Feeder zone changes and no entrance exams allowed – updated policies for school admissions in South Africa

The Department of Basic Education has called for comments on its draft admission policy for ordinary public schools in South Africa.

The draft policy, which is open for public comment until 12 March, aims to provide all provincial departments of education and the governing bodies of all ordinary public schools with a framework for developing admission policies for schools.

If passed, it will replace the current admissions policy for schools which has been in place since 1998. This means that a large number of existing policies remain in place, while other issues are further expanded upon or touched on for the first time.

Some of the key parts of the policy are outlined in more detail below.


It is particularly important that all eligible learners of compulsory school going age are accommodated in ordinary public schools.

Therefore, where space is limited and learners of pre-school going age have also applied for admission to an ordinary public school, preference must be given to learners of compulsory school-going age.


The admission policy of an ordinary public school and the administration of admissions by a provincial education department must not unfairly discriminate in any way against an applicant for admission including but not limited to race, gender, sex, marital status, ethnicity or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, HIV status, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language, birth, immigration status or nationality or any other arbitrary ground


A learner must be admitted to the total school programme and may not be suspended from classes, denied access to cultural, sporting or social activities of the school, denied a school report or transfer certificates, or otherwise victimised on the grounds that his or her parent:

  • Is unable to pay or has not paid the required school fees;
  • Does not subscribe to the mission statement and code of conduct of the school;
  • Has refused to enter into a contract in terms of which the parent waives any claim for damages arising out of the education of the learner.

Entrance tests

The governing body of an ordinary public school may not administer any test relating to the admission of a learner to an ordinary public school, or direct or authorise the principal of the school or any person to administer such a test.

Where placement in a specific course or programme, e.g. technical field of study, dance or music, is required and where it would be in the educational interest of a learner, he or she may be requested by the governing body to undertake a suitable test to assist in a placement decision.


No learner may be refused admission to a public school-based solely on a language policy of that public school, and the power to determine the language policy of the school must be exercised with due regard to the values of the Constitution,

These should take into consideration of what is fair, reasonably practicable, equity and the need to redress the results of the past discriminatory laws and practices.

Age requirements 

The admission age of a learner to a public school to:

  • Grade R is age four turning five by 30 June in the year of admission;
  • Grade 1 is age five turning six by 30 June in the year of admission.

If a learner has been admitted to an ordinary public school at an age above the age requirements provided in paragraph 29 such learner must, as far as possible, be placed in a fast track facility, or with his or her peer group, unless it is not in the educational interest of the learner.

In the latter case, the learner must be placed in a suitable lower grade, and an accelerated programme must be worked out for the learner to enable him or her to catch up with the peer group as soon as possible.

A learner who is 16 years of age or older and who has never attended school and who is seeking admission for the first time or did not make sufficient progress with his or her peer group, must be advised to enrol at an Adult Education and Training (AET) centre.

Repeating a year

In principle, learners should progress with their age cohort, the department said.

It explained that this is because the repetition of grades seldom results in significant increases in learning attainment and frequently has the opposite result.

The norm for repetition is one year per school phase, where necessary. Multiple repetitions in one grade are not permissible, it said.

It added that this norm is not to be construed as promoting the practice of automatic promotion.

“A learner’s needs must be attended to through the efforts of the learner, and his or her teachers, with support from the learner’s family and peers,” it said.

School zoning 

The Head of Department may, after consultation with the governing bodies, determine feeder zones for ordinary public schools, to control the learner numbers of schools and co-ordinate parental preferences.

These feeder zones do not need be to geographically adjacent to the school or each other.

Issues that need to be considered when establishing a school zone include:

  • The capacity of the school and schools in the area to accommodate learners;
  • The language and curricula offered at the school and the schools in the vicinity;
  • Information and projections regarding area population density, leaner population density and learner enrolment; and
  • The need for geographical and spatial transformation.

Preference must be given to a learner who lives in the feeder zone of a school or has a sibling in the school or whose parent’s work address is in the feeder of the school.

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 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 should be recommended. If that is not possible, school A must admit the learner.

Preference with regard to the order of admission is as follows:

  • Learners whose parent lives in the feeder zone of the school;
  • Learners who have a sibling in the school in the year for which admission is sought;
  • Learners whose parent’s work address is in the feeder area; or
  • Other learners: first come, first served.

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Feeder zone changes and no entrance exams allowed – updated policies for school admissions in South Africa