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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1997 Week 2 Hansard (25 February) . . Page.. 399..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

In relation to the school you spoke of, that question was asked in the media several weeks ago, I think, at the beginning of term one. I understand that the actual student concerned has, and has had for some time, the textbooks that the particular student required. Also, I have had a look at the particular form that college sent out. Whilst perhaps part of it might have been better worded, it did stress that the fees were voluntary and that the information it sought was simply what the parents' intentions were in relation to payment or non-payment. There was nothing saying that people would not receive materials if no payment was made; that was quite clear. The particular problem there has, in fact, been sorted out, Mr Moore. I have reiterated our policy, as the department has. The department has done so on a number of occasions, as to the voluntary nature of fees. Might I say, Mr Speaker, that, whilst it is this Government's policy that fees, in fact, be voluntary, we do encourage parents, who are able to, to make that contribution. Some schools have an excellent history in terms of explaining to parents exactly what the fees go towards and how it benefits a child's education. They have an excellent rate of contributions from parents.

MR MOORE: I have a supplementary question, Mr Speaker. My own children's schools have also sent out excellent letters in which they have explained exactly what the fees are used for. But the reality is that there is a management issue here that has to do with your department - and it manages the principals of the schools - ensuring that the parents understand that the fees are voluntary. What action are you taking to ensure that message goes through?

MR STEFANIAK: That message goes through to schools through directives from the department, Mr Moore. Last year school principals were directed to review publications and correspondence to ensure consistency with Government policy. I understand the department has also been in contact with the school in question in relation to this. Also, school boards themselves have a role here to consult with their communities on parental contributions to achieve a consensus. Indeed, most do that very well. As a result of the last review we had in relation to this, standard letters are available for schools, to assist them in terms of what contributions are for.

I do reiterate, as you yourself concede in relation to your own children, that there have been very good communications from schools in terms of advising parents what the contributions are for, why they need to make them, and what it all goes to. When that occurs, the result has been very good indeed. It is something the department continues to monitor, Mr Moore, because it is policy. That policy will continue to be the case, and the department will continue to monitor it and continue to ensure that schools do advise parents that the contributions are voluntary. Of course, at the same time, it is important to ensure that the information sent out to parents is thorough, to encourage maximum participation, which obviously benefits each individual child at the school and the schools themselves.

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