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38% of SA parents behind on school fees, with many private schools losing pupils – survey

Due to increased financial pressure on parents, private schools struggle to fill classes with enough learners.


Due to increased financial pressure on parents, private schools struggle to fill classes with enough learners.

  • At the end of 2022, less than 62% of school fee accounts were in good standing compared to almost 64% at the end of 2021.
  • This is according to a new survey by the credit bureau group TPN.
  • While 40% of private schools reported a decline in pupil numbers this year, half of fee-paying public schools received more pupils. 
  • For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.

The share of parents who are behind on school fees increased over the past year, according to a new survey conducted by the credit bureau TPN among private and public schools where fees are paid.

Families had to weather an extraordinary financial storm last year, as food and fuel prices rocketed – along with interest rates.

At the end of 2022, only 62.57% of school fee accounts were in good standing compared to 63.75% at the end of 2021, the survey showed. This is still far below pre-pandemic levels of around 68% in 2018 and 2019.  

During the third quarter of 2020 – at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown – only 50% of parents had paid their children’s school fees in full. By the end of that year, just 56% of parents were in good standing.

National school fees in good standing. Source: TPN

Of particular concern is that 25% of parents did not make any payment towards school fees in 2022.

The survey revealed that, due to increased financial pressure on parents, more than 40% of private schools reported that they have fewer learners this year than they did last year. Only 29% of private schools said they had more learners than the previous year.

But nearly 50% of public-school respondents said they had accepted more students in 2023 than in 2022.

Survey respondents reported that public school fees typically ranged from around R14 000 per year at primary schools, to around R25 000 per year at high schools. 

According to the survey, private school fees ranged from R31 000 a year for the lowest grade in primary schools, rising to R40 000 per year per student for higher grades. High school fees range between R71 000 a year for Grade 8 to R91 000 a year for Grade 12 learners.

Apart from grants, bursaries, sponsorships, and donations, the survey found that school fees are the most important source of income for 95% of private and 85% of public schools.

“Late payment places additional strain on schools’ cash flow and their ability to meet their financial obligations timeously,” says Waldo Marcus, head of marketing at TPN Credit Bureau.  

The survey also showed that 31% of private schools reported that they have seen more students leave because of emigration than in previous years. However, half of public schools reported fewer learners emigrating in 2022 than in 2021.

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