School Fees in New Zealand

School Fees in New Zealand

"School Fees" is a term that the general public of New Zealand most commonly used to describe a request from schools to parents or guardians for a donation (usually annual) to their child's school.

Although this payment is entirely voluntary, some school boards use terms such as "Activity Fees", "School Levy" or "Parental Contribution" to coerce payment from parents. The Ministry of Education suggests that terms that imply that payment of the sum is compulsory should not be used, particularly "fee" or "levy". Instead, the term "School Donation" is suggested.

Right to Free Primary and Secondary Education

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 the period beginning on the person's 5th birthday and ending on the 1st day of January after the person's 19th birthday.

This means that parents do not have to pay for things such as;

*the cost of tuition or materials used in the provision of the curriculum,
*the cost of heat, lighting or water,
*the cost of providing information about enroling at the school,
*interviews when parents are seeking to enrol students at a school.

Delivery of the Curriculum

The Government provides funding in the form of operational grants and supplementary grants to pay for the running of schools and the delivery of the curriculum, so schools may only charge parents for things that fall outside of the curriculum.

chool Camps

If an Outdoor Education Camp is part of the curriculum of a particular course at school, then the school may not charge for it. However they can charge for food and transport to the camp.

If parents are unable or unwilling to pay for a school camp that is not part of the curriculum, or for food and transport to one that is, then the school should provide activities that will be an "appropriate alternative" for the children who do not go to the camp.

chool Projects

Schools may charge for materials in classes such as woodwork and design when the student is able to take the finished project home. But the school should not force students to take the project home just so they can be charged for it. If a high cost project is being planned a lower cost alternative should also be provided.

Schools can not charge students for wear and tear on equipment as this is covered by the Operations Grant.


Schools cannot charge for photocopying except in exceptional cases. In most cases the teacher handing out photocopied materials is an integral part of the delivery of the Curriculum.

Programmes in English for Speakers of Other Languages

If the school is being funded by the Ministry or some other institution to provide these programmes then it cannot charge students to attend. A school may charge for unfunded programmes but it cannot compel parents to enrol their students in them.

pecial Education Programmes

Special Education Programmes are usually funded through the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme, Specialist Education Services, or the Special Education Grant so schools can not charge for these programmes.

TAR Courses

Schools are funded by the Ministry to provide these courses. Unless there is a "take home component" of the course, students cannot be charged for STAR courses.

Reading Recovery Programme

The Reading Recovery Programme is part of the curriculumn and there can be no charge for it.

Payment of Donations

Schools can ask for, but not "insist on", payment in advance of fees for activities that fall outside the curriculum or have a "take home component", at the beginning of the year. Schools can not make payment in advance a condition of enrolment as Section 3 of the Education Act guarantees free enrolment.

The Ministry suggests that;
*schools provide a "pay as you go" option so that parents do not pay in advance for things such as class trips that a sick child may not ultimately attend.
*schools itemize their fees so that parents can choose which activities they want their children to participate in.
*schools inform parents at the beginning of the year of the materials charge for subjects such as clothing and woodwork.

Non-Payment of Donations

Wellington College, a decile 10 school, charges $535 a year for "extras" such as sports gear and computers, and the headmaster Roger Moses has admitted that it is powerless to act against the quarter of parents who refused to pay. Auckland Grammar deputy headmaster Wayne Moore said only 65 per cent of parents paid and his school would introduce a $250 "compulsory fee" in 2008 for technology subjects. The rector of Palmerston North Boys' High School (decile 9), Tim O'Connor said that:

"We have parents who simply don't pay, believing that we have a totally free education system, which is generally supported by what the ministry tells parents."
and that his school was considering hiring a full-time commercial manager to raise the extra $1.5 million a year it needed to operate. [Free education 'it's a myth' By LANE NICHOLS, The Dominion Post, Saturday, 27 October 2007. [] ]

In 2007 Feilding High School allegedly named students in school assembly, sent students home and restricted access to classes, because their parents had not paid subject fees. The Ministry of Education said in a media release that:

... a school has the right to pursue the payment of legitimate charges. It has access to the same debt recovery processes as any other organisation. Parents are required to pay any legitimate charges that have been agreed with the school in the same manner that they are required to pay their power and phone bills.

