The Department of Basic Education says that children in South Africa are increasingly being taken out of private schools and sent to public schools as parents face mounting economic hardships.

In a presentation to the portfolio committee on Basic Education this week, the department Simone Geyer noted that the number of applications from parents who can no longer pay private school fees has increased in 2023 – placing strain on the government’s public school system.

Parents and guardians face financial strain due to increasing interest rates, heightened inflation and stagnant household income. This forces many to look for alternatives to private schools for their children.

Geyer said that parents in Gauteng and the Westen Cape have been particularly hard-hit by this trend, and can no longer afford private school fees due to financial distress.

These additional students not only add further strain to the government’s placement system but also give the department additional issues – such as parents not accepting the placements offered by the department as they have other placements in mind.

Parents who can still afford private school fees can decline the public school placements offered and send their children to private schools.

A slideshow used in the meeting said that the parents who rejected government school placements in favour of private schools in 2022 are returning to the public school placement system in 2023 due to the inability to pay for private school fees.

Geyer said that the department needs to look at the trend of students moving from private schools to government schools to establish the extent that the phenomenon has on public schooling.

“Middle-class parents moving away from private schools to public schools placed an unprecedented pressure (on the system),” the Department Director-General Hubert Mathanzima Mweli said.

The movement of students from private to government schools and inward migration from other provinces were the main issues facing Gauteng and the Western Cape’s school systems. 

As of 2 February, Gauteng and Western Cape had the most unplaced learners, with 4,682 and 1,579, respectively. However, Geyer said that both provinces indicated that the number of unplaced learners had declined since last week’s statistics.

Private school issues 

The movement of students has negatively affected the finances of private schools across South Africa.

The latest School Survey conducted by TPN Credit Bureau showed that 40% of private schools reported having fewer learners this year compared to the previous year.

According to the head of marketing at TPN Credit Bureau, Waldo Marcus, school fees are the main source of income for 95% of private schools.

Marcus said that the higher fees charged at private schools are unaffordable for many South African parents as households review their priorities.

In addition, 31% of private schools indicated that they had lost more students to emigration than in previous years.

However, both government and private schools are negatively affected by the number of school fee accounts that are in good standing steadily declining. The survey showed that 62.57% of school fee accounts were in good standing at the end of 2022 -compared to 63.75% at the end of 2021.

Marcus added that it was a particular concern that 25% of parents did make a single payment towards school fees in 2022.

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