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New Zealand's biggest boys' schools are asking parents to pay more than at neighbouring girls' schools this year - a pattern that one principal says could well be sexist.
A Herald survey of donations being requested this year at the country's 20 biggest schools has found that boys' colleges are asking parents to pay more than their nearby girls' colleges in central Auckland, on the North Shore and in Hamilton and Tauranga.
Nearby Epsom Girls' Grammar principal Lorraine Pound says her school has cut its donation request from $920 to $875 "in recognition of impacts of Covid-19 on families".
Hamilton Girls' High School, Tauranga Girls' College, McAuley High girls' school in South Auckland and Queens High girls' school in Dunedin have all joined a Government scheme to stop asking parents for donations - but Hamilton Boys' High, Tauranga Boys' College, South Auckland's De La Salle boys' college and Dunedin's Kings High boys' school have shunned the scheme.
Asked whether the pattern pointed to parents still being willing to pay more for their sons' education than for their daughters, McAuley principal Jan Waelen said: "I suspect that could well be right."
"Boys get the priority. Incredible, isn't it!" she said.
Association of Boys' Schools president David Ferguson, whose own school Westlake Boys' High is asking parents for $625 this year compared with $545 at Westlake Girls', said the boys' schools on the list all had high costs.
"All those schools put on a lot more over and above day-to-day teaching in the classroom, all run extensive extra-curricular programmes," he said.
But he acknowledged that girls' schools also ran extra-curricular programmes, and said the pattern of donations was "one we would keep an eye on, certainly".
The Government scheme, which came into force last year, pays schools $150 for each student each year if the school promises not to ask parents for general donations. It is only available for schools in deciles 1 to 7, which excludes Auckland Grammar, Epsom Girls' and the two Westlake schools.
Ministry of Education data shows that schools in the scheme have increased from 1626 last year to 1673 this year - up from 92.1 per cent of eligible schools to 94.4 per cent.
One boys' school that held out last year, Waitaki Boys' High in Oamaru, has joined the scheme this year, joining its sister school Waitaki Girls' High. Boys' High board chairwoman Andrea Ludemann said the board decided to "minimise the risk" of parents not paying because of Covid.
But Hamilton Boys', Tauranga Boys', De La Salle and Kings High, which are all decile 7 or below, have stayed out of it.
Hamilton Boys' High headmaster Susan Hassall said her board made the decision "from a financial point of view", opting to ask parents for $370 a year rather than take $150 from the Government.
"Of course every school in New Zealand that has international students will have to tighten their belts this year. That definitely made a difference to us," she said.
Tauranga Boys' College told its parents last year that it was staying out of the $150 scheme "in the interests of maintaining the highest level of quality education". The school asks parents for only a $120 general donation, but also seeks donations for specific purposes.
"TBC could not continue to provide the broad, rich and varied curriculum on $150 per pupil," it told parents.
"Taking the donation scheme money would have meant that we were unable to provide some of the extra-curricular activities that we think are so important to provide in a boys' school," he said.
"Parents, when they enter into the school, are aware of that and the costs that go with it. It also helps them take ownership of the activities that their son is doing, rather than just thinking that the school will provide everything."
Kings High in Dunedin is less directly comparable to Queens High than the other school "pairs". Kings is decile 7, has 963 boys and asks parents for $340 a year; Queens is decile 5, has only 362 students and is in the zero-donation scheme.
Boys' and girls' school pairs are in the scheme in Whangārei, Kelston, Rotorua, Gisborne, Napier, Hastings, New Plymouth, Nelson, Blenheim, Oamaru and Shirley Boys and Avonside Girls in Christchurch.
Apart from the Westlakes, Auckland Grammar and Epsom Girls, other pairs of boys' and girls' schools that are too high-decile to qualify for the scheme are in Palmerston North, Wellington and central Christchurch.
In Timaru and Invercargill, both boys' and girls' schools are decile 7 or below but both have stayed out of the scheme.
The list of our 20 biggest schools includes one private school, St Kentigern College, which has raised its compulsory fees this year to $22,818, far more than any state-funded state or state-integrated school.
But Auckland Grammar headmaster Tim O'Connor said that, as a decile-9 school, Grammar received $869 less state funding per student than a decile-1 school.
"We ask our parents to contribute at this level to firstly try and make up some of that underfunding as the Government operations grant does not go close to just covering our costs for learning resources, support staff salaries, professional development, maintenance of buildings, or information technology requirements," he said.
"In 2021, less than half of the school's operating budget is funded from government grants. The remaining income is 'locally raised', a good part of this income comes from parental contributions."