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Chapter 14 - School Government

Admission of learners to schools

Government policy on admissions

Government policy on school admissions and school fees is guided by three basic principles:

  • equity: to ensure that government gives the same basic resources to all government schools;
  • redress: to give more government resources to learners in historically disadvantaged communities so that they have more money for textbooks and stationery, to build schools in areas where none exist, and upgrade existing schools;
  • access: to ensure no learner is excluded from attending school on the basis of race or religion or because they cannot afford the cost of school fees.

The South African Schools Act says that all children between the ages of 5 and 15 have to go to school. Children can be accepted in Grade R in the year they turn 5 and in Grade One in the year they turn 6. (this applies to both state and private schools). No learner can be refused admission to a school on the basis of their race or religion or their inability to pay school fees.

No learner registering at a State school can be charged a registration fee or asked to pay fees in advance. No learner can be refused entry to a state school because his or her parents have not paid outstanding school fees.

Where possible, learners should have access to a state school within five kilometers of their home. In some provinces the education department assists learners with transport where they live more than five kilometers from school.

The provincial department of education makes regulations guiding admissions. Here are some practical steps that can be taken if a school tells a learner that it is full:

  • Ask the principal if the school had been officially declared full by the relevant provincial Education Department. Ask to see the letter which says the school is full. If there is no letter then the school must accept the learner. If the school refuses permission then contact the district office.
  • If the School does have a letter then the department must find a place for the learner in the nearest school to where he or she lives.

Documents that learners should produce in order to be admitted to a public school

The Admission Policy for Ordinary Schools says that the only documents parents need to show the school when they apply for a learner to be admitted are:

  • The learner’s birth certificate (if the parent is unable to produce a birth certificate, the school must accept the learner on condition that the parents produce a copy of the birth certificate from the Department of Home Affairs.
  • If the learner is transferring from another school, she or he must produce a transfer card, or a report card or any document from the previous school with an affidavit stating why the learner does not have a transfer card.
  • In terms of the undocumented person, where there are no documents, the school can still accept the learner but the documents must be brought within a reasonable time.

Refusing to admit a learner to a school

What happens if a child is refused access to a school on grounds of language?

Language cannot be used as a reason to refuse admission to learners. The language policy of the school must reflect that language or languages spoken by the learners and the school must show how it is promoting multilingualism. Government policy is clear on allowing all learners access to state schools. It also supports mother tongue instruction where this is possible. Some communities have successfully solved this matter by entering into negotiations with the SGB.

When faced with such a problem, paralegals or community workers can begin by finding out how many learners are without a school to attend in the community. They can then request a meeting with the Principal and the school governing body. The local Education District Office can also be approached to assist in these negotiations.

Can a learner be refused admission for failing to pay school fees?

The law says that no child can be refused admission to a public school because his or her parents cannot afford to pay school fees. It is also illegal for the following to take place in relation to fees:

  • to charge registration fees or other advance payments from parents when admitting a learner to a school;
  • to send a learner home from school;
  • to refuse to give the results of tests or exams if fees have not been paid.

The law says that the paying of fees is a matter between the SGB and the parent of the learner and not a matter between a learner, educators and/or principals. (See School fees, and Problem 1: Parents cannot afford to pay school fees.)

Can a learner be refused admission for not affording a uniform, school books or not paying a registration fee?

The ability to pay for school uniforms and books is not a condition for admission to a school. (See No fee’ and ‘Fee-charging’ schools’). Schools are also not allowed to refuse to register learners who cannot pay a registration fee.

In the case of MEC for Education (KZN) v Navaneethum Pillay the Constitutional Court found that the refusal by a school to allow one of its pupils to wear a small gold nose stud (which she argued was part of her cultural heritage and identity) constituted unfair discrimination against the pupil on both a cultural and religious basis, and the school was ordered to let the pupil wear the nose stud.

Can a disabled learner be refused admission?

The law says that ‘learners with special education needs’ must in most cases have the chance to attend ordinary public schools. The school has to follow a process where the Head of Department (HOD) first consults parents and other educators to see if the learner can be admitted. This might include adapting some of the school’s facilities. If the school feels that they do not have the capacity to admit the learner then the law says the HOD must have the learner admitted at another suitable school in the province. Learners with special needs cannot simply be refused admission. These learners are governed by Sections 22-25 of the Admissions Policy for Ordinary Public Schools.

Can a learner be refused admission because he or she is HIV positive?

Every learner has a right to be treated:

  • in the same way as other learners, and
  • with human dignity.

Therefore no learner may be discriminated against on grounds of his or her HIV status.

There is a National Policy on HIV/Aids for Learners and Educators which aims to respond to the wide variety of circumstances involving HIV/Aids in schools  and to acknowledge the importance of SGBs, councils and parents in responding to this. Governing bodies are expected to implement the National Policy by developing and adopting an HIV/AIDS Implementation Plan. The National Policy deals with the following:

  • Non-discrimination and equality with regard to learners and/or educators with HIV/Aids
  • HIV/Aids testing and admission to schools and appointments of educators
  • Attendance at schools by learners with HIV/Aids
  • Disclosure of information and confidentiality
  • Creating a safe school environment to prevent risk of transmission of HIV/Aids, particularly during play and sport
  • Education of HIV/Aids
  • Duties and responsiblities of all learners, educators and parents
  • Consequences of refusing to study with or teach a learner with HIV/Aids, or to work with or be taught by an educator with HIV/Aids
  • School Implementation Plans
  • Health advisory Committees

You can find a copy of the full National Policy on the website: www.education.gov.za

Can a learner be refused admission or expelled because she is pregnant?

A learner may not be refused admission to a school or expelled from a school because she is pregnant. The school principal and the school community should look at ways to support learners who are pregnant. The school is required to provide pregnant learners with health information.

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