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South African Schools Act, 1996 (Act No 84 of 1996)

National Norms and Standards for School Funding (NNSSF)

Part 1

2. Policy Framework


The right to education and the financial responsibility of the state


13) The Bill of Rights in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (No. 108 of 1996) establishes the right to education in these terms:

"Everyone has the right-

a) to a basic education, including adult basic education; and
b) to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures' must make progressively available and accessible" (Section 29(1)).


14) The South African Schools Act, 1996 came into effect on 1 January 1997. The principal objective of the Act is "to provide for a uniform system for the organisation, governance and funding of schools". In terms of the Act, schools cover learning programmes between grade 0 (better known as grade R. for "Reception") through to grade 12.


15) The SASA (Section 3) provides for compulsory attendance of learners at school between the ages of seven and 15 (or the completion of grade 9). This is known as the compulsory or General Education phase. Every provincial Member of the Executive Council for Education (MEC) is required to provide sufficient school places for every child in the compulsory attendance bracket. If this cannot be done because of a lack of capacity, the MEC must take steps to remedy the lack as soon as possible.


16) The Act imposes other important responsibilities on the state with respect to the funding of public schools. The basic principles of state funding of public schools derive from the constitutional guarantee of equality and recognition of the right of redress. The Act provides that:

"The State must fund public schools from public revenue on an equitable basis in order to ensure the proper exercise of the rights of learners to education and the redress of past inequalities in educational provision" (Section 34(1)).


17) These principles therefore underlie the national norms and standards for public school funding which the Minister is required to determine (Section 35).


18) The SASA follows the Constitution (Section 29(3)) in establishing the right of any person to establish and maintain an independent school at his or her own cost, and sets out the grounds on which a PED must register an independent school. The Constitution does not preclude state subsidies for independent education institutions. The Act empowers the Minister of Education to determine norms and minimum standards for the granting of subsidies to independent schools. Such subsidies may be granted by the MEC in a province (Sections 46, 48).


Personnel costs in Provincial Education Departments


19) Except in this section, this document does not deal with personnel costs in Provincial Education Departments.


Policy targets


20) The Ministry of Education's personnel policy for schools embodies these key principles:
a) schools must be supplied with an adequate number of educator and non-educator personnel
b) such staff members must be equitably distributed according to the pedagogical requirements of the schools, and
c) the cost of personnel establishments must also be sustainable within provincial budgets.


21) As a policy target, based on both local and international evidence, the Ministry of Education has determined that personnel/non-personnel spending in ordinary public schools should be of the order of 80:20.


22) Progress toward meeting the personnel: non-personnel target must be assessed by Provincial Education Departments in the course of preparing each year's updated MTEF. A reduction in the proportion of the education budget spent on personnel must result in an actual increase in budgeted expenditure on pedagogically critical non-personnel items (such as new school construction, provision of essential services, supply of books and other learning support materials, and educator development).


23) Within the total personnel allocation in PEDS, teaching personnel costs should be targeted at 85%, to allow for the appointment and proper distribution of administrative and support staff in Provincial Education Departments.


24) The Department of Education (DOE) will work with Provincial Education Departments, using existing databases, to ensure that they can track the number and location of personnel engaged in teaching and non-teaching activities, in order to assist planning towards this target.


Educator personnel


25) Aside from the above general policy targets, this document does not norm the allocation of educator personnel, either in a province generally, or in teaching posts at or in connection with schools.


26) The Minister of Education determines national policy in respect of educator post provisioning, in terms of the National Education Policy Act, 1996 (No. 27 of 1996). The educator post establishment in each province is determined by the MEC, subject to national norms prescribed for the provisioning of posts (Employment of Educators Act, 1998 (No. 76 of 1998), Section 5(1)).


27) The Minister determines norms in respect of posts to be allocated to public schools, in relation to their curriculum and other circumstances, which the Head of Department must follow in distributing the available posts within the approved education establishment of a PED.


28) The Ministry's personnel and funding policies aim to remove inequities in the distribution of public resources for education, both across provinces and within provinces. The logical direction of policy is that personnel allocation costs to schools should be funded, eventually, on the basis of an equitable cost per learner, in order to address more efficiently the aim of redress and equity in the provision of quality education. However, these norms and the funding practices of PEDS are not yet based on a strict equitable cost per learner.


Non-teaching personnel at school level


29) The allocation of non-teaching staff to schools, including administrative and support staff, is extremely uneven. The provision of such personnel has been severely lacking in historically disadvantaged and small schools. Inequalities in the provision of such staff members is almost certainly associated with major inefficiencies in schools which serve poor communities.


30) The Minister of Education is responsible for determining norms for the provision of non-educator personnel, including non-teaching personnel at school level.


