Byline: Steve Best
The recession and marginal financial assistance from successive governments has made things tougher for parents who choose to educate their children in private schools, say those involved with administering the sector.
"Private schools are becoming less affordable to many New Zealand families because of little government support and inequitable funding across the education spectrum," says Deborah James, executive director of Independent Schools of New Zealand.
"Independent schools would reduce fees if they could but under the present subsidy they are not in a position to do so without compromising the high quality staffing and curriculum delivery. Risk of a diminished private school sector will only make the sector more elite and exclusive.
"The presence of a private schools sector ultimately protects parental choice; under the Declaration of Human Rights parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. There must be choice in an education system. Without choice we run the risk of offering a monopolistic education system, one that would produce mediocrity in education delivery and outcome."
James says that particular mythologies about private schools have made funding issues political, rather than practical, and the economic sense of increasing subsidies is often overlooked. She says that there is a misconception that "private schools are for the rich and wealthy, when in actual fact they're not. We have ordinary families who've made education a priority. Many have made huge sacrifices. Arguably, there are more wealthy families in public schools than in private schools.
"We're not a drain on the public purse. It would appear that political ideology prevents successive governments from seeing the economic sense in raising the subsidy to private schools so that they can continue as independent schools. The NZ Institute of Economic Research in its report on 'Funding Arrangements of Independent Schools in New Zealand' provides a compelling economic argument for the Government to raise the subsidy to private schools and still remain a net fiscal beneficiary of the presence of a private schools sector," James says.
Independent Schools New Zealand currently represents 43 of the 95 registered independent schools around the country and James says that the recession and inadequate funding has affected some schools, particularly those in the Central North Island where "population growth potential is not the same as other areas. Schools are not seeing the same level of enrolments and parents are facing economic and employment uncertainty. Some people who may have considered primary and secondary may now choose just one or the other," says James.
Chief executive of Academic Colleges Group (ACG) Clarence van der Wel admits that while enrolments have been largely unaffected by the recession, he is aware that parents are finding it more difficult to pay tuition fees. "Many are making large financial sacrifices for their children to be able to attend independent schools," he says.
ACG has a range of schools and programmes in Auckland and overseas, with four schools in different areas of Auckland (ACG Parnell, ACG Senior College, ACG Sunderland and ACG Strathallan) that cater for mainly New Zealanders and three other schools for international students. …