Summary of the South African Schools Act, no. 84 of 1996

posted by / Monday, 04 August 2014 / Published in Latest posts, POLICY PAPERS

By: Department of Basic Education


This Act makes sure that there is a uniform system governing schools. It sets out the laws for governance and funding of schools. The Act recognises that a new national system for schools is needed to redress past injustices, and it supports the rights of learners, educators and parents and sets out the duties and responsibilities of the State.


Compulsory Attendance

Parents must make sure that children go to school. Learners (or pupils) are required to attend school from the first school day in their seventh year until the last school day in their fifteenth year (or to complete the ninth grade)

The State must make sure that there are enough school places so that every child can go to school. If there is a lack of capacity, the State must take steps to remedy the situation.

If a learner fails to attend a school, the Head of Department may investigate and take appropriate measures. If the child continues to be absent, a written notice must be issued to the parent.


Admission to Public Schools

The admission policy of a public school is determined by the governing body, but they must admit learners without unfairly discriminating. Learners may not be tested in any way before being admitted, and no child may be refused admission because of inability to pay school fees.

The Minister may determine age requirements for the admission of learners to a school or different grades at a school.

If an application is refused, the Head of Department must inform the parent in writing, giving reasons for the refusal.

Refused admission to a public school may be appealed.


Language Policy of Public Schools

The Minister of Education has the right to determine norms and standards for language policy in public schools, and the governing body of a school sets out the language policy of the school to abide with norms and standards.

No form of racial discrimination may be practiced in implementing policy determined under this section.

A recognised sign language has the status of an official language for purposes of learning at a public school.


Curriculum and Assessment

The Minister establishes the national curriculum statement indicating the minimum outcomes or standards and the process and procedures for the assessment (or examination) of a learner.

These apply to both public and independent schools.


Religion, Code of conduct and Representative Councils of Learners

Learners have the right to practice or observe religious actions at public schools.

A governing body of a public school must adopt a code of conduct aimed at establishing a disciplined and productive environment, dedicated to quality learning. It should also safeguard the interests of the learner and any other party involved in disciplinary proceedings.

A representative council of learners must be established at every public school enrolling learners in the eighth grade or higher.

A learner must be accompanied by a parent or suitable adult at disciplinary proceedings, unless good cause is shown for the absence of a parent or adult.

Witnesses under the age of 18 may be assisted by an intermediary if they find giving testimony at disciplinary proceedings overly stressful. This means that any examination of the witness must take place through the intermediary. They should also ensure that the environment puts the witness at ease, and that any persons who distress the witness are absent.


Suspension and Expulsion from Public Schools

After a fair hearing, the governing body may suspend a learner from the school, but for no longer than one week. A learner who has been suspended may not go to school.

A public school learner may be expelled only by the Head of the Education Department for serious misconduct (assessed at a fair hearing). Expulsions may be appealed through the provincial department of education.

The Head of Department must make an alternative arrangement for the learner’s placement at another public school.


Public Schools

Provincial government must establish and maintain public schools for the education of learners, including learners with special education needs. Reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that there are physical facilities for disabled persons. The State has the right to set up gender-specific schools, and may also merge two or more public schools if it is in the interests of education. In the case of a merger, proper procedure must be followed and the schools concerned and the general public must be consulted.

Public schools can occupy either State or private land, which must be used for the purposes of education. The rights of private land owners must be respected and an agreement on the use of the property should be drawn up.


Governance and professional management of public schools

Every public school must be governed by a governing body, which stands in a position of trust towards the school. The professional management must be undertaken by a principal authorised by the government. The State may close a public school temporarily in the case of an emergency, and, if it is in the interests of education, a governing body may serve two or more schools. The State also reserves the right to dissolve a governing body if it is not performing its functions.The governing body is made of the principal and elected persons with an interest in the school, including representatives of parents, learners (in the eight grade or higher), educators, other school staff, with parents receiving the most representation. The position of chairperson must be occupied by a parent member of the governing body. Proper procedure for election of members must be followed.The governing body may also co-opt members, including, where relevant, members of the community and experts in the field of special needs education. Co-opted members do not have voting rights. Schools dedicated entirely to special needs have special membership laws, ensuring adequate representation of interests.Members may be reimbursed for any costs incurred while carrying out the functions of the governing body, but no member is allowed to receive payment of any kind.There are various regulations regarding the constitution and code of conduct of a governing body, and failure to observe these may result in loss of membership.A governing body may budget for and establish more posts for educators (or teachers) and other staff than is required by the law. The educators must be registered with the South African Council of Educators, but the State is not regarded as their employer.



The State has a duty to fund public schools on an equitable basis, and it must give adequate information to schools on the funding they can expect each year. The Minister of Education must determine norms and minimum standards for funding.

The governing body must establish a school fund and is responsible for supplementing State funds to improve the quality of education, but it may not take out any loans without government approval. Money in the school fund can only be used for school and educational purposes. The money cannot be redirected into any form of trust fund.

The governing body must keep proper financial records of the school’s activities and submit an audit report (conducted by an independent and registered accountant and auditor) on a yearly basis.

The governing body must also prepare a budget for parent inspection and approval every year.


School fees

If the majority of the parents of a school agree to it, school fees may be charged, and conditions for the amount and for potential exemption must be set.

Parents with learners attending such schools will have to pay school fees, and the governing body has the right to enforce payment through legal procedures. Parents may appeal to government if they disagree with conditions set by the governing body with regard to school fees.


Independent (Private) Schools

Any person has the right to set up and run an independent school, provided it is registered. A school will only be registered if:

  • the admission policy is not discriminatory on the grounds of race;
  • the standards are not inferior to public school standards; and
  • it complies with any other conditions set by government.

Independent schools may be eligible for State subsidies if they meet norms and minimum standards. If the owner of an independent school agrees to it, the school may become a public school.

Provincial government must set out requirements for independent schools in the interests of quality education and allow a reasonable period of time for comment. The requirements are published in the Government Gazette and usually apply to the admission of their learners to examinations conducted under the supervision of the education department, the keeping of registers and other documents and eligibility for subsidies. These requirements may differ from school to school.


General Provisions

The State has the right to expropriate land for the educational-related purposes, but it must follow proper procedure before doing so.

All schools must make information available to any person if the information is related to the protection of the person’s rights.

The State is liable for any damage or loss caused as a result of any act of omission in connection with educational activity at a public school.

The Minister of Education reserves the right to make regulations related to education and to delegate powers.


Link to DBE Full Report