The above is a question that we have received from several public schools.
The age of majority is the age in which a minor (child) becomes major (adult) and amongst other things gains contractual capacity and can be held fully legally liable in various ways.
There was a reduction of the age of majority from 21 to 18 years under Section 17 of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005, which came into effect from 1 July 2007.
So when a learner in a public school becomes a major, do they become liable for their school fees?
The South African Schools Act (“the Act”) states that, “A parent is liable to pay the school fees determined in terms of Section 39 unless or to the extent that he or she has been exempted from payment in terms of this Act.“
The definition given in Section 1 of the Act, states that:
“Parent means –
(a) the biological or adoptive parent or legal 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) and (b) towards the learner’s education at school.” 
Accordingly, the only people that can be held liable for the school fees are the parents or guardians; the legal custodian or the person who undertakes to fulfil the obligation towards the learner’s education at the school. Liability of school fees is limited to only the categories of people listed in the Schools Act.
Therefore when a learner is admitted to a school:
- the relationship between the learner and the school is educational.
- while the relationship between the parent and the school is, amongst other things, financial.
This position is reinforced by Section 41(1) of the Act , which states that :
“A public school may by process of law enforce the payment of school fees by parents who are liable to pay in terms of Section 40.”
This section specifically states that the enforcement of the payment of the fees is limited to parents. Once again no provision is made for enforcement against any other party including a learner, even if the learner has attained the age of majority.
Exemptions are only made available to parents of the learners and the calculated based on the parent’s income. Nowhere in this whole process is the learner actively involved.
Therefore no learner regardless of their age can be held liable for the payment of public school fees.