Federated Farmers intends ramping up political pressure for a long overdue increase to the school access barrier boarding allowance.
This follows a Feds’ survey of farming families which revealed substantial costs and family disruption from the access barrier board allowance being totally outstripped by the fees that boarding schools charge.
Average state boarding school fees have close to doubled since 2005 while the base access barrier boarding allowance has increased by just 2.8%. The transport allowance hasn’t increased in at least 26 years and sits at $400 (was amalgamated into the allowance in 2013).
In 2004, the then Minister of Education, Hon Trevor Mallard, stated that the Government would inflation proof the allowance after undertaking a review of eligibility criteria, The review was undertaken but the promised increases were not made. Parents now pay 75%-80% of school hostel fees where they paid about half in 2014.
Nearly 400 farming families responded to the Federated Farmers October survey and 73% of them said the net cost of sending children to boarding schools had significant financial and/or social consequences for their family.
These are a couple of typical comments:
“The nearest high school is 100km away but there are no boarding facilities in the city. There is the option of private boarding, but plenty of bad stories associated with this option. So we have split the family – dad stays on the farm, mum and 2 kids moved to town. Dad comes to town for the weekend sports and mum goes home for the weekend to maintain the farm (dogs and other daily jobs). Not great for the family, but no other practical and affordable options.”
“We actually converted to Catholicism because it was cheaper to send our kids to a catholic school (is that fair). Sacred Heart Hamilton, Francis Douglas Taranaki. The money we got from the govt barely paid for getting them to and from school during the term and we often had to leave them there for long weekends or get them to go to family”
“The cost put a real strain on our farming business, as it increased our drawings to a level above our actual tax paid earnings…”
Several survey respondents said they’d had to take a second mortgage out just to cover the education costs, while numerous others said they were making significant financial and social sacrifices to meet education costs. Examples include:
• Underfunding farming operations such as applying less fertiliser,
• not taking holidays or trips off farm,
• not attending their children’s activities, or
• not being able to socialise with the families of their children’s friends.
Just on 10% of families who filled in the Feds questionnaire said they had relocated their families so that their children could attend school on a daily basis. They’d achieved this by actions such as selling their properties and relocating closer to school and purchasing or renting an additional property and splitting the family between these locations.
There are two fundamental types of boarding allowances administered by the Ministry of Education:
• Access barrier boarding allowance ($3,200 per annum – including a $400 transport allowance)
• Multiple barriers boarding allowance ($7,500 per annum plus $500 pa for pastoral care)
The Access allowance is for when the closest bus route is more than 20km away, travel one way is more than 60 minutes or 60km. The Multiple Barriers allowance is for pupils where there are behavioural or learning difficulties (poor participation at school; disruptive, harms others or themselves; history of stand-downs, suspensions, etc). As a number of the Feds survey respondents pointed out, the cost of a place at the boarding school is the same whatever allowance the pupil may be eligible for.
Federated Farmers has been advocating for close to 15 years for an increase to the Access Barrier Boarding Allowance. It hasn’t increased for seven years and sits at about 40% of the multiple barriers boarding allowance.
The last increase to the access barrier boarding allowance was in 2013, at a low 2.8% ($75). Previous significant increases were in 2004 (17.6%) and 2005 (14.1%). The 2004 increase was the first to be made in a decade.
The yearly boarding fee for respondents averages just under $13,000 per student ($13,212 over all average, with $12,570 average for state schools) with state school fees in the general range of $10,000 to $16,000. Transport costs are on top.
“Farming families are as vitally interested in their children getting a good education as any other Kiwi parents but they face several disadvantages as a result of their geographic isolation – including big chunks of the day being swallowed up in travel, and poor internet connectivity for homework and the like,” Federated Farmers President Andrew Hoggard says.
“If boarding schools are so expensive that the family’s budget is under pressure, or just can’t cope, it’s a huge hurdle when we try to attract workers to come to farms for a career in the agricultural sector that is so vital to our economy.”
Federated Farmers has once again put the case for an increase in the allowance to the Ministry of Education. The organisation has been told the request is being investigated, but any increase would be subject to the Government making allowance in the next Budget.