Students whose parents have not paid the annual donation at one of New Zealand's largest schools are being stung with higher fees if they want to attend camps or the school ball.
Education Minister Chris Carter has asked for a review of the new system at Macleans College in East Auckland, saying the annual donation should be considered a donation.
The ministry does not believe the school is breaching guidelines by targeting students whose parents have not paid - and other schools say the move is ingenious.
Macleans students whose parents have not paid the $460 annual donation are charged higher fees for popular school activities.
For example, the school ball will cost $120 for non-donation-payers, instead of the $80 for a student who has paid.
The two-tiered system also covers the school's Cambridge International examinations. Students who have paid the donation are charged a $25 local processing fee, compared with a $225 charge for non-payers.
Associate principal Simon Peek said the system was introduced to cover the cost of voluntary activities and events. The Cambridge charges are for staff the school has to pay to supply the examinations.
Peek said "in reality" only 56 per cent of the school's costs were met by the Government's operations grant.
"It all goes into activities that the Government doesn't fund."
He said about 80 per cent of the decile 10 school's 2496 students paid the annual donation.
A Ministry of Education spokesman said the system was not a breach of its rules and any parent concerned about the way the school donation was administered should raise it with the board of trustees.
But Carter said "a donation is a donation" and he would ask the ministry to check Macleans' system.
However, the double levy has the support of other principals.
Northcote College principal Vicki Barrie said that the system was ingenious.
"It's an example of the lengths schools are needing to go to maintain their level of funds."
In June, the North Shore Principals' Association, including Northcote College, withdrew support for the Government's Schools Plus scheme, designed to keep Kiwis in education or training until they were 18.
It said 21 Government initiatives were not fully funded and the new demands were putting extra pressure on schools to secure so-called donations, when many families could least afford them.
Peter Gall, principal of Papatoetoe High School and president of the Secondary Principals' Association, said it was getting harder to get families to pay the donation.
"The only way schools can deliver to communities is to get some extra funding because those expectations come at a cost." His decile 3 school asks for an annual donation of $80 per child but only about 35 per cent pay.
Other schools have gone to great lengths to persuade parents to pay.
Alan McIntyre, principal of Owairoa Primary in Howick, said the school offered free smoke detectors and first-aid kits for cars. The decile 9 school asked for $220 a year but only 48 per cent had paid so far this year.
An education lobbyist called the Macleans system "bizarre".
John Minto, of the Quality Public Education Coalition, said the donation was a sign of the privatising of education. While he believed the Government should increase funding, he accused schools of seeing parents as a "soft option" rather than asking the Government for more money.
Robin Duff, president of the Post Primary Teachers' Association, said he was concerned the system could coerce parents into paying.
However, he said the PPTA would continue fighting for more funding.