Minister defends funding

BY JOHN HARTEVELT - EDUCATION REPORTER
Last updated 05:00 08/07/2009

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Many private schools are struggling in the recession and "deserve to have some support from the taxpayer", Education Minister Anne Tolley says.

Figures obtained by The Press show that on average, one private school a month has voluntarily closed in the past 15 months. Officials and sector leaders say more private schools are about to fold or apply to integrate into the state system.

Tolley told The Press there was "no doubt" private schools faced difficult times. That was part of the reason why the Government had kept its promise of $35 million for private schools over the next four years.

"They're not all wealthy schools. They're right across the deciles, and I know that many of them are struggling," she said.

"There are 31,000 kids attending those schools and we have to look after them."

Official figures show three private schools, including the Independent Middle School in Nelson, had closed this year. Last year, 12 private schools closed.

The Global Indian International School in Auckland, which closed on December 18 last year, had opened only 22 months earlier.

Independent Schools New Zealand executive director Deborah James said that despite the funding boost from the Government, some private schools would still try to integrate.

"For some of our schools, it may mean that they no longer need to look at integration as an option. For other schools, it perhaps isn't enough and they may still explore integration as an option," she said.

"Ideally, every school would like their parents to reap the benefit of this additional funding. Realistically, it may not happen in some of our schools immediately.

"The fees increases may not be as high as they would have been if we had not got this additional funding."

New figures show an Auckland private school, ACG New Zealand International College, is the New Zealand school that has lost the most pupils in the past five years. Its roll fell from 1016 in July 2004 to 448 by the middle of last year.

The recession does not seem to have hurt Christchurch private schools.

Christ's College, Rangi Ruru Girls' School, St Andrew's College, St Margaret's College, Medbury School and Cathedral Grammar School increased their rolls between 2004 and 2008. Only Medbury and St Margaret's lost more than 10 pupils between 2007 and 2008.

James said the funding boost to private school was money well spent because when private schools closed, the pupils would often go to state schools, putting a heavier burden on the state.

Post Primary Teachers' Association president Kate Gainsford said the money was needed more in state schools. "If people can afford to exercise choice, and that is an independent schooling system, then it is independent, not dependent," she said.

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- The Press

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