Understanding South Africa’s schooling system

Understanding the schooling system when emigrating to South Africa

Do you want to emigrate to South Africa? Do you have children? If so, understanding schooling in South Africa will undoubtedly be high on your priority list.

At times it can be difficult to find the relevant information, as everything is not always available in one place. Intergate however would like to try and make things a little easier for you. We’ve done the basic research and put everything together in this article.

You’ll find information on the following:

  • The South African Schools Act
  • Types of schools
  • South Africa’s three-tier education system
  • Enrollment requirements
  • School terms
  • Study visa

The South African Schools Act

The South African Schools Act of 1996 stipulates that all children between the ages of 7 and 15 are compelled to attend school. It is your responsibility as the parent to register your child for each academic year and to ensure that your child attend school.

Registration typically happens between June and October of each year. However, it is important to check the registration deadlines of individual provinces as it can vary, especially in the age of COVID-19.

Schooling happens mostly in English, but there are schools that also offer classes in the other official languages of South Africa.

The types of schools

There are three types of schools in South Africa:

  1. Private schools
  2. Public schools
  3. Government schools

Private schools are defined as ‘independent schools’ by the Act. These schools are privately governed and are not funded or aided by the government. Rather, they rely mainly on school fees which is generally quite high. It is widely accepted however that the money spent gives the learners access to education of a high standard.

Public schools receive some funding from government but are also dependent on school fees. Typically these schools also raise funds in other ways to provide a good learning experience. Thanks to the government’s assistance, the school fees for public schools are not as high as those of private schools.

Government schools are controlled by provincial education departments and subsidised by the South African government. These schools provide education for the country’s least affluent people.

From our experience, most foreign nationals choose private schooling for their children when relocating to South Africa.

South Africa’s three-tier education system

The South African education system is divided into three tiers:

  1. Primary school: Grade 0/1 to grade 7 (compulsory)
  2. Secondary school: Grade 8 to 9 (compulsory); grade 10 – 12 (non-compulsory)
  3. Tertiary education: Universities and technical colleges

Upon completion of grade 12, learners are awarded with a National Senior Certificate (NSC). This certificate serves as a school leaving certificate.

Enrolment requirements

To enrol your child in a school in South Africa, you will need to make an application to the school of your choice. This application will require standard documentation, required from all parents, as well as additional documentation, as you are a foreign national.

Standard documentation includes:

  • Passport copy of child and parent(s)
  • Your child’s birth certificate
  • Immunisation card
  • Transfer card or last school report card for learners who have been to school previously

If your child will be starting their schooling in South Africa in a public school, it is important to note the admission age:

  • For grade 0, also known as grade R, the child must be four years old, turning five by 30 June in the year of admission.
  • For grade 1, the child must be five years old, turning six by 30 June in the year of admission.

School terms

South African schools have four terms with the school year starting in January. The rest of the terms start in April, July and October.

Furthermore, inland schools and coastal schools run on different timelines for some terms. Inland schools are in the Free State, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, the North West and Limpopo. Coastal schools are in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Cape and Western Cape.

Please note: School terms were affected by COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021. For 2022, the Department of Education is planning ‘normal’ school terms but there is no telling how COVID might still affect school terms in the future.

Study Visa

Children of foreign parents cannot go to school in South Africa without a  study visa. You must thus apply for a study visa for your child when you emigrate to South Africa.

The important documentation for a study visa is:

  • A letter of provisional acceptance from a school
  • Unabridged birth certificate
  • Medical aid cover in South Africa

Please note that if the parents are not applying for temporary residency status to accompany the child, a guardian in South Africa will need to be assigned for the purposes of the application. This can be a friend or a family member or the headmaster if your child will be attending boarding school.

It is best to contact us for an assessment so that one of our immigration specialists can guide you on all these particulars.

Find out more about emigration to South Africa

If you would like to find out more about relocation to South Africa and the options available to you and your family, then please do not hesitate to get in touch with us!

Give us a call on +27 (0) 21 424 2460 or email us at info@intergate-immigration.com and an immigration expert with arrange a consult with you.

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Our team looks forward to hearing from you and assisting you with your immigration related matters!