Nash Cazilieris, aged seven, had a meltdown when he heard the news his school was banning students from bringing anything bigger than a tennis ball to school. "He loves playing with the ball," said his mother, Natalie Bamback.
He will also need time to adjust to the news that there will be a day a week when he won't be allowed access to half the playground, either. "There's not that much space at the school," said Ms Bamback. "I suppose he will get used to the new rules, but he didn't like it."
Summer Hill Public School, one of the inner west's most in-demand primary schools, has more than 800 students and two main play areas for years three to six: a basketball court and an astroturf area of about the same size.
On Thursday, the school sent an email to parents telling them that from next week, there would be a trial of new rules under which each grade would not be allowed on the astroturf for one day a week. On their designated day, they would have to stay on the basketball court.
Also from next week, the email said, students could bring nothing but small, tennis-sized balls to school. "All balls bigger than this are not permitted," the email said. The school would supply bigger balls for soccer, basketball and netball.
"We anticipate these changes will alleviate overcrowding and ensure a safer play space for all students," the email read.
Summer Hill Public School is one of the most popular schools in its district, as it has a reputation for good NAPLAN results. It's at about 96 per cent utilisation, which means it's not technically overcrowded (a figure between 80 and 100 shows an efficient use of space).
A Department of Education spokesman said the school later clarified that the ball ban was not actually due to space or crowding issues, but intended to prevent theft or conflict over ownership.
Play spaces would be staggered to minimise the chance of collision and injury between older and younger students, he said.
But parents said the school did feel crowded, especially for kids who liked to run around.
"There's a lot of kids in this school, so there's not enough room," said Michelle Vasconcelos.
"I understand why they're doing it, because there's a lot of kids that [are] getting hit – and teachers – with the balls. But at the same time they are kids, they should be coming to school, playing, enjoying the playground."
One parent, who wanted to be known only as Kristen, said she trusted the leadership of the school. "If they think it is the right thing to do then it's the right thing to do."
Summer Hill would not be alone in rationing playground space. Chatswood Public has given access to the playground in shifts, as has Campsie Public School, another popular but cramped school that is just a few kilometres down Canterbury Road from Summer Hill.
However, there is plenty of space and capacity at other inner west public schools such as Dulwich Hill and Lewisham.
Opposition education spokesman and former teacher Jihad Dib said crowded schools meant kids didn't have room to be kids. "Kids love recess and lunch because they get to run around after spending hours in a chair," he said.
"What you don't want to have is a situation where it's becoming so overcrowded that kids have to sit down at playtime and not do anything."
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