Explaining school admission policies
Which criteria do South African schools use to sort through applicants, and what does the law say?

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Ever wondered how schools with a waiting list decide which applicants will make the cut?

What the law says

According to Education & Training Unit (ETU), the South African Schools Act states:

• 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 in the year they turn 5 and in Grade One in the year they turn 6.

• 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. Some common criteria include:

Catchment area. If there are no good schools in your area, consider moving into another neighbourhood or homeschooling your children.

Older siblings already at the school. This won't guarantee a placement for your younger children, but is generally a way in.

Date of application. For public schools, closing date for applications is normally the last day of the first term (for the following year). 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. 

Age. If a pupil is, say, 2 years older than the rest of the class, a school may decline the application.

Language proficiency. The pupil should be able to understand the language of tuition at the school.

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:

Certain oversubscribed schools and independent schools may be more choosy. Here are some extra conditions:

• 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.

• 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.

Sources: www.etu.org.za, paralegaladvice.org.zawww.education.gov.za

Also read: School admissions: how far would you go?

Has your child ever been denied placement in a school for no good reason?

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