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Tag: fees

Two out of three just isn’t good enough!


Universal, secular and free were the concepts that underpinned the establishment of the New Zealand education system in the 1877 Education Act. It was considered to be forward looking in world terms at that time.

The same sentiment was captured in the Beeby / Fraser statement in 1939 which tried to restate the 1877 commitment in a system that was growing quickly and admitting to a greater diversity.

“The Government’s objective, broadly expressed, is that all persons, whatever their ability, rich or poor, whether they live in town or country, have a right as citizens to a free education of the kind for which they are best fitted and to the fullest extent of their powers. So far is this from being a mere pious platitude that the full acceptance of the principle will involve the reorientation of the education system.”

This greater diversity spawned the Thomas Report (1942) which fiddled with the secondary curriculum with regard to School Certificate and later The Currie Commission of 1962, undoubtedly at that time, the most comprehensive review of education since 1877, reinforced the qualities of inclusiveness. Since then a succession of governments have interpreted through policy their own particular bent on what it all meant.

Universal? Well if you put to one side the students who are denied early childhood education and those who drop out of the school system, the system can lay some claim to being universal. So we will give that a pass mark.

Secular? By and large you could say that our schools are secular. Except for the state integrated schools that have permission to be non-secular and a range of schools with special character that reflect different sets of beliefs. It is unclear in the 1877 Act whether ‘secular’ meant ‘free from all religious observance’ or simply ‘non-sectarian’ but that might simply be a construction put on the Act to allow for the use of prayer and the singing of hymns that characterized school assemblies when I went to school. But certainly the system could be said to be secular in as much as the bog-standard school (not private, not state integrated, and not special character) is considered to be not based around or promoting religious practices.

Free? Well this one is the joke. Of course education is not free! Huge amounts of government funding in early childhood education ends up in the hands of business who charge huge amounts to parents for early childhood education. Yes, some get it for free but a large number do not. And the 20 Free Hours give parents some relief in accessing  ECE services but often as a supplement to the other 20 hours that they pay in order to work a 40 hour week.

The school system? Free? Now this issue has really surpassed itself in its annual outing which came later this year then previously. It has become apparent that the differences between compulsory fees (never, of course, called that) in high decile schools runs hugely above that able to be sought as community contributions in low decile schools. Not only that, the attempt of some high decile principals to describe the demands made of parents of primary students as “compensating for the advantageous funding that low decile schools get” should be treated as the joke that it is. Or perhaps it is simply delusion.

Of course, they righteously claim on the one hand that such fees are for activities and not tuition and on the other speak about the importance of a wide curriculum that involves the very same activities. The funding advantage of high decile schools over low decile schools is a very serious attack on the principles of equity and in these practices lie some explanations for the continued stubbornness of some of the statistics of disengagement and student achievement.

If it is appropriate for communities to fund education through direct contributions (school fees / contributions etc) as well as through indirect contribution (income tax) then some level of equitable funding across all schools should be achieved even if it calls for a lowering of the level of funding for high decile schools.

We spend as a country quite enough on education. The issue is not the quantum of funding but rather the use to which it is put.

And have we achieved an education system that is “free”? Not on your life and that is without mentioning post-secondary education – I shall take that up on Thursday!


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Talk-Ed: Yawn topics we can expect

Stuart Middleton
30 January 2012


So it’s back to school this week and the media are starting to grind out their annual stories that they dust off and make a gesture to updating at this time of the year.

At the top of the list is the question of cost.

This year the initial focus has been on stationery and the direction of parents towards a specific supplier. Of course the schools are clipping the ticket and getting a payment directly as a result.  The company then tries to cover itself in by describing these payments as “grants” to the school under its benevolent and philanthropic scheme which will have a catchy little name of some sort.

When I went to school we got the cheapest books we could find and covered them with wall paper.  Nowadays when they cover exercise books it is with a synthetic material that sticks to the books.  This is excellent occupational therapy for the parents that end up doing it.

Stationery is stationery.  Unless schools can show that they have secured a good deal for parents, a better deal than the parents could get on their own, they should stay out of it.

Then in a few days the story about school uniforms will appear in our papers.  This is now another anachronism in education.  Someone claimed to me the other day that the single achievement of the administrative reform of schools (as in Tomorrow’s Schools) had been to put primary kids into uniform.  I doubt very much whether a school can dress its students more cheaply than any school uniform.  I look in the windows of those uniform shops as I pass and on the basis of such scientific evidence, confirm that this is so.

A funny thing is that when I went to school there was no uniform but when I look at the school photos, invariably the boys are clad in grey and even a surprising number of the girls are wearing gym tunics of the old fashioned kind.  But our school clothes would have been in the category of “tidy” perhaps even “going out” clothes and so got a use that was wider than any school uniform of garish colour, quaint checks, logos and stripes ever would.

So with the wide availability of young persons’ clothing at cheap prices, the days of school uniforms should be numbered.  And the old argument that uniforms make it evident who should be at school and are a deterrent to truancy is well and truly defeated by the facts.

There could be an argument to be made about sunhats.  It is a sensible requirement for which compulsion can be justified.

So, stationery and uniforms will tie the media up this first week.  Then there is a lull while the media gets back into its diet of wall-to-wall coverage of road smashes, its continued support for the cult of the victim (of all kinds) and, since there is still time before summer ends, some competition that sees our morning paper filled with contributions from readers.

But by Week 3 it will be time for the hardy annual – the shock horror story of school fees.  Of course no-one cares what the independents do, they charge what they like and their parents like what they charge since they are too polite to say otherwise.

But parents of children attending state school do ask the question: “If my child goes to a state school in a system that has since 1877 claimed to have a system that is free, compulsory and secular, why do I get a bill for a sum of money to have my child compulsorily attend this free school?  This is a good question and it never gets a convincing answer.

In truth, these fees are charged by schools because they can get away with it. And this education black market distorts funding in an extraordinary way.  High decile schools rake it in while low decile schools do not.  The schools with arguably the greatest need are the ones with the weakest power in this.

It really should be regulated for reasons that are about equity, ethical behaviour and, indeed, the legal framework within which schools operate.  But as sure as there are little green apples, the practice will continue, the complaints will be aired and nothing will be done to address it.

How refreshing it will be if the newspapers prove me to be wrong.


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