School camps have been saved - but parents will still have to pay for them.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says new guidelines will allow schools to charge parents for school camps and still get a new grant of $150 per student per year for schools that stop asking parents for "donations".

The impromptu announcement in response to questions drew loud applause at an NZ Principals' Federation conference in Auckland today.

Dunedin North Intermediate principal Heidi Hayward, who asked the question, said Ministry of Education officials only last week "were very clear that, under the rules, if we take on the scheme [the $150 grant[, we will no longer be able to ask parents for any form of donation and that would rule out camps".

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"In our decile-7 school, if we were to take on the scheme, we would no longer offer the school camp because the school camp costs more than the donation," she told Hipkins.

Hipkins replied: "The rules around the criteria for accepting the $150 haven't yet been completed, we are in the process of developing that. But I can confirm that school camps will be exempt from that."

The May 30 Budget allocated $75 million a year from next January to pay the $150 per student to all schools in deciles 1 to 7 that stop asking parents for donations.

The grant will give a huge boost to low-decile schools such as Finlayson Park School in Manurewa, whose camp is largely funded by fundraising and charitable donations from groups such as a church-based East Auckland group who visit monthly and donate money to cover the school's needs.

But mid-decile schools such as decile-7 Kaukapakapa School near Auckland and decile-6 Maidstone Intermediate in Upper Hutt have said they would have to cancel their camps if they accepted the grant because ministry rules consider camps in school time to be part of the curriculum so parents can only be asked for voluntary "donations" towards them.

Schools that accept the $150 will not be allowed to ask for "donations" - but camps will now be an exception.

Chris Hipkins: camps will be exempted from rules barring schools from asking parents for
Chris Hipkins: camps will be exempted from rules barring schools from asking parents for "donations" if they accept a new $150 grant. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Hipkins declined afterwards to spell out any other exceptions, so it is not yet clear whether schools will also be able to charge parents for computers, technology materials, workbooks, swimming lessons and other curriculum-related costs which many state schools charge for despite the rules.

Maidstone Intermediate principal Mary O'Regan said last month: "Every school breaks those rules. There is a blind eye turned. We call things different things. We cannot offer those extra things if we don't, and they are so important, those experiences for the kids."

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Whetu Cormick: principals will be
Whetu Cormick: principals will be "pleased and relieved" that they can still charge for camps. Photo / File

Principals' Federation president Whetu Cormick said principals would be "pleased and relieved" that they could still charge for camps.

Conference convenor and Tomarata School principal Jill Corkin said some schools stopped running camps after health and safety laws were tightened, but most had started running them again.

"Camps are such an integral part of our school system in New Zealand, which is not true in other countries. They are part of our DNA," she said.

School camps like the YMCA's Camp Adair (above) are
School camps like the YMCA's Camp Adair (above) are "part of our DNA". Photo / Supplied

Waitākere Area Principals' Association president Martyn Weatherill, who said last month that some West Auckland schools would have to cancel their camps, said Hipkins had adopted "a common-sense approach".

"An approach that I hope will be extended to other areas that the ministry views as donations but are critical funding sources to enable schools to deliver a broad and engaging curriculum," he said.

Cormick said computers, technology materials and other curriculum costs should be funded by the Government on top of the $150 grant.

Cormick also told Hipkins in his opening speech that hundreds of small rural schools would be without a principal in a few years unless the Government lifted principals' salaries above its latest pay offer, which the principals rejected last week.

Hipkins refused to answer principals' questions about pay in advance of a meeting between the ministry and the NZ Educational Institute this Friday.