Covert plan for user-pays education, claims report

Last updated 05:00 05/09/2012

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Parents are under greater pressure to pay school fees, according to a new report which accuses the Government of having a "covert agenda" to impose user-pays education.

A Post Primary Teachers' Association report out today on Waikato schools says the expectation of people to pay for public education proves the "myth" of free education.

The report's author, PPTA Waikato treasurer Norman Austin, said an increasing dependence on fees, which are voluntary, had given rise to greater inequality between schools.

"Some schools could set fees of $1000 and get a higher proportion of people paying, other schools can set fees of $30 and get a very small proportion of people paying," he said.

"It's those parents and those schools who can actually pay high fees that get the benefits."

The implications of this, according to the report, was that "some schools and thus some students will be winners and others will be losers".

Mr Austin said government funding failed to meet the rising costs for state secondary schools.

The report described this lack of funding as a "covert agenda to introduce user-pays compulsory education by stealth". Mr Austin said this implied that government underfunding of education was forcing schools to pressure parents into paying.

"If you want a good-quality education in your school you're going to have to be prepared for parents to contribute more money or you've got to get more money from different sources."

However, the report said the Government needed to match funding to the "true costs" of education. Mr Austin estimated 10 per cent to 15 per cent of school money was sourced from parents via activity fees, donations, levies, attendance dues and fundraising.

The Education Ministry website states: "Free education is provided to New Zealand citizens or permanent residents in state . . . schools between the ages of five and 19."

Melville High School principal Clive Hamill said that simply wasn't true, as parents had to pay for what wasn't covered by the school's operations grant.

He said funding had "systematically eroded over time" and the school had resorted to contracting a debt collection agency to chase up fees for specialised courses.

He said "invariably it comes back to parents and families" to pick up the rising costs of technology, compliance, sports trips and staff. The PPTA report advocated for a "fully state-funded secondary education sector and a truly free education" and called on the government to investigate the findings.

Hauraki-Waikato MP and Labour education spokeswoman Nanaia Mahuta said the Government had its priorities wrong.

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"When the Government is taking from the public purse and pushing money towards charter schools and more into private schools . . . then there's going to be a tension.

"They should get their priorities right and invest in public education because that's where the majority of kids are."

Education Minister Hekia Parata refused to comment last night as she had not seen the full report.

Operations grants for secondary schools will increase by 2 per cent next year to account for inflation, providing an extra $32,244 per year.

- Waikato Times

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