Public schools are setting subject contributions that parents may be required to pay for certain elective or HSC subjects at significantly different amounts, with some charging up to eight times as much as others for the same subjects.
In addition to voluntary fees, NSW public schools are able to set their own subject contributions "for elective subjects that go beyond the minimum requirements of the curriculum", which parents may need to pay for their children to take the subject, according to NSW Department of Education policy.
The amount being charged for the same subjects varies significantly between schools, such as neighbouring schools Epping Boys High School and Cheltenham Girls High School, which have a contribution of $80 and $11 respectively for year 11 Music 2 this year.
Epping Boys also charges $60 for year 11 drama, compared to $18 for the subject at Cheltenham Girls, and $90 for Design and Technology, compared to $48 at Cheltenham Girls.
"I suspect [schools] charge what they think local parents may be able to afford, but it also suggests different schools are having different levels of resources," Helen Proctor, associate professor in the school of education and social work at the University of Sydney, said.
"We always knew that happened in the private system where you'll see someone, for their major HSC work, design a car or whatever, but even within public schools it's clearly an issue.
"There's a dreadful division between the haves and have-nots, with visible inequity experienced by children on a daily basis because of this inequality within the public education system."
North Sydney Girls High School had one of the highest total subject contributions among NSW public schools last year, receiving $775,080.
Narrabeen Sports High School received $518,747 in subject contributions last year and North Sydney Boys High School got $461,874.
A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said: "Schools determine the level of subject contributions in consultation with their school community as part of the school budget process.
"Some schools in areas of socio-economic disadvantage may seek funding of [electives] from sources other than family contributions.
"Parents who are unable to pay for elective subjects because of financial hardship may be eligible for assistance from the school."
Notably, the total amount being collected by NSW government schools in subject contributions has increased substantially in the past three years, while voluntary fees have remained relatively stable.
The total amount of subject contributions collected by government high schools increased from $31.2 million in 2014 to $41.3 million last year. Taking into account the increase in enrolments, total subject contributions per student increased from $41 to $52 over the same period.
In comparison, total voluntary contributions at public high schools increased from $30 million to $34.1 million between 2014 and 2017, or $39 per student to $43 per student.
Academics and teachers unions have also criticised the voluntary contribution system, which they say is creating issues of inequality within the public education system where some schools are raising up to $2500 in voluntary fees while hundreds are getting no extra money from parents.
However, unlike subject contributions, the amount of voluntary contributions requested by schools is capped by the department.
"Those schools which, in 2017, set their voluntary contributions at or below the earlier assessed statewide averages of $101 for secondary schools and $47 for primary schools were permitted to increase contribution levels to $103 and $48 respectively," a spokesman for the department said.
"All other schools were permitted to increase their voluntary contributions by a maximum of 2.1 per cent on 2017 levels."
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