Parents Encouraged To Apply For School Fees Exemption

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Many South African parents are struggling to pay their children's school fees due to rising unemployment figures and high costs of living. This poses a serious challenge for public schools as it impacts schools budgets negatively.

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The Department of Basic Education Spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga provided a in-depth explainer on how the South African school fees structure works in an episode of “Elijah Unpacks” on his YouTube channel.

Mhlanga explains that in the basic education sector there are two categories of schools, one being school fee-paying schools and the other being non-fee-paying schools.

Fee paying schools are where you pay fees to put your child in school and non-fee-paying schools are schools where fees are not required at all.

Fee-paying schools fall under Quintiles 4 and 5, and require parents to pay fees for their children's education. In contrast, non-fee-paying schools, classified as Quintiles 1, 2, and 3, operate in areas facing economic challenges, and parents are not obligated to pay fees.

While many parents commit to paying school fees, certain circumstances can hinder their ability to meet these financial commitments. Mhlanga emphasises the importance of proactive communication between parents and schools. It is advised that parents communicate any challenges they face in paying fees before schools approach them with outstanding fee notifications.

To address the financial constraints faced by some parents, Section 39 of the South African Schools Act provides a mechanism for applying for exemption from school fees. The new guidelines for this process include:

School Fees Exemption Application Process 

Parents who cannot afford to pay school fees must apply to the School Governing Body (SGB) for conditional, partial, or full exemption from paying school fees. Application forms can be obtained from the SGB through the school principal.

School's Responsibility

 Public schools are mandated to inform parents about the criteria and procedures for applying for fee exemptions. They must also assist parents in the application process.

Timely Decision 

The SGB must inform the applicant of the outcome of the application in writing within 7 days after assessing the exemption request.


If a parent is dissatisfied with the SGB's decision regarding full or partial exemption, they have the right to appeal to the Head of Department within 30 days of receiving the school's decision. Public schools are responsible for assisting parents in lodging appeals.

It is crucial for parents to actively participate in school meetings where the cost of school fees and criteria for exemptions are discussed. Importantly, the law prohibits school management from denying children access to education, school reports, or transfer certificates due to outstanding fees that parents are unable to pay.

Understanding and utilising the available mechanisms for fee exemptions ensures that every child has access to quality education, regardless of their family's financial circumstances. 

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