An investigation by the Auditor-General uncovered more examples of schools asking parents to pay for the right to enter their children in out-of-zone ballots with the Ministry of Education criticised for giving "mixed messages" to some schools.

In a report released today, the Office of the Auditor-General said it had identified five schools in Auckland that asked for the payments either this year or last.

Kohia Terrace School and Cornwall Park District School asked for an out-of-zone "administration fee" of $20 and $75, respectively.

Mount Albert Grammar School, Auckland Grammar School and Epsom Girls' Grammar school asked for a "donation for administrative purposes".

Advertisement

Those three schools asked for the payment when the Ministry of Education's position on those types of donations was still evolving, the report states, and the ministry gave "mixed messages" and "now needs to make sure its advice and guidance to schools is both coherent and consistent".

In February 2016, Auckland Grammar School and Cornwall Park District School received strongly worded letters from the Ministry of Education after it got complaints from parents who were asked to fork out for the ballots.

Auckland Grammar sought $50 from prospective parents, while Cornwall Park School asked for $75.

The ministry also issued an Auckland-wide "critical reminder" to principals, to remind them they are not allowed to charge for the ballots.

In-demand schools hold ballots for the limited number of places they can offer to students who live outside their intake zone. However, they are not allowed to charge parents for enrolment applications or ask for a payment as a condition of enrolment.

Labour's education spokesman Chris Hipkins asked the Office of the Auditor-General to investigate, and after initial inquiries it agreed to do so. Media reporting had already identified the payments at Auckland Grammar, Mount Albert Grammar School and Cornwall Park District School.

Today, Hipkins said he was concerned at the unclear guidance from the Ministry, but the larger issue was underfunding of schools.

"If schools were properly funded by the Government they wouldn't need to find tricky ways to ask parents for more money."

National opting to not increase schools' operations funding across the board this year, in favour of dishing out funding according to how many "at risk" students schools were judged to have enrolled mean many "have to continue to try things to get more money from parents to make up the growing shortfall", Hipkins said.

"Running a school is expensive, as demonstrated by the cost of running an enrolment scheme, so it's a shame National has frozen funding when such costs continue to rise.


Today's report notes Cornwall Park District School had refunded families who had paid the fee and stopped charging it.

In regards to the out-of-zone "donation" request at Mount Albert Grammar School, Auckland Grammar School and Epsom Girls' Grammar, the Office of the Auditor-General said it carried out a statistical analysis and was satisfied there was no connection between payment and a child's chances of being accepted.

The Ministry's recent view that any request for a donation in connection with out-of-zone places is unlawful is different to what was conveyed in earlier material for schools, including a Payments by Parents flowchart published in December 2016, the report said.

That flowchart "suggests that donations in connection with out-of-zone enrolment can be sought". The Ministry has since advised it plans to update information.

Katrina Casey, the ministry's head of sector enablement and support, said they welcomed the reports finding the donations were voluntary and placements were not affected by payment.

"We also acknowledge that we need to improve our guidance and advice to all schools in connection with out-of-zone placements.

"We will provide up-to-date advice to all schools immediately via the Bulletin for School Leaders, as well as including our advice in an upcoming review of our circular on payments by parents."

Out-of-zone payments - what they asked for:

Donations:

• Mount Albert Grammar School. A $30 voluntary "non-refundable administration donation". It has decided to stop asking for the donation.

• Auckland Grammar School. A $50 "non-refundable donation for administration costs". The Auditor-General considered parents could be left in doubt as to whether payment would affect their child's enrolment chances, and recommended the school amends its enrolment checklist.

• Epsom Girls' Grammar School. A $20 "donation for administration costs".

Fees:

• Cornwall Park District School. A $75 "administration fee". The school has stopped charging the fee and refunded payments connected to 2016 enrolments.

• Kohia Terrace School. A $20 "out-of-zone application administration fee". The Auditor-General has recommended the school stop charging the fee.