Education concerns

Ray Haakonsen,
Fish Hoek

It was with interest and concern that I read the article (“Little room for learning,” Echo, September 29) regarding the situation of high school placements in the valley.

It has touched us deeply while attempting to enrol our adopted daughter for Grade 8 at Fish Hoek High School (FHHS), after living five years in the valley, less than 1km from the school. This seems to have no bearing on FHHS receiving her three emails over time in response to our initial application, an appeal and further appeal (with extenuating family challenges) resulted in terse standard responses from the principal declining her due to “capacity constraints”.

I read with sadness Gavin Fish’s comments in your paper including that Fish Hoek High School gave preference to pupils residing South of Atlantic Road, Muizenberg, onto the last statement, “the presence of siblings at the school was taken into account”. However, everything between shows FHHS has become elitist, choosing only the best of the best to develop and educate.

Our daughter, surely not a model student with some impacting emotional challenges, is, however, strongly gifted. Sadly kids like her are seemingly sidelined. This smacks of elitism and looking after the results/performance of the school. The school refers us to the Western Cape Education Department (WCED)knowing full well the latter aren’t going to help as the WCED absolve themselves of any responsibility saying there is no zoning in
our area. Apparently it’s at the discretion of the schools and their governing body as to who they accept in their schools. Our attempts to get help from WCED have been totally fruitless.

Lastly, those responsible for “development” of our valley should be ashamed of themselves.

Obviously far removed from happenings within this valley, they continually allow further housing, and promise millions of rands for road upgrades for situations of over-trafficking they created. Why don’t they prioritise education, building more high schools here and developing struggling ‘non-elitist’ schools?

My new job includes promoting this city and region to visitors but recent events in our valley make me realise anew politics and power reign roughshod over people’s voices.

Lone ‘in the trenches’ voices like Johan Kikillus standing for the marginalised seem ignored by authorities. Many schools here struggle to make it with burgeoning numbers, but are willing to somehow make room for those seeking a decent education.

My comments won’t tickle ears. I write as a concerned resident and lover of this valley observing the worsening situation with no apparent corrective plans. Overburdened parents are ridiculously expected to “make a plan” over the mountain.

As Mr Kikillus mentioned, the situation is getting worse. Yet more housing goes up and no news of new high schools or enlarging and resourcing of struggling high schools in our area. What hope is there for the thousands of upcoming high school kids next year and the years after that? We have now approached two other schools further away who have at
least afforded us the courtesyof an in-
terview/consideration. We are grateful our daughter has this opportunity but I feel for the many others who are struggling for places for their children.

Gavin Fish, Fish Hoek High principal, responds: In response to the parent’s letter regarding admissions criteria. The writer clearly understands both the utter frustration of schools and the parent community, with the under provisioning of high schools in the South Peninsula. His specific concerns regarding Fish Hoek High School refer: We received 360 applications for 217 positions. Only a handful of those come from beyond our area. This leaves, annually, a large number of declined families understandably disappointed and angry.

The suggestion that we are elitist is sad and inaccurate. Were that to be the case our parents who are capable of paying the schools fees, would not be spending 13% of their fees on those who cannot afford it. Nor would we need 20 hours of extra-lessons a week, at no cost, to the significant number who need it. Nor would we be quietly providing lunch for those who literally do not have. The courtesy of an interview for all is not a reasonable expectation.

There are simply too many applicants.

There are schools who conduct no interviews whatsoever, so great is the number of their applications.

Yes, parents appeal and re-appeal. All appeals are considered in a process that takes many hours from start to finish. Certain families do withdraw and as that happens we make places available, from among those who were not accepted. Already, we have 1010 pupils in a school built for 800. We have used change rooms and blocked off corridors, as classrooms. We wish it were different, that we could accept all who apply.

It currently isn’t and we cannot. We attempt to make our decisions
in as humane and as wise a manner as is possible within those confines.