Don't let school fees sink you

Did you know that from last year 40% of South Africa's government schools are now 'fee-free'?

What is a fee-free school?
A 'fee-free' school means learners do not have to pay ANY fees, even for school activities such as sports, cultural activities and school registration.

How it all works
Schools in South Africa are divided into five categories, called 'quintiles'. The categories are determined by where the school is located, the wealth of the community (measured by household incomes, numbers of dependants and household education levels); and physical conditions at the school e.g. crowding. According to this system schools are further divided up into 'No-fee' schools and 'Fee-charging' schools (which are independent private schools mostly.

Those schools that are categorised as fee-free are the schools that are in the poorest two or even three categories of schools.

How to find out if your school is a fee-free school
To find out you can ask your child's school or ask the librarian in your closest municipal or university library to look in the provincial gazettes soon before 30 September each year; or look it up on the internet, try ( SA Gazettes or Department of Education ).

What if my school is a fee charging school?
If your child is as a fee charging school and parents/caregivers do not earn enough money they are legally entitled not to pay school fees and can apply for an exemption from paying.

What is an exemption?
A parent/caregiver who cannot afford to pay the fees at a 'fee-charging' school can apply to the school's Governing Body for an exemption. Each School Governing Body (SGB) has the power to decide the amount charged in fees. A formula is used to calculate whether a parent qualifies for a full exemption (no fees will be charged at all); or a partial exemption (the amount is reduced).

Applying for an exemption
Parents/caregivers who qualify should apply every year in writing to the SGB for an exemption from school fees. The parent/caregiver can request an application form from the school. If the school has not already given a parent/caregiver a copy of the exemption policy, the parent/caregiver can demand a copy.

The exemption formula
  • First you have to find out how much the school will charge in fees for the whole year, including any extra expenses like a school trip or any extra school uniform (e.g. sports clothes for team members).
  • Then work out how much you will earn in that year. This includes salaries, investments and any business profits. If you are a two-parent household you will have to work out the combined gross annual income of both parents.
  • When you are calculating the relationship between your income and the school fees, parents can count more than one learner, even learners in other schools but these schools must be 'fee-charging' schools.

Types of exemptions
  • Full exemption: If the school fees are 10% or more of your total income, you will be entitled to a full exemption and will NOT have to pay school fees.
  • Partial exemption: If the school fees are between 3,5% and 10% of your total income a parent will qualify for a partial exemption. If the school fees are 2,5% of a parent's total income, the parent does not qualify for any exemption unless he/she has three or more children at the same public school or at another public school that has not been declared a 'no-fee' school.
  • Automatic exemption: Learners who is an orphan, in an orphanage; who has a foster parent, who has been placed in a youth care centre or a place of safety; who has been placed in the care of a family member ('kinship caregiver'); who is a child who heads an household or is part of a child headed household; or whose parent receives a social grant on behalf of the same learner e.g. a child support grant.
  • No exemption: If the school fees are 2% of a parent's total income, the parent does not qualify for any exemption unless he/she has five or more children at the same public school or at another public school that has not been declared a 'no-fee' school. If the school fees are less than 2% a parent does not qualify for any exemption.

Sound complicated?
It is! Luckily, parents have the right to full support and assistance from the SGB in their application for an exemption.

If a parent is unhappy with an SGB’s decision, s/he can appeal against it to provincial education authorities. Contact the DoE’s helpline: 0800 202 922 (if you need to find out who to contact in your province).

For further assistance contact The Education Law Project on Tel: (011) 717-8600, or visit

Do you qualify for an exemption? Do you feel that education should be free no matter how much you earn?

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