School fees are in important consideration for both parents and schools. Schools rely on fees to fulfill their budget requirements (AKA pay teachers etc). Parents are not all equally able to meet the school fees set. What can schools do about non-payment? What can parents do if they are really not able to afford to pay?
School Fees and the Law
- Government schools are allowed to determine and charge fees. Usually these fees are determined by the School Governing Body. A proposed budget becomes available to all parents. A public meeting is held to vote on approving the budget. Included in the budget are proposed fees for the upcoming year. So when you see a note saying “School Budget Meeting”, don’t think “boring” and “irrelevant”. Think – “wow, this is where I get to have a say in how much the school fees should be!”
- Schools may not charge an administration fee or application fee when parents apply at the school.
- Schools may not demand additional payments above set school fees for activities which are part of the school program. These additional costs should be clearly incorporated into the school fees and documented in the school budget.
- Parents must pay the fees determined by the school unless they have been exempted from payment. To be exempted, parents apply with the school bursar at the start of the school year. They must provide evidence of their inability to pay. This application is considered by the School Governing Body. All parents have the right to apply for fee exemption, regardless of nationality or family set-up. For more information read this link.
- Orphans and foster children automatically qualify for a 100% exemption. The foster family income is not taken into consideration. A 100% fee exemption is a right for families in receipt of a social grant.
- Schools may legally enforce the payment of fees by parents who have not been exempted. They may not coerce or threaten or withhold school reports or awards. They may not stop a learner participating in any school activity. This includes academic and extra-mural activities.
- Fee payment can be enforced by debt collectors. Schools can and have taken parents to court for non-payment of fees.
- If a parent is in arrears by one month or more, the school governing body must investigate whether the parent qualifies for exemption BEFORE handing over to debt collectors.
The best solution to fee problems between schools and parents is open, honest and timely communication. Schools are obliged to make parents aware of the fee exemption process. Parents should apply early in the year to assist schools with their budgeting. Some schools set cut off dates for applications. Parents who do not apply for fee exemption and do not pay fees are legally liable for those fees. Non-payment also create enormous budgeting problems in the school. The proper line of communication is from parents, to the bursar and then to the School Governing Body. Class teachers and children should not be involved at all, their primary business is teaching and learning.
Do you want to know more? You can read the South African Schools Act here.
Unfortunately if you are at a private school then the school fees problem is very different. At a private school you have a private contractual agreement with the school obliging you to pay fees. Government policy does not protect you, even if you are low income or have a sudden change of financial circumstances. If you do not pay your fees at a private school your child can be excluded from the school. You can also be pursued by debt recovery agencies or taken to court if you refuse to pay. If you would like to consider moving to a low-cost high performance government school SAILI has a list of recommended Cape Town schools here.
Bursaries or Scholarships are offered by some private schools however there are currently no public bursary or scholarship schemes in South Africa for primary school education.