Explaining school admission policies
Ever wondered how schools with a waiting list decide which applicants will make the cut?
What the law says about school admission policies in South Africa:
- The governing body of a public school must determine the admission policy of that school.
- For both state and private school, no one can be refused admission on the basis of race or religion.
- All children between the ages of 5 and 15 have to go to school.
- For both state and private schools, children can be accepted in Grade R at the earliest in the year they turn 5, but generally they're accepted into Grade R in the year they turn 6, and Grade 1 in the year they turn 7.
- No one registering at a State school can be charged a registration fee or asked to pay fees up front.
- No child can be refused entry to a state school because his or her parents have not paid school fees in the past.
- Where possible children should be given access to a state school within 5 km of their home. In some provinces government assists learners with transport when they live more than 5 km from school.
General criteria at state schools
Every school's admission policy should be transparent, so do call the school or visit their website to find out exactly what it is, even when your baby is still in nappies. Please note that in Gauteng, since the introduction of their online application process via Gateng-online, the admissions are vetted by the provincial department and not the schools themselves.
Some common criteria, in no specific order, are:
1. Catchment area
If there are no good schools in your area, consider moving into another neighbourhood or homeschooling your children.
2. Older siblings already at the school
This won't guarantee a placement for your younger children, but is generally a way in.
3. Date of application
For state schools, closing date for applications is normally the last day of the first term (for the following year). Check the websites of your chosen schools for exact details. For private schools, it's best to apply while you're still expecting! Make sure all the documents and photos are attached and forms are properly filled out.
If a pupil is 3 years older than the normal age of the grade, a school may decline the application but the HOD must establish a fast-track programme for such a learner.
5. Language proficiency
The pupil should be able to understand the language of tuition at the school.
6. Passing the previous grade
Pupils may be asked for their latest report card (for older grades), as well as a discipline record (code of conduct).
Additional criteria at private schools:
Certain independent schools are more choosy. Here are some extra conditions we've heard of:
• Pupils may be required to attend an interview or open/enrolment evening.
• A former association with the school (usually private) – your child's dad and his dad are former pupils, for instance, or you teach at the school.
• An entrance exam may be mandatory for certain prestigious private schools. But by law no state school is allowed to make learners sit tests to determine admission.
• Proven achievement in academics, sport, arts, leadership, culture and community service.
• Applicants with a bursary or scholarship may enjoy preference.
What to do if you're told a state school is full:
- Ask the principal if the school had been officially declared full by the Education Department.
- Ask to see the letter which says the school is full.
- If there is no letter then the school must accept the child.
- 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 child in the nearest school to where he or she lives.
Also read: School admissions: how far would you go?
Has your child ever been denied placement in a school for no good reason? Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org for possible publication. Please indicate if you would like to remain anonymous.