Answer to a question from a reader

Can I be kicked out of school for being 19 in Grade 11?

The short answer

Being two years older than the average age of your grade isn't unusual. You can plead your case with the school or you can continue your education through ABET.

The long answer

It’s a difficult question to answer because the education department in each province has its own rules about what the cut-off age for a grade is, or for what the age of school attendance is. For example, the Gauteng Education Department has said that the cut-off age for school-goers is 21. As you probably know, it’s compulsory to attend school from the age of six (Grade 1) to the age of 15 (Grade 9).

The way they calculate the average age for a grade is the grade number plus six. So, in Grade 11 the average age should be 17. That means that you are two years older than the average.

If you were applying to the school for the first time and were three or more years older than the average age of Grade 11 pupils, the school could reject your application on the grounds that it could be difficult for teachers to teach learners who are at different developmental stages in one class.

To make sure that learners stay at the right age for their grade, you are only supposed to be allowed to repeat a grade once. But in practice, there are many learners who have repeated more than a year and so are older than others in their grade. 

From a survey on over-age learners in South Africa by Social Surveys, we know the following:

  • 14% of learners in Grade 9 were three or more years above the age grade norm. 

  • 22% of learners in Grade 12 were three or more years above the age grade norm. 

  • Just over 50% of learners in Grades 10 to 12 have repeated a grade, and 9% have repeated three or more times.  

  • 7% of learners started school after the age of seven.

The survey says that learners who are older than the average age because they have repeated a grade a number of times often need more teaching support. But in most of the poorer schools in South Africa, there is no such support, so the burden falls on the class teacher.

Another education organisation, DG Murray Trust, said in 2022 that about 20% of learners in Grades 10 to 12 are three or more years above the age for their grade because they had repeated grades.

The fact that you are two years over the age for Grade 11 is not an unusual thing. So, what are your options?

  1. Firstly, if it is possible, your parents or parent should ask the School Governing Body (SGB) for a meeting and ask why the school is chasing you away when there are many learners in South Africa who are two years older than the age for their grade.  But you have to bear in mind that although the SGB plays an important role in decisions taken at the school, the final decision is taken by the Province’s Education Department.

  2. Your parents (or you too) could contact the provincial Education Department and ask for a meeting to discuss your situation. As I don’t know what your province is, you could ask the Education Department how to contact the provincial department about this. This is their helpline number: 0800 202 933.

  3. The national Department of Education says that a learner in Grades 9 to 12 who is more than two years older than the grade age, and is not making progress, must be referred to an ABET institution if they have not yet passed Grade 9, or an FET or TVET college if they have passed Grade 9. 

As you are 19 years old and have passed Grade 9, you could also ask the provincial education department for a list of Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges in your area, which you could apply to. There, you can study for three years to get a matric equivalency. 

Remember that you have a constitutional right to a basic education: Section 29 (1) of South Africa’s Constitution reads: “Everyone has the right to a basic education, including adult basic education; and to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.”

  1. Also worth bearing in mind is that in 2019 the Department of Basic Education approved a revised Senior Certificate that you can study for if you are over 21 and have a Grade 9 report stating that you passed the year. Exams are written in June and July. 

If you pass the exams for this amended Senior Certificate, you can apply for national qualifications and diplomas and if you get high enough marks you can get a university endorsement which means you can apply for university entrance. 

  1. If you do not find the Education Department helpful, you could ask the following organisation for help and advice. Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre based in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. These are their contact details:


Tel: 0800 110 752 or 021 461 1421

As you want to continue your studies, it could be worth considering why you have not passed (for example due to family responsibilities, struggling to concentrate, etc.) and try to find ways to address these challenges so you can succeed in the future.

A note on confirming whether you have passed Grade 9: Pass criteria are normally printed on your final report. Look for the word "promoted" on the report - this means that you have passed. If your report uses the word "progressed" it usually means that you have not academically passed but have been allowed to the next grade. If you have not passed Grade 9 or if your report says "progressed" on your report, ABET could be a good option for you.

Wishing you the best,

Answered on May 10, 2024, 2:56 p.m.

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