Basic Education System (Primary and Secondary Schools)

The DBE officially groups grades into two "bands" called General Education and Training (GET), which includes grade 0 plus grades 1 to 9, and Further Education and Training (FET), which includes grades 10-12 as well as non-higher education vocational training facilities.

The GET (General Education and Training band) is subdivided further into "phases" called the Foundation Phase (grade 0 plus grade 1 to 3), the Intermediate Phase (grades 4 to 6), and the Senior Phase (grades 7 to 9).
The administrative structure of most ordinary schools in South Africa do not reflect the division of bands and phases, however. For historical reasons, most schools are either "primary" schools (grade R plus grades 1 to 7) or "secondary" schools, also known as high schools (grades 8 to 12).

Optional grades
Some home schools and private schools offer the option to complete an additional year after grade 12, sometimes known as grade 13 or "post-matric". The South African governmental school system does not have a grade 13, but it forms part of non-South African curriculums that are sometimes followed by private schools in South Africa.

The DBE's Foundation Phase includes a pre-school grade known as grade R, for "reception". Grade R is compulsory, but not all primary schools offer grade R. Grade R may also be attended at a pre-school facility. Other grades that can be completed at a pre-school centre include grade 00 and grade 000 (although the 000 and 00 designations are not universally applied). Grade R is sometimes called Grade 0 (pronounced "grade nought"), particularly in previously white schools, where the usage was once common.

Learner ratios
According to the DBE's 2010 statistics report (published in 2012), on average there are 30 learners per teacher, 480 learners per school, and 16 teachers per school. The ratio of learners per teacher is roughly the same in all provinces, but the ratio of learners per school varies per province. For example, in Gauteng there are 800 learners per school and 28 teachers per school, whereas in the Eastern Cape there 350 learners per school and 12 teachers per school.

School income and expenses
Schools in South Africa receive a grant from government for their operational costs, such as maintaining the grounds, administrative costs, salaries, books and educational materials, and extramural activities. Most schools supplement the government grant with other streams of income, such as school fees paid by parents, fundraising events, and receiving donations.

Generally, higher school fees prevent poorer children from attending affluent schools. There is no limit to the amount of the fees that a school may set. Parents may apply to the school for full or partial reduction of school fees, and many affluent schools do provide financial assistance to a small number of learners (for example, if the parents are alumni), but it is not a legal requirement.

Children at South African schools are usually required to wear school uniforms, which can be expensive and are not provided for free, although it is often possible to buy them second-hand. Most schools offer extra mural activities such as a variety of sports and cultural activities, which requires money to maintain. Many schools maintain their own sports fields as well.

The size of the grant paid by government is determined largely by the poverty level of the neighbourhood in which the school is situated, as well as unemployment rate and general education rate of the population in that neighbourhood. Consequently, schools in more affluent areas have to raise more money from other sources to maintain the same standard of education, but schools from affluent areas often have so much additional income that their standard of education is much higher than that of less affluent schools anyway.

The size of the government grant per child depends on the "quintille" of the school. In 2009, schools in quintille 1 (the poorest) and quintille 2 received R807 and R740 per child per year, respectively, where as schools in quintille 4 and quintille 5 (the richest) received R404 and R134 per child per year. Schools in quintille 1-3 may apply for classification as a "No Fee" school. 5% of all schools are quintille 5 schools, and 15% of all schools are quintille 4 schools.

Sample school fees
Schools are not required to publish their school fees publicly and many schools are secretive about it, but here are some examples of school fees in non-private schools in South Africa:
The Settler's High, Bellville: R15200 per child per year
Monument Park High, Kraaifontein: R9000 per child per year

Poverty and school fees
Schools may not refuse admission to children who live in the immediate vicinity of the school. Schools may not refuse entry to children or refuse to hand over report cards even if their parents neglect to pay the school fees, but schools are permitted to sue parents for non-payment of school fees.

Since 1996, children whose parents are very poor are legally exempt from some or all school fees. Since 1998, the formula is as follows: If the combined annual income of the parents is less than ten times the annual school fee, the child is legally exempt from paying school fees. If the income is more than ten times the school fee but less than thirty times the school fee, the child is legally entitled to a specific reduction in school fees. In practice, these regulations help only very poor families, and not working-class and middle-income families.

Orphans and children of parents who receive poverty-linked social grants are also exempt from paying school fees.

Since 2006 the Education department offers the following incentive to the poorest 40% of schools: if the school charges no school fees, the education department increases the grant to make up for the lack of income from school fees. It was originally planned to increase this incentive to the poorest 60% of schools by 2009. The incentive only applies to children in the GED band, and children who wish to complete grade 10-12 must still pay the full fee.

In 2008, some 5 million learners in 14 264 schools benefited from the No Fee school programme, and most of those learners were in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces. Not all schools who qualify for this incentive make use of it.

Private schools
Private schools, also known as independent schools, are schools that are not owned by the state. They are usually owned and operated by a trust, church or community, or by a for-profit company. Not all private schools in South Africa charge high school fees. Certain private schools also receive a grant from the state, depending on the community served and fees charged.