Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Fees-row pupils kept out of class

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

About 30 boys are being pulled out of class and made to sit in the school hall while staff at Whangarei Boys' High School chase up outstanding fees.

Parents who haven't paid money owed for last year's extracurricular activities have this week received phone calls from their sons telling them they will be spending the day in the school hall unless the money is paid.

The move, described by the Ministry of Education as "highly inappropriate" has angered one mother so much she is now considering sending her son to a different school.

She said she was not able to pay the $60 owing to the school until next Tuesday, as she has had to buy new school shoes, school bags and stationery for her three sons.

"I feel humiliated for him. This is not his problem, it's mine," she said.

But principal Al Kirk is standing by his hard line on outstanding fees, saying the students were not removed from class to be humiliated but that parents were more likely to pay if their sons were inconvenienced.

He said it was not a form of punishment for the students.

"I have done this every two years for the last eight years. I am amiable with [the students] and there is no animosity. I emphasise that they have done nothing wrong," Mr Kirk said.

Yesterday, Whangaparaoa School backed down on a scheme to give tags to families which could identify which students had their donation paid.

The Weekend Herald received copious reader feedback after revealing the tags given upon payment of the donation, $140 if paid by the end of next month.

Yesterday board of trustees chairman Tristan Dean said the tags were not printed specifically as "bag tags" for children.

"Although this is one possible way for them to be used, it's entirely up to the parent.

"It was always the intention that if any such families felt that they wanted a tag for any reason, they could confidentially contact anyone at the school and receive one."

The primary school later backed away from the scheme after complaints that it could shame students. It said tags would not be allowed on school bags.

The tags are among increasingly creative efforts by schools to get parents to pay voluntary donations.

Schools say such measures are needed to make up a shortfall in government funding, and it is often parents who can afford to pay who refuse to contribute.

But with donations topping $1000 at one state school, there are concerns that those who cannot afford to pay for a "free" education risk having their children stigmatised.

Arahoe School in New Lynn has introduced a loyalty card scheme for families who pay the $85 school donation ($150 for a family).

The card gives significant discounts on the cost of uniforms and other items, said a parent whose son attends the decile 5 school.

"It's the children who miss out as there are parents who are unable to pay the extra costs involved in not having a loyalty card," the parent said.

Board of trustees chairman Nigel Clemas said the scheme was in its third year, and had increased the donation rate from 30 to 40 per cent to 80 per cent of families.

"What it's about is recognising the ones that do [pay]," he said.

"We don't look to punish or make an example of those who don't pay, rather incentivise those who are extra generous."

Fees v donations

Donations are voluntary, but some schools have come up with ways to encourage more parents to pay, including:

• Exclusion of pupils from school events such as the ball.

• Giving out tags to families which can be used to identify which students have had their donation paid.

• Withholding items such as year books.

• Offering cheaper rates on school activities and items such as uniforms for families who have paid.

Fees are compulsory but:

• Can be charged only for take-home items, events or activities that are not essential to the school curriculum.

• Schools must gain parents' agreement in advance.

- NZ Herald

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