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Interpretation of free education unacceptable

Principals' interpretation of free education unacceptable

Calls from principals to bind parents to course "fees" as part of student enrolment or subject selection are unacceptable, says Associate Education Minister David Benson-Pope.

Mr Benson-Pope says he is shocked by the reported comments of the Principal of Otumoetai College and other Bay of Plenty principals.

Otumoetai College was recently found to be charging parents for school materials they should not have been, in breach of Ministry of Education guidelines. As a result, Otumoetai agreed to clean its act up and put in place new policies. "The Government funds the teaching of the core curriculum. There can be no charges for either enrolling or being taught the curriculum," said Mr Benson-Pope.

"With regard to any other payments, unless parents opt in, they don't have to pay. This applies to extra curricular activities, like the school camp or membership of clubs. Parents only have to pay for them if they have opted in.

"With regard to take home materials in technical subjects, again, if parents agree to pay for these materials then the student can take them home – otherwise they remain the property of the school."

Mr Benson-Pope says instead of changing their systems to allow parents greater access to information and to make informed choices, Otumoetai College now appears to be advocating a so-called "contract of intent". This is where parents would be required to sign a contract to enroll their students in a course and accept "costs" associated with this course.

"This would be a clear breach of the Education Act," said Mr Benson-Pope. "Creating financial barriers to students accessing the curriculum is unacceptable. If schools go there, I will intervene.

"I have asked the Ministry of Education to work with the schools sector with the aim of making the existing guideline clearer for parents.

"Schools want to offer more and more to students these days. But schools have to be up front with parents about their rights. Parents need to be advised at all times that donations are voluntary, and that when activities are extra-curricular parents must have opted in, for them to be charged."

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