.

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Less sports, more costs

Parents at the 15 schools – including Lane Cove Public School, Neutral Bay Public School, and Mosman Public School – received letters last week that explained how both weekly summer and winter Primary School Sports Association (PSSA) games would be cancelled and replaced with two gala days per term. “There are several reasons to support our decision including, cost and availability of transport, oval bookings and supporting all schools to allow more participation,” the letter from North Shore Zone PSSA President Alan Russell said. Speaking as a representative of the NSW Teachers Federation, Mr Russell said the doubling of the cost for parents was directly related to the privatisation of the bus service – a change that has made the cost go “through the roof”. “We had previously used government buses, we would go to Willoughby depot or Ryde depot, there wasn’t an issue of availability,” Mr Russell said.

“In our zone, it was a participation opportunity, for kids who weren’t playing soccer or cricket on Saturday at a club, they had an opportunity to compete. Our zone wasn’t competitive; we wanted to get the kids out playing sports.”

Is it the end of inter-school sports for NSW public schools?

Caleb Taylor is Lane Cove Public’s P&C president and said the shift to a privatised bus service had a dramatic impact on the amount of sport students at the school are able to access. “I think it’s terrible, it’s going to be the death of weekly inter-school sport,” he said. Lane Cove parent Kim Hardwick said students had more ability to run around while playing because the PSSA utilised local playing fields. “We have spaces, we don’t have a big oval, we have a netball court,” she said of the primary school’s own sports grounds. “It wouldn’t be big enough to accommodate the kids – they go to local fields.”

The private bus companies now responsible for providing transport for NSW public schools has also been impacted by the significant rise in diesel costs, as well as higher rents on depot sites.

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More funding needed for public schools

NSW Education Minister Prue Car said she hoped the National School Reform Agreement, which determines how much taxpayer cash is given to states and territories to fund schools, would give public schools additional funds to ensure students could participate in the full suite of subjects and extracurricular activities. “We need more funding for our public schools,” Ms said.

A NSW Department of Education spokesman acknowledged the rising cost of all aspects of raising children and said the department is sympathetic to the associated pressure on families.

“Financial contributions to NSW public schools are 100 per cent voluntary and payment is a decision for parents,” he said.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]