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The current legal position pertaining to school fees | WJvR Inc

Over the past four months your child’s class room has been replaced by the household laptop and you can’t help but sit back and wonder – “Should I still be paying for my child’s school fees even though my child isn’t getting the full schooling experience?” “What happens if I lose my job or get a salary cut – will my child’s education be jeopardized because I can’t afford to pay school fee’s anymore?”

Let’s start with the basics to break it down for you – does your child attend a public school or a private school?

The position relating to public schools

Public schooling is governed by legislation – namely the South African Schools Act.

The Schools Act prohibits the refusal of admission, suspension or expulsion of a learner due to the non-payment of schools fees to ensure that a child is not deprived of their basic right to education.

Simply put, this means that should you be unable to pay for your child’s school fees whilst attending a public school your child will still be allowed to attend school.

An important section which comes in to play in this regard is section 40 of the Schools Act which states that “parents of learners in public schools can be exempt from the payment of school fees to the extent that they are unable to pay.”

This means that if you are struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic you are in your full right to apply to the Head of the School Governing Body for exemption from paying school fees in terms of section 40 of the Schools Act. Depending on whether you have suffered a reduction in salary or become unemployed the exemption may be partial or in full.

The position relating to private schools

Unlike public schools, private schooling is governed by the contractual relationship between the school and the parent of the learner.

This means that a private school will have more remedies at its disposal to enforce the payment of school fees – should you be unable or unwilling to pay.

This means that depending on the contract with your child’s school the school may be entitled to prevent your child from returning to the school should you default on the payment of your child’s school fees.

It was however emphasized in the case of NM v John Wesley School in the KwaZulu-Natal Division of the High Court that before a private school enforces their contractual rights in recovering arrear school fees and excluding learners they must always as a starting point consider the best interests of the child standard.

This means that if your child is attending a private school and you have been unable to pay their school fees the school should first enquire into the reason for the default on school fees and thereafter to consult with you as the parent to attempt make provision for alternative re-payment of the outstanding school fees to minimize any adverse impact on your child’s education.

In summary

The most important thing to do during these times is to speak up – whether your child attends a public or a private school.

If your child attends a public school speak up and ask for exemption from school fees should you be struggling financially.

If your child attends a private school and you are worried about how you are going to pay for your child’s schools fees during these times speak up and attempt to mutually engage with the school to make alternative payment arrangements for your child’s school fees.


Article by Nicole Smith & Carel Dauth

Centurion Office

58 Lyttelton Road, Clubview,
Centurion, Gauteng

Tel: 012 643 0004
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Email: info@wjvrlaw.co.za