When I was little, I went to a very well-to-do decile 10 public primary school. The kind of place situated in a neighbourhood full of private schools and a little bit insecure about it. So we did our best to fit it, with assemblies every Friday at which the national anthem was sung in both English and te reo Māori, archaic uniforms (no pants for the girls!) and “fees”.
Hang on. I did say “public” primary school, didn’t I?
Yes, my public, state-funded primary school must have been one of the first to start referring to voluntary donations as “fees”. In the school newsletter, in letters home to my parents, and in conversations where teachers would pull aside nine-year-old children like myself and deliver a lecture about how we “hadn’t paid our fees”.
I felt terrible. I wasn’t paying my way! I was going to be expelled! You had to pay your fees! But my mother sat me down and explained that it wasn’t a fee. It was a donation. The fine print on the forms they sent me home with spelled it out … barely. They had no right to demand payment – and no right to bully a child with
Back then I was baffled (now I get outraged). It wasn’t a fee. So why was it called a fee? Why was my teacher checking names off a list and hectoring children to pay? Why to this day are schools engaging in bullying, stigmatising tactics like attaching tags to children’s bags to show who’s paid and who hasn’t?
Education is a basic human right, and every child deserves to receive the same basic level of it. It is criminal that schools put this kind of pressure on kids and their families – and more criminal that some of them probably have to due to chronic underfunding.
So imagine my righteous joy this morning to discover that the Labour Party agrees with me.
Labour will provide an annual grant of $100 per student to schools that stop asking parents for “voluntary” donations to help fund their day-to-day spending, Labour Leader David Cunliffe says.
Like I said on Twitter, education needs to be meaningfully free. That means proper funding for our schools and an end to the farce of “voluntary donations”.