You and Your Rights: School Fees


  • All children, including those who are refugees, have a right to education
  • Parents are not required to pay school fees if they are unable to afford them and if fees exceed 10% of the total family income
  • Forms to apply for school fee exemptions should be available at your local school
  • A child may not be excluded from school due to nonpayment of school fees by his or her guardians
  • No public school may require an admissions test or reject students on the basis of religion or ethnicity

Your Rights

Who can attend School?

All children have the legal right to a basic education. Section 9 of the South African constitution says no school can discriminate against any child for any reason including ethnic or social origin, colour, age, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language or birth.

Does this include asylum seekers and refugees?

Yes! The Department of Education says asylum seekers and refugees must be allowed to attend school. If the child doesn’t have the right documentation, then the parent can show the school his/her documents while they wait for the necessary papers for the child. Children can provisionally be enrolled in a school without proper paper work on condition that the parent undertakes to have it completed within a reasonable amount of time.

What are the rules around school admissions?

  • No one can be refused admission to school on the basis of race or religion.

  • No child can be denied entry to any state school because the parent(s) have not paid school fees or are behind on school fee payments.

  • You can’t be charged a registration fee, administration fee or be asked to pay fees up front at a State school.

  • A state school is not allowed to administer any test relating to admission.No child can be refused entry because the parent/s don’t subscribe to the mission statement of the school

What is the difference between “no fee” and “fee-charging” schools?

If your school is declared a “no fee” school by the Minister of Education (because the school is located in a poor community), you don’t have to pay ANY school fees, including activity or extra mural fees.

All other State schools are “fee charging” schools.

What if you can’t afford school fees?

Parents are NOT legally obliged to pay school fees if they don’t earn enough money. If you are struggling to make school payments, you can apply for school fee exemptions. This includes refugees and asylum seekers.

Who qualifies for school fee exemptions?

There are FOUR types of exemptions:

  • Automatic Exemption

  • Full Exemption

  • Partial Exemption

  • Conditional Exemption

 1.       Automatic Exemptions:


 The following children qualify automatically for fee exemption:

  • Orphans in an orphanage and in child head households
  • Learners with foster parents
  • Learners placed in youth care centres or in the care of a family member
  • Learners whose parents receive a social grant in their name. For example, a Child Support Grant.

2.       Full Exemptions:

If the school fees are more than 10% of the combined annual gross income of both parents, the child is fully exempt from paying school fees.

3.       Partial Exemptions:

If the school fees are between 3.5% and 10% of the combined annual gross income of both parents, the child will qualify for partial exemptions


4.       Conditional Exemptions:


These exemptions are granted to a parent who qualifies for partial exemption but, owing to personal circumstances beyond his/her control, cannot pay the reduced amount.


It also applies to parents who don’t qualify for exemptions but supply information that proves an inability to pay school fees owing to personal circumstances beyond their control.


No Exemption: Where the combined annual gross income of both parents is more than 30 times the annual school fees per learner, the child doesn’t qualify for any exemptions.


When you apply for an exemption from school fees, the SGB will apply the following formula:





To calculate the formula, fill in the following values:


E = School fees as a proportion of the family income.

F = Annual school fees, for one child. (If a parent has more than one child at the same school and the fees are not the same for all of them, the highest fees must be used in the calculation).

A = Additional monetary contributions demanded by the school.

C = Combined gross income of parents.

100 = The number by which the answer arrived at in brackets is multiplied so as to convert it into a %.




A single parent has one child in one school. This learner’s annual school fees are R2 500 and the additional school expenses over the year come to R20. The parent’s gross income for that year is R25 200.



The parent qualifies for a full exemption because the school fees are 10% of her income.




A parent has one child in a school. The annual school fees are R2 500, annual additional monetary  contributions amount to R20. The parent’s gross annual income is R30 000.


The school fees are between 3,5% and 10% of the parent’s total income. The parent will therefore qualify for a partial exemption.

  • A parent with one child at the school who spends 8,5% of her income on school fees qualifies for a 91% fee exemption.
  • 91% of R2 500 is R2 275
  • R2 500 – R2 275 = R225
  • The parent will therefore have to pay R225 in school fees for one child.


A parent has one child in school. The annual school fees are R2 500, annual monetary contributions amount to R20, and the parent’s annual gross income is R126 000.


Since E is equal to 2% the parent does not qualify for any exemption and must pay the full fees. 


REMEMBER! You must RE-APPLY every year for school fee exemptions!


How do you apply for School Fee exemptions?


Forms should be available at your local school. Once you have completed the form, you send it back to the school with a letter to the School Governing Body (SGB) asking for a school fee exemption.


The letter needs to be accompanied by a payslip or a letter from your employer. If self-employed or unemployed, then you must provide an affidavit explaining how you support the child.


The SGB has 30 days to accept or reject an application.


If you are unhappy with the decision, you have 30 days to appeal in writing to the Head of the Department of Education in your province. You can ask a teacher or principal to help you with the exemption process.


What can you do if your child is denied entry to a school?


If a child is denied entry to a school, then it must be because the principal says the school is full. If this is the case, then you are entitled to a letter from the principal saying the school is full.

You must then call the district office and find out where your nearest school is situated.

REMEMBER! Everyone is entitled to have access to education that is within a reasonable distance from your home.

What happens if you don’t pay your school fees?

Parents are liable to pay school fees. If a parent is in arrears for 1 or 2 months, the SGB must investigate whether a parent is entitled to an exemption.


The SGB can only take legal action against a parent/s once they have proved that parent/s do not qualify for an exemption. Also, the school may not begin legal proceedings while the parent/s is working with any of the institutions set up under the National Credit Act.


After 3 months of arrears, the SGB must first send a Letter of Demand warning the parent, and providing a date by which they must respond. This is required to get an order from the Court.


If the parent does not respond, they must serve their summons in a formal way, calling them to the Magistrate´s Court.


The parent will be able to put his/her case before the Magistrate´s Court.


If the summons is ignored and the parent does not go to court, the Magistrate can give a default judgment in the parent’s absence.


If the parent does not comply with the Magistrate´s orders, the Sheriff of the Court can attach possessions and sell them to pay off the debt.


The SGB cannot take legal steps to attach and sell a parent’s house to pay school fees, in which he/she stays.


REMEMBER! A learner may not be excluded from any school or extramural activities due to nonpayment of school fees. The School also cannot withhold a School Report or Transfer Certificate.