However, Mr Matheson also said that a school cannot use students as a lever in debt recovery. A school has no right to restrict access to classes, or send students home, or to shame students as a device to force their parents to pay. The issue of the claimed debt is between the school and parents.

Because school attendance is compulsory for students it is unethical for a school to use its relationship with students in this manner.

Failure to ensure the well-being of all students at the school could result in the ministry using its statutory powers to intervene in the operation of the school board. The ministry has the power to appoint a specialist adviser to the board, or a limited statutory manager to manage student well-being, or a commissioner to run the school. [ [ Ministry response to issues at Feilding High School ] ]

School Trustees Association head Ray Newport says fewer parents have been paying the donation in recent years. At some schools the percentage is as low as 20% and even at the highest-decile schools, many parents opt out. [Cash-strapped schools call in heavies to collect donations [] ]

Withholding School Reports

School Boards cannot withhold school reports or leaving certificates until the School Donation or any other charges have been paid as the National Education Guidelines state that:

Each Board, through the principal and staff, will be required on student progress

Schools must also obey Section 5 of the Official Information Act 1982

The question whether any official information is to be made available, where that question arises under this Act, shall be determined, except where this Act otherwise expressly requires, in accordance with the purposes of this Act and the principle that the information shall be made available unless there is good reason for withholding it.

And Section 6, Principle 6(1) of the Privacy Act 1993

Where an agency holds personal information in such a way that it can readily be retrieved, the individual concerned shall be have access to that information.

Tax Status of the School Donation

As School Donations are voluntary contributions, schools do not have to pay GST on the money they collect, and parents who pay the donation are entitled to a tax rebate.

Schools that withhold items or activities that are fully funded by the school donation, such as the school magazine, are threatening the tax status of their School Donations. The Ministry states that this action...

...implies that the school donation is not a voluntary donation at all but, at least in part, is a payment for goods and services. This may mean that all school parents would be unable to claim an income tax rebate on their "donation" and the board would have to pay GST on all the money it collected by way of school "donations". Furthermore, withholding an item can have other consequences eg if the student ID card is used as a swipe card to enable students to borrow library books, to withhold the card from students whose parents have not paid the school donation would have the effect of denying the student a privilege that is available to other students. (It is also worth remembering that the library building has been provided by Government and most of the books will have been purchased with operational funding.)

Debt Collection by Schools

On January 20, 2008, of the "Sunday Star Times" printed an article entitled "Cash-strapped schools call in heavies to collect donations" by Catherine Woulfe.

The article claims that debt collector Baycorp says that it has contacted "a handful" of parents on behalf of state schools to pay school donations. It further claims that community law advisory group YouthLaw has received calls from parents who have been chased by debt collectors because they have chosen not to pay school donations.

Secondary Principals' Association head Arthur Graves, principal of Greymouth High School says he would never use a debt collector to chase school fees, but knows of others doing so.

Minister of Education, Chris Carter said coercing parents to pay donations was illegal and

"I would not tolerate any New Zealand school breaking the law. I would certainly intervene if parents approached me and I would urge them to do so... Parents are to email or telephone my office if a school has done that".

The article also claims that YouthLaw has heard from students whose families have not paid the donation who have been banned from school balls or trips, or not given the leaving certificates needed for entry into university or other tertiary institutions. [Cash-strapped schools call in heavies to collect donations [] ]

ize of School Donation

*Average $157 per child (Jan 2005)
*Highest $740 per child (Auckland Grammar Jan 2005)



* [ Ministry of Education Circular 1998/25 - Payments by parents of students in state and state integrated schools]
* [{21D66}&hitsperheading=on&softpage=DOC Education Act 1989]
* [ Official Information Act 1982]
* [ Privacy Act 1993]
* [ School fee burdens parents]

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