The South Africa Schools Act requires children to 'attend school from the first school day of the year in which such learner reaches the age of 7 years until the last day of the year in which such learner reaches the age of 15 years or the ninth grade whichever comes first' (Republic of South Africa, 1996). In relation to this, this paper addresses three questions. First, to what extent has this legal requirement been met? Second, what are the trends in relation to achieving universal access to compulsory education? And third, what are the identifiable factors or characteristics of those learners of compulsory school age that are not attending? To address these questions, we have made use of the Statistics South Africa dataset, Community Survey 2007. Our analysis suggests that the size of the compulsory age population who are not attending school may be slightly higher than some government sources have suggested. The trend associated with access remains consistent, the only major change over the past 10 years is the improved level of enrolment of 6- and 7-year-old children. In terms of identifying the factors or characteristics of children who are not attending school, our analysis reveals that certain sub-populations have higher non-attendance ratios. Four broad, but interrelated factors may account for children not being in school, disability, family structure, i.e., not living with biological parents or grandparents, being eligible for, but not accessing social welfare and living in isolated communities. Race and gender are also significant factors, particularly for coloured males.
International Journal of Educational Development (2010) [doi:10.1016/j.ijedudev.2010.05.002]