When do you qualify for free government schooling?

According to the South African Constitution, everyone has a right to a basic education. However, with the cost of living continuing to rise, and many families struggling to meet even the simplest daily needs, such as putting food on the table, not everyone can afford to pay school fees. Moneybags journalist Jessica Anne Wood looks at when you qualify for free government schooling.

“Through the South African Schools Act of 1996, the national Department of Education has made educational attendance compulsory for all children aged seven to 15 (or the completion of Grade 9). Compulsory education places a responsibility not only on parents or caregivers to send their children to school, but also on the State to ensure that schools are accessible and affordable,” explains the Department of Education’s education policy on school fees.

There are two policies in place to help parents and caregivers send their children to school. These are the School Fee Exemption policy and the No-fee Schools policy.

School Fee Exemption policy

This policy states that each school, through its governing body, must determine the fees that will be charged, and inform parents and caregivers about the exemption policy. According to the Exemption of Parents from the Payment of School Fees Regulations of 1998, a means tests must be used to determine whether or not a child qualifies for a full or partial fee exemption.

The means tests works as follows:

  1. Where the parents’ combined annual salary is less than ten times the annual school fees, the child qualifies for a full fee exemption.
  2. Where the parents’ combined annual salary is less than 30 times the annual school fees, the child qualifies for a partial fee exemption.

In October 2006, additional regulations were implemented, which take into consideration children supported by a caregiver, who will also qualify for a partial exemption. Furthermore, certain categories of children, such as those receiving Child Support Grants, are automatically exempt from paying school fees.

To apply for a reduction or exemption of school fees, parents must:

  • Write a letter to the school’s governing body requesting to be exempted in part or in full from paying fees.
  • Provide a payslip or letter from your employer which stipulates how much you earn.
  • If you are unemployed or self-employed, you should get an affidavit stating what you earn or how you support your child, such as on a pension or child care grant.

No-fee schools

In contract to the School Fee Exemption policy, no-fee schools fall within the poorest areas of the country and learners are allowed to enrol without paying fees. Schools have been ranked into five categories, and the schools in the lowest 40% (quintiles one and two) are no-fee schools. The aim is to increase this to 60% of the poorest schools.

The schools are ranked according to the level of poverty in the surrounding area. In other words, child who attend schools in wards which are not rated among the poorest will attend fee-paying schools.

The expenses that would normally be covered by school fees are funded by government. “Schools that do not charge fees will be allocated a larger amount of funding from the national budget per learner to make up for the fees that would have been charged,” explains the education policy on school fees.

Who is excluded from no-fee schools and fee exemptions?

While it may appear obvious, children who do not attend school do not qualify for these policies. Furthermore, both policies only apply to children from grades R to 9. Students from grades 10 to 12 will have to pay school fees, even if they are in the poorest areas.

Additional fees and school admissions

The South African Schools Acts states that when registering a child at a state school, you cannot be charged a registration fee or asked to pay fees up front. In addition, a child cannot be denied entry to a state school because their parents have not paid school fees in the past.

If you are told upon registering your child at a school, that the school is full, parents can do the following:

  • Ask the principal if the school has been officially declared full by the Department of Education.
  • Ask to see the letter which states that the school is full.
  • If there is no letter, the child must be accepted at the school.
  • If the school continues to refuse the child admission, you should contact the district office.
  • If the school does have a letter, it is up to the Education Department to find a place for the child in the nearest school to where s/he lives.

In addition, the education policy on admissions and school fees states: “The law says that the paying of fees is a matter between the School Governing Body and the parent of the child and not a matter between a child, teachers or principals.

“The law also says that no child can be refused admission to a school because his or her parents cannot afford to pay school fees. It is also illegal for schools to charge registration fees or other upfront payments from parents when giving a child admission to a school. A child cannot be sent home from school or refused results of tests or exams if fees have not been paid.”

For more information on school fees and exemptions, click here.