Schools 'tricking' parents over fees

00:34, May 31 2013

Struggling schools are charging illegal fees to make ends meet and parents are paying for it, education representatives say.

Post Primary Teachers' Association spokesman Norman Austin said schools were underfunded and many had resorted to asking parents to pay illegal charges to cover costs.

Schools were allowed to ask for donations but often tricked parents into thinking they were a compulsory charge by listing them as "school fees" or including them beside mandatory charges, such as sports subs, said Austin.

"We've got this notion that education is free, and it is free - up to a point.

"It's almost accepted now that [donations are] compulsory and that's the kind of bent schools are putting on how they communicate with parents."

One principal in another part of the country "named and shamed" pupils who did not pay a donation in front of their peers at assembly, which was not acceptable, he said.


New Zealand Principal's Federation president Philip Harding said it was "morally wrong" to disguise school donations as compulsory fees.

"But I would hope that any school that was doing that would be in isolation."

He said schools had a responsibility to communicate to parents openly and honestly, what the costs involved were, whether or not they were donations, and what it might mean if they weren't able to raise the money for certain activities.

"But it has to be open and honest. And if parents have any issues with how a school is dealing with this,  they should write to that school's board of trustees, and failing that, they can always write to the Ministry of Education or the Education Review office."

He said there were always going to be parents who can't or won't pay school fees.

"But it is not up to principals to look into the hearts of parents and decide why they aren't paying, and no child should miss out on something because of it either.

"If we do that, we are effectively blaming the child for something they can't do anything about."

Schools in wealthy neighbourhoods were also able to collect more funding from the community, while those in lower socioeconomic areas - or schools that followed the rules - struggled to provide the same opportunities, he said.

"It creates winner schools and loser schools, built on the ability of the school community to stump up for the extras."

Donations had even become a status sign, with parents viewing schools which asked for large donations as more elite, he said.

Austin knew of one Waikato school asking for a $1000 donation, which 90 per cent of parents paid.

PPTA Southland regional chairman Terry McNamara said an example of the rules being broken was schools charging parents extra to cover relief teachers during school camps or trips.

If the school's government-provided funds for relief teachers were depleted before a scheduled trip, the school could not officially afford to pay for relief teaching staff, and the trip was supposed to be cancelled, he said.

State schools charging exorbitant fees were disguising the underlying issue, that schools were underfunded by the government and struggling to provide the basics, he said.



The Southland Times