Over 400 state primary schools in the Western Cape are to drop fees from 1 May 2006 in the first stage of a national policy to give free access to the poorest schools across the country. The so-called no fees schools are selected according to national poverty indicators that include local employment levels and household income. Overall around 38 per cent of school children in the province are set to benefit from the programme, the Western Cape department of education has said. The policy is due to be phased in over the next three years and will also be extended to secondary schools in due course.

Teacher unions have welcomed the initiative although they say that it does not go far enough and that fees should be scrapped at all schools. Under the present system in South Africa all state schools charge fees as a means of subsidising government funding. There are also concerns that children from impoverished communities attending schools in middle-income areas will not benefit from the policy.

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