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Ombudsman on school charges for curriculum-related items

The Ombudsman has released his opinion on a complaint about a secondary school’s practice of compulsorily charging for workbooks and other curriculum-related items. He found that the school had acted unreasonably, and contrary to the entitlement to free education under the Education Act. You can read Professor Paterson’s opinion here.




The complainant is a parent of secondary school students. In 2011, the complainant raised concerns the school was imposing compulsory charges for:

• photocopying;

• food items; and

• workbooks.

The complainant drew to the school’s attention the provisions of section 3 of the Education Act 1989 which guarantees the provision of a free education, complaining that the charges contravened it. The complainant further relied on the Ministry of Education’s Education circular 1998/25: Payments by parents of students at state schools (the circular)1 which provides guidance on the payments schools may require.

My conclusion is that, in imposing compulsory charges for workbooks and any other curriculum-related materials, the Board of Trustees:

• has acted in a manner that appears to have been contrary to law as its actions contravene section 3 of the Education Act 1989.

• has acted unreasonably in this matter, in that it is refusing to apply the advice of the Ministry as set out in Education circular 1998/25; and has charged the complainant for curriculum-related material that he was lawfully entitled to have provided to his children free of charge.

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