By Lee-Ann Collingridge

So far we have examined the roles of school principals and governing bodies, and explained how no-fees schools work. In the third of our schools articles we discuss the categorisation of schools for the purpose of government funding.

For the last 17 years, all public schools in South Africa have been funded according to the category they have been allocated by the national education department.

But that is about to change – as government has found the quintile system too complicated and difficult to manage.

In September 2013 the government’s news service, SANews, reported that basic education minister Angie Motshekga plans to do away with the quintile system in favour of a two-category system. Motshekga said the two-category system would classify a school as either a no-fee school or a fee-paying school.

According to SANews, Motshekga argued that it had become difficult to categorise schools into the different quintiles, as this was based on many different criteria – from the type of sanitation a school had, to whether it had a library – and that in some areas, the question often came down to whether parents could afford to pay or not.

Motshekga said the implementation of the new system would, however, depend on the availability of funding.

The minister said though the quintile system would no longer be used on funding decisions, it would be retained to help inform the department on aspects such as post provisioning, possible performance awards for schools and other programmes such as school nutrition and transport.

No-fees schools, and exemption from paying fees

The quintile system allocated all government schools into one of five categories, with quintile 1 schools designating the poorest institutions while quintile 5 denoted the least poor public schools. The quintile to which a school was assigned was based on the rates of income, unemployment and illiteracy within the school’s catchment area.

Learners in 1, 2 and 3 got a much bigger subsidy from the government (of R1 010 this year) compared with learners in quintile 4 schools who got on average half of that (R505 this year) and learners in quintile 5 who got roughly only 10% of that (R174 this year). Quintile 4 and 5 schools were expected to supplement their state allocation through the charging of school fees and fund-raising.

The quintile system was part of the National Norms and Standards introduced in 1998 to improve equity in education, as lack of money can be a barrier to schooling in South Africa where the majority of children live in poverty. The government also introduced two more policies – the School Fee Exemption and the No-fee Schools policy – to make education affordable to poor children.

The no-fee schools policy was introduced in 2007 and was designed to ensure schools could not charge learners from Grade R to Grade 9 (the compulsory school age) school fees (nor any registration, administration or any other fee). Learners in Grades 10 to 12 however must pay fees, even if they live in the poorest intake areas. This is in line with the Constitution, which stipulates that citizens have the right to basic education regardless of the availability of resources.

Initially 40% of the country’s poorest schools (those in quintile 1 and 2) were designated no-fee schools. In 2011, the classification was expanded to include quintile 3 schools.

No-fees schools were allocated more money by government than quintile 4 and 5 schools to make up for the fees that they would have charged. The allocation is intended to cover non-personnel, non capital expenditure items as government is responsible for paying the salaries of teachers and support staff, and also for building schools and classrooms.

The state allocation is calculated by multiplying the learner allocation for the quintile by the number of registered learners in a school.

Quintile 4 and 5 schools get much less money from the government as they are allowed to supplement their revenue by charging school fees. The school governing body decides the amount of fees a school levies annually.