The most telling and amusing line in Rangitikei College's press release announcing it was going "fees free" for Year 9s was the one that said the families of those students "will not have to pay any voluntary school fees".

Of course, that's what voluntary means.

We like to think we get a free education in this country, as the Ministry of Education website says: "Your child's education is free between the ages of 5 and 19 at state schools."

Which is true in one sense, but that's not the practical reality for many.


Most schools around the country strongly suggest families pay a donation.

The fact that Rangitikei College had to announce it will no longer charge what were already voluntary fees for Year 9s is acknowledgement those fees are kind of expected and up to 75 per cent were paying up.

Then there are the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in costs for students who want to take part in school beyond simply attending class.

Education at high school is much more than that.

School trips, sports exchanges play just as big a role in a student's education and the more they participate, the higher the cost.

This fees-free policy takes the pressure off parents who would otherwise feel an obligation to pay but more importantly the scrapping of special subject costs and sports fees will take down some of the barriers to taking part in extracurricular activities.

Families under financial pressure are likely to retreat from school life and be reluctant to get involved for fear of cost.

But with that fear removed students are likely to engage further with the school which can only benefit their core classroom learning.


Rangitikei College should be commended for showing leadership in this area but it won't be without financial implications, despite the school saying it is manageable.

Hopefully this starts a conversation at a higher level about how we can have a truly free school education.