Although the government funds us at a certain level to provide an undefined education, the Onslow school community has consistently told us that they expect more from us. There has been much publicity in the media about the death of free education and the right or otherwise of schools to ask for reimbursements and donations from parents. Schools have been advised to tread carefully in this area, but I intend to address the issue directly and ask for your support or feedback. Section 3 of the Education Act (1989) states that “every person who is not a foreign student is entitled to free enrolment and free education at any state school during a period beginning on the person’s 5th birthday and ending on the 1st day of January following the person’s 19th birthday”.
Obviously, the phrase “free enrolment and free education” says nothing about quality, quantity, breadth or content of the education. The Ministry of Education circular that was intended to clarify some of these issues is titled “Payments by parents of students in state and state integrated schools” and is commonly referred to as Circular 1998/25. You can find the full text of the circular on the Ministry of Education website so I do not intend to paraphrase the contents. I will say however, that the circular is useful in defining rights and responsibilities in some areas, but of limited guidance in respect of others. The Ministry appears to be opposed to defining clearly what is covered by government funding and what is not. In addition to government funding, Onslow raises a considerable amount of additional revenue by various trading activities, including InternationalStudents, rental, interest, and direct charges to families.
Your invoice may include various categories of items. Most of these are tax deductable.
The donation: We really appreciate it when we receive donations. The donation income helps to subsidise our extra curricular programme - including the library, music, drama, sport, ICT and some financial assistance for a variety of field trips. Without this additional income, the programme that we offer would be austere and impoverished, with larger classes, fewer options, reduced student support and little in the way of extra activities.
Extra curricular activities: These include participation in sports teams, Stage Challenge, overseas trips, music camp, hire of musical instruments, etc. These activities are not part of our core curriculum and are entirely voluntary. We provide financial assistance to encourage all students to participate, but the extra curricular programme is not included in the government’s definition of “free education”. It must be entirely self funded, although donation income is used to subsidise some activities.
Reimbursement: This includes reimbursement for specific items, such as lost library books, damaged text books, vandalism and so on. Text books are lent to students for the year as part of a particular course, but it is expected that they will be returned at the end of the course in a reasonable condition so that they can be reissued to another student next year. Many students will never incur any expenses in this category.
Material charges: Items in this category often appear to be relatively straightforward but, of course, when looked at closely, things are not always as simple as they seem. Such things as materials charges for art, food technology, textiles and design, and workshop materials are covered in section 18 of circular 1998/25, which states that “in subjects with a practical component … a board may charge for materials where the end product belongs to the student and may, if paid for, be taken home”. When budgeting for these courses, we make the assumption that most of the students will create an end product that they wish to take home. If we were not to make this assumption, and instead operate on a case by case basis as the year unfolds, it would be very difficult to predict income and, consequently, expenditure (which has to take place in advance). We provide financial assistance to students who wish to choose these courses and are unable to pay the materials charges, but we rely on a high level of payment in order to offer the courses.
The ‘luxury’ items: The final category is the one that is the most unclear and contentious.
Included in this category are all those activities and resources that we provide to meet your expectations but are beyond the level of funding provided by the government. These are the items that allow us to offer a higher quality learning experience to the students. There are myriad items in this category: gym and pool visits for physical education, Year 9 camps and Year 10 activities week, homework books, curriculum based field trips, additional itinerant music teacher time and, most controversially, write-on workbooks for senior courses. There is advice in 1998/25 about these items, but it isn’t all that clear.
Some options in respect of this category of expenses are as follows:
- We could reduce the quality of our programmes to match government funding and not provide the resources or staffing required to deliver the current level of provision. This would result in larger classes, fewer options and reduced student support, thus disadvantaging the students, especially in comparison with students at other high decile schools.
- We could ask every family, in advance, which items they would like to buy. For example, some families might choose to buy the maths homework book but not the geography skills book. In that case, the student would be issued with only the maths homework book but, if they paid for the geography book during the year, they could then have it issued. This would make it difficult for teachers to provide a consistent teaching programme if some students had bought the homework book and others had not, but would mean that students would receive only the resources that they had paid for.
- Currently, we invoice everyone for the items that we have decided will provide the best possible learning opportunities for the students. We accept that some families cannot afford the total expense and provide some financial assistance.
No doubt you can see the advantages and disadvantages of each of these alternatives. We think that option 3 provides the most benefits for students and is the easiest for us to administer. You may not agree – I would appreciate any feedback on this topic. We are trying to provide the best, and most cost effective, service that we can. Please contact me if you would like to discuss any of the matters raised in this explanation. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
or write to:
Private Bag 13906
We believe that no student should miss out on an activity or experience because of inability to pay. If you would like to discuss financial assistance, please contact me. Any discussion will be confidential.
Please note that the fee for entering the exams is invoiced separately and, if your child is
entering NCEA qualifications, you will be invoiced later in the year. The fee is set by NZQA and we merely act as an agent in its collection.
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