5 school admission policy mythbusters
Clearing up misunderstandings about school admission policies.
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If your child is asked to take a test in order to apply for admission to a public school in South Africa, that school is undermining departmental guidelines by testing learners for admission purposes. This is just one example of the ways in which a child may be discriminated against when applying for a preferred school. In case you are wondering what the rules are when it comes to applying to a school for your child, here are some of the departmental regulations:

Testing

No child may be tested as part of an applications process to a public school in South Africa. “The governing body of a public school may not administer any test relating to the admission of a learner to a public school, or direct or authorise the principal of the school or any person to administer such a test.”*

The only exception to this is in the event that a child is applying for a specific technical field of study such as dance or music.

Admissions application form
On application, which schools should advise parents should be done before the end of the preceding school year, the school must provide the parent with an application form, form explaining the admission policy and the code of conduct for learners.

Vaccinations and inoculations

UPDATED: 15/01: Editor: Please note, this section has been updated to include the information that vaccination/immunisation, while being a requirement, is also subject to other guidelines. Without this info, the article in its previous state did not present adequate information on the topic. Apologies, SD.

When applying for admission, a parent must show proof that the learner “has been immunised against the following communicable diseases: polio, measles, tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus and hepatitis B. If a parent is unable to show proof of immunisation, the principal must advise the parent on having the learner immunised as part of the free primary health care programme”*.

Updated: Should parents not have the relevant documents, the principal must assist the parents in obtaining the documents, and this may not interfere with the child's admission to the school. In addition, the child's right to be be admitted may not be subject to discrimination especially when it pertains to vaccination. As a reader has pointed out, the school's codes of conduct are secondary to the Constitution, so a child can refuse to sign the code of conduct, for example, and still be admitted. Also, according to the Mail and Guardian, the Bill of Rights provides certain provisos for children, especially in the area of vaccination, in that it states that neither “the State” nor “any person” may “unfairly discriminate, directly or indirectly, against anyone on one or more grounds” including “religion”, “conscience” and “belief”.

School zoning and feeder zones

One of the most controversial aspects to the admissions process is the zoning system. Much confusion exists on whether or not it’s an official system and, if so, where the so-called “feeder zones” can be viewed. Many parents are suspicious that the system is abused in order to deny access to learners, so here are the facts according to the Department of Education:

•    “A Head of Department, after consultation with representatives of governing bodies, may determine feeder zones for ordinary public schools in order to control the learner numbers of schools and coordinate parental preferences. Such feeder zones need not be geographically adjacent to the school or each other.
•    If a feeder zone is created: preference must be given to a learner who lives in the feeder zone of a school or who resides with his or her parents at an employer’s home in the feeder zone;
•    A learner who lives outside the feeder zone is not precluded from seeking admission at whichever school he or she chooses.
•    However, access to a chosen school cannot be guaranteed;
•    A learner who lives within the feeder zone of a school A must be referred to the neighbouring school B, if school A is oversubscribed. If school B is oversubscribed, an alternative school within a reasonable distance must be found by the Head of Department. If that is not possible, school A must admit the learner;
•    The preference order of admission is:-
•    (i) learners whose parents live in the feeder zone, in their own domicile or their employer’s domicile;
•    (ii) learners whose parent’s work address is in the feeder area; or
•    (iii) other learners: first come first served.
•    A school with a specific field of study, e.g. a technical school, must have much larger feeder zones to accommodate learners with specific aptitudes, interests or needs.” *

In other words, a “map” of feeder zones differs from school to school, so parents would need to ask the relevant school for their feeder zone description. This is important: some parents have even moved houses in order to get into a specific feeder zone only to find that their address is one road out of the zone.

*From the Department of Education National Education Policy Act, 1996, Admission Policy for Ordinary Public Schools

“Help, I’m broke! Will the school discriminate against me?”

A school may NOT refuse a learner admission to the public school on the grounds that the child’s parents are unable to pay the school fees or have not paid the school fees as determined by the governing body or the parent refuses to sign a waiver against any damages arising out of the education of the learners. The child may also not be discriminated against if the parent refuses to subscribe to the mission statement of the school.

Age is not just a number

According to national policy on the admission of learners to public schools, they must be admitted according in this way: the figure six is subtracted from the age that the child reaches during the current academic year, and that is the grade that the learner must be placed in: so a seven-year-old child would be admitted to grade one, for example, according to the Pestalozzi Trust.

The Department of Education (and the schools) are all compelled to ensure that the learner is not discriminated against, but that the child’s education is provided for in accordance with the Constitution of South Africa.

Have you ever had a problem when applying to a public school?

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