Targeting expenditure for redress, equity and quality


31) Effecting redress and equity in school funding, with a view to progressively improving the quality of school education, within a framework of greater efficiency in organising and providing education services, are matters of urgent priority for the Ministry of Education. The Preamble to the South African Schools Act, 1996 states that:

"...this country requires a new national system for schools which will redress past injustices in educational provision, provide an education of progressively high quality for all learners and in so doing lay a strong foundation for the development of all our people's talents and capabilities..."


32) To achieve these objectives in a systematic manner requires new systems of budgeting and spending for schools.


33) In terms of our Constitution and the government's budgeting procedure, the Ministry of Education does not decide on the amounts to be allocated annually for Provincial Education Departments. This is the responsibility of provincial governments and legislatures, which must make appropriations to their education departments from the total revenue resources available to their provinces. Thus, each province determines its own level of spending on education, in relation to its overall assessment of needs and resources.


34) It follows that national norms for funding schools cannot prescribe actual minimum amounts in Rands to be spent per learner, however desirable that might be.


35) From the 1998/99 financial year, the national and provincial budgets have been prepared within the MTEF, which enables government outlays to be planned on a three-year rolling basis.


36) An important assumption underlying these national norms is that the national and provincial levels of government will honour the state's duty, in terms of the Constitution and the SASA, to progressively provide resources to safeguard the right to education of all South Africans. However, educational needs are always greater than the budgetary provision for education. To effect redress and improve equity, therefore, public spending on schools must be specifically targeted to the needs of the poorest. This will apply to both the General Education (grades 1-9) and the Further Education and Training (grades 10-12) phases.


Fee charging and exemption policy in public schools


School fees and equity


37) The SASA imposes a responsibility on all public school governing bodies to do their utmost to improve the quality of education in their schools by raising additional resources to supplement those which the state provides from public funds (Section 36). All parents, but particularly those who are less poor or who have good incomes, are thereby encouraged to increase their own direct financial and other contributions to the quality of their children's education in public schools. The Act does not interfere unreasonably with parents' discretion under the law as to how to spend their own resources on their children's education.


38) Ironically, given the emphasis on redress and equity, the funding provisions of the Act appear to have worked thus far to the advantage of public schools patronised by middle-class and wealthy parents. The apartheid regime favoured such communities with high-quality facilities, equipment and resources. Vigorous fund-raising by parent bodies, including commercial sponsorships and fee income, have enabled many such schools to add to their facilities, equipment and learning resources, and expand their range of cultural and sporting activities. Since 1995, when such schools have been required to down-size their staff establishments, many have been able to recruit additional staff on governing body contracts, paid from the school fund.


39) Poor people, on the other hand, especially in former homeland areas, have contributed a disproportionate share of their incomes over many decades to the building, upkeep and improvement of schools, through school funds and other contributions, including physical labour. All too many schools in poor rural and urban working-class communities still suffer the legacy of large classes, deplorable physical conditions, and absence of learning resources, despite various school building programmes. Yet the educators and learners in poor schools are expected to achieve the same levels of learning and teaching as their compatriots.


40) Such contradictions within the same public school system reflect past discriminatory investment in schooling, and vast current disparities in the personal income of parents. The present document addresses these inequalities by establishing a sharply progressive state funding policy for ordinary public schools, which favours poor communities.


Parents' responsibility


41) All public school governing bodies are obliged by the Act to support their schools financially as best they can. The Act provides that a governing body must -

"take all reasonable measures within its means to supplement the resources provided by the State in order to improve the quality of education provided by the school to all learners at the school" (Section 36).


42) However, in fulfilling their obligation to raise supplementary resources, governing bodies are not required to charge school fees. Whether or not to charge school fees is a matter for the parents of the schools, where schools have not been declared no fee schools in terms of these norms and Section 39(7) of the Act¹. The Act links the question of fees to the budget of the school, which the governing body must present to a general meeting of parents for approval. The intention is that the governing body will give the parents all necessary information about the school's income, from the state and other sources, and its educational needs. Parents will then decide what additional revenue the school needs for educational purposes, and how that revenue is to be raised, including whether or not fees are to be charged.


43) At the parents' general meeting, any resolution that proposes fee payment must include the amount of fees to be charged, and "equitable criteria and procedures for the total, partial or conditional exemption of parents who are unable to pay" the fees (Section 39(2)). In making its decisions, therefore, the parent body must take into account, as far as is practicable, the financial circumstances of all the parents, taken as a whole. The Ministry expects that more affluent, or less poor, parent communities will contribute proportionally more, because state funding per learner in their schools will be less than in schools serving poorer communities. In no fee schools, parents may not set compulsory school fees, and the school may not levy such fees. This is to protect households in the socio-economically least advantaged sections of society.


¹ Section 1(xiv) of the Act defines "parent" as-

a) the parent or guardian of a learner;
b) the person legally entitled to custody of a learner; or
c) the person who undertakes to fulfil the obligations of a person referred to in paragraphs (a) or (b) towards the learner's education at school.


44) A parent body, taking into account its circumstances, may decide to charge no fees at all, even if parents have the right to determine compulsory school fees. In such a case the question of exemptions does not arise. Another parent body may decide to set a small fee, so that no parent needs to be exempted. In most public schools where parents decide to charge fees, parents' ability to pay fees may vary considerably. In such cases, difficult decisions must be taken about the level of fees, and an equitable threshold for exemption from fee-paying.


45) Parents of learners at a public school, therefore, carry serious responsibilities with respect to the determination of a school's budget, its sources of revenue, and (if fees are charged) the level of fees and the conditions for exemption of parents from fee paying. Furthermore, if a majority of parents vote in favour of school fees, each parent is responsible for paying the required fee, unless an exemption has been granted, and unless the school has been declared a no fee school. But no learner can be denied admission, or otherwise discriminated against, on grounds of the parent's inability or failure to pay fees.


46) The Ministry of Education monitors all aspects of the implementation of the South African Schools Act, 1996, in order to assess to what extent its objectives are being met. In particular, the effect of the new budget allocation policy on the current inequalities in school provision, the levels of fee charging by public schools, and the uses to which such income is put, are all important matters of legitimate concern to the Ministry and the public, which must be kept under review.


State subsidies to independent schools


The independent school sector


47) Independent schools vary substantially in age, size, location, socioeconomic status, facilities, staff, mission, governance, representivity, religious or secular identity, community service, cost structure, endowments, financial viability, rates of fees, and quality of teaching and learning. It is impossible to generalise about them. Many deliver valuable educational services and have loyal clienteles. Others deliver services of low quality and exploit the ignorance of parents. Some pride themselves on conservative principles of governance and teaching. Others value innovation. Some have an inward focus. Others have a deliberate mission of social concern and professional co-operation with public schools serving the poor.


48) Independent school enrolment amounts to about two percent of total school enrolment nation-wide. This percentage may be increasing. Within provinces, independent school enrolments vary from a fraction of a percent of total school enrolment, to several times the national average. If all learners were to transfer to public schools, the cost of public education in certain provinces might increase by as much as five percent.


49) The practice of granting state subsidies to registered independent schools (previously known as private schools) is well established in South Africa. Subsidies have typically been calculated as a defined fraction of the cost per learner in the public school system. Before 1994, independent schools were required to register with the respective education departments of the apartheid state, among which the cost per learner was grossly unequal. Therefore, state subsidies to independent schools reflected the pattern of race-based inequality in the public (state and state-aided) school systems under apartheid.


50) Race-based inequalities in subsidies to independent schools have been eliminated since 1994. Since then, subsidy levels have differed somewhat by province. But extreme pressure on the non-salary components of provincial education budgets, especially in 1997/98 and 1998/99, has resulted in a sharp decline in the per learner value of independent school subsidies, and considerable uncertainty as to the future trend of independent school funding by provincial education authorities.


51) Fees in independent schools have tended to rise in response to subsidy cuts. Some independent school proprietors have applied for schools to be taken over by Provincial Education Departments, as public schools on private property, in terms of Section 14 of the Act. PEDS have been slow to comply.


52) The Government is grappling with the necessity to stabilise and reprioritise provincial education budgets, in terms of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework. The serious reality underlying the new policy for school funding is that, for the foreseeable future, provincial education budgets will be extremely constrained, especially with respect to non-personnel allocations, out of which subsidies are paid.


Subsidy policy


53) The Ministry of Education cannot determine subsidy levels in monetary (Rand) terms because, under our Constitution, budget decisions of that kind are made within provincial governments. For this reason, the national norms for independent school subsidies are expressed as criteria of eligibility for subsidy, and principles of allocation. These criteria and principles are consistent with the values underlying the Constitution and the Act.


54) The Ministry of Education bases its subsidy policy on the fiscal argument, and on social grounds. The fiscal argument is as follows. The state has a constitutional and statutory responsibility to provide school education to all learners. However, the right of reputable, registered independent schools to exist is protected by the Constitution, and the payment of subsidies to them is not precluded. Such independent schools perform a service to their learners that would otherwise have to be performed by the Provincial Education Departments. Public subsidies to such schools cost the state considerably less per learner than if the same learners enrolled in public schools. It is, therefore, cost efficient for the state to provide a subsidy.


55) In South Africa, the fiscal argument is an important but not a sufficient basis for national policy. Given the extreme inequalities and backlogs in the provision of public education and the pressure on public education budget allocations, the national policy on public subsidies to independent schools must serve explicit social purposes.


56) Subsidy allocations, therefore, must show preference for independent schools that are well managed, provide good education, serve poor communities and individuals, and are not operated for profit. Such criteria must be capable of measurement according to objective, transparent, and verifiable criteria.