Selective school application fees ‘problematic’ for public education

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Some NSW selective schools are charging non-refundable application fees of up to $100 for students seeking entry after year 7, in a practice similar to the state’s most expensive private schools.

Most of the state’s top selective schools, including James Ruse High School, North Sydney Girls, North Sydney Boys, St George Girls High School, Hornsby Girls High School, Girraween High School, Gosford High School,  Northern Beaches Secondary College Manly Campus all charge application fees of between $30 to $100 depending on students’ year groups.

While most selective schools require students seeking entry into year 11 to sit a test for which they charge $100, a number, including James Ruse High School, Fort Street High School and Sydney Boys High School are also charging administration fees of up to $89 for students applying for entry into years 8, 9 and 10, despite having no entrance exam.

Seven of these schools, including North Sydney Girls, Caringbah, Girraween, Hornsby Girls, St George Girls, Northern Beaches Secondary College Manly Campus, share test results and only require students to sit once and pay the fee to their first-choice school.

However, students that are also applying to other selective schools need to sit multiple tests and pay multiple application fees.

The application fees are similar to those charged by many private schools, which can range from $70 to $500 and are also non-refundable and do not go towards school fees.

Private schools’ ability to charge application fees is a result of the state’s “segregated system” of education, lecturer in education at Deakin University Emma Rowe said.

“There’s relentless competition to avoid schools that are residualised, with a higher proportion of low-socioeconomic students.”

A recent study also found that the majority of NSW’s top 20 most socio-educationally advantaged schools are selective schools, which now outnumber prestigious private schools.

No comprehensive public schools appear to require application fees for students enrolling into any year group.

Nic Rothquel, managing director at Sydney tutoring centre Alchemy Tuition, said about 100 high school students applied for less than 10 places at Northern Beaches Secondary College Manly Campus last year.

“They’re competing for a very small amount of places in each school, between five to 10 places, the success rate is very low,” Mr Rothquel said.

Professor Rowe said the trend of public schools starting to charge application fees is “problematic”.

“The more that we introduce any type of fees into public schools, the more we are creating barriers for people to access that form of education,” Professor Rowe said.

“Selective entry schools do have lower socioeconomic groups in there but the majority of students come from advantaged backgrounds, they get tutoring to apply to these schools and most are quite happy to pay, they have that money.

“In other democracies, public schooling is free but we’ve stepped a long long way away from that. Many parents would now expect to pay some money.”

A spokesman for the NSW Department of Education said: “Selective schools manage their own assessment process for entry beyond year 7.

“Some schools selection committees may require prospective students to take an external test. The Department of Education’s application information indicates that a test administration fee may be requested and invites parents to check assessment requirements of schools of interest.”

A recent Herald analysis of voluntary contributions at NSW government schools also revealed that selective schools are able to raise far more money from parents than comprehensive schools, creating concerns about significant inequalities in resources within the public education system.