Supporting parents, supporting public schools

School fees, contributions and charges

After a prolonged period of economic wealth driven by the resources boom, WA’s economic trajectory has returned to a ‘new normal’ that is more consistent with national averages.  This ‘new normal’ has resulted in factories, workshops, offices and shop fronts being closed; ‘for lease’ signs are on the increase. Another clear indicator times are tough, coffee prices have dropped from an average $5 per cup to $3.50. Also, and perhaps most alarmingly, the unemployment rate has almost doubled to 5.7 percent and in some low socioeconomic areas rates have climbed into double digits. In fact, for the first time since 2006, the state’s unemployment rate surpassed the nation’s unemployment rate in mid-2015.

At a time where the average West Australian resident is facing increasing financial constraints, it imperative that State Government fulfils its fundamental responsibility of providing fully funded government education; this includes expanding the provision of ‘no cost’ options for Year 11 and 12 students. It’s not equitable to make education compulsory and not provide an engaging and meaningful suite of ‘no cost’ options. WACSSO maintains that if a student is required to be in school their financial situation should not be the determining factor in what they can study.

Currently, there are set contributions and charges for Primary School students and charges for High School students in Years 7 – 10. Costs for years 11 and 12 are not fixed for the year but directly linked to the subjects the student is studying. In evidence of this, at one secondary school Philosophy and Ethics is priced at $21 and Physical Education at $247. At another school, to study Technology it costs $25, whereas Food Science & Technology is priced at $180. These course fees vary greatly between schools and an even greater disparity is seen in VET certificate courses.

The compulsory education period is defined as the end of the year in which the child reaches the age of 17 years and 6 months.  Year 11 and 12 are pivotal years, preparing young adults for further education or employment. In recognition of these two facts schools must be supported to provide meaningful, engaging ‘no cost’ options in the spirit of equity so that no student is disadvantaged solely due to the financially capacity of them or their family. WACSSO firmly maintains secondary students need freedom to choose their desired pathway, rather than forcing them to choose lower cost options based on monetary restriction.

Furthermore, in accordance with WACSSO Policy 3.2.1 ‘School fees, charges and contributions’, WACSSO maintains that the government should fund education to a level that mitigates the need for parental fees, charges and contributions. WACSSO regularly hears concern from parents that many schools are growing increasingly dependent on what should be considered additional funds from parent contributions to resource items historically supplied through government funding. For example, basic literacy and numeracy resources, ICT (see Section 5. regarding ‘Bring Your Own Device’) and outdoor shade provision, even furniture and general maintenance.  Schools that do not receive revenue from this source are therefore suffering an additional layer of disadvantage.

This concern was substantiated in 2015 when WACSSO released survey results from the inaugural School Community Contributions and Funding Survey.  WACSSO surveyed 118 P&C Associations in June 2015 and found for the 2014 school year, individual P&Cs donated an average of $14,245 cash to their schools, or a total of $9.1 million projected across all 639 WACSSO-affiliated P&C Associations. These numbers were set to increase to $15,719 on average per school in 2015, or more than $10 million across WA. The survey will be issued again in 2017 to assess parent contribution trends.

Position

WACSSO calls for:

  • government to fund education to a level that mitigates the need for parental fees, charges and contributions;
  • the viability of increased ‘no cost’ cost options for secondary school students to be assessed; and
  • an increase in funding for all government schools so that core education materials are effectively resourced and so that schools are not relying on parent contributions to maintain optimal levels of resourcing.

For referencing and the full report, click